Poised scenically on the border between Galway and Mayo, Cong is a delightful village in its own right but, thanks to its connections with The Quiet Man - and the interest in Ashford Castle and it surroundings - it is a place where most visitors choose to take a break when exploring the area. A very popular day-trip destination, it is a small and intimate place with friendly pubs, the ruins of the old abbey to explore and a path along the river where you can stroll through one of the loveliest woods to be found anywhere.
And the Hungry Monk is just the place to drop in for a wholesome meal or snack, at any time of day. This attractive all-day café nestles in a pretty row of low cottages and it has been here for many years, but it reopened in 2014 under new owners Aisling and Jonathan Byrne who, we are told, “don't do fast food, but do fresh, wholesome Irish food as quick as we can”.
Located close to the ruins of the Abbey and the Monk's Fishing House, this simple café with its muted colours and artfully mismatched furniture promises breakfasts, sandwiches, soups and salads made up with locally sourced ingredients. The cakes and scones are all homemade and many claim it serves the best coffee in the village.
The surrounding Galway/Mayo border area is there where they source most produce from their network of local suppliers: locally smoked salmon from the nearby village of Cornamona, beef and pork from Kelly’s of Newport, coffee roasted in Westport, bottled water from the nearby hills of Tourmakeady, shellfish from Killary Harbour and fish such as hake and mackerel from Galway Bay.
Aisling and Jonathan both studied culinary arts in Galway and then travelled widely, working in restaurants in Spain, Boston, Chicago and Tokyo before taking over The Hungry Monk. Aisling cooks in line with the seasons, with the menus set daily around the produce available. They are short and simple, just chalked up on a board and, apart from breakfast - including The Monk's breakfast of eggs, Kelly’s pork sausages, bacon, tomato sambal and house brown bread, which represents very good value - there is no set menu for lunch, dessert or dinner.
The sandwich menu is likely to list slow cooked teriyaki pork belly sandwich, on a brioche bun, or Kelly’s beef brisket on a Blaa with horseradish mayo and pickles. The salad could be warm goats cheese with loganberry relish or buttermilk chicken - all arriving in at around the €10 mark.
The baked goods here are not to be missed. The poppy seeded scones in particular have a following and there are rarely any to be found by the afternoon. “Sourced Locally, Served Lovingly” is their motto, one which they go to great lengths to deliver on. Everything is fresh and homemade, including all of the the desserts. Like the daily specials, the pastries change frequently throughout the season: from gooseberry and vanilla tart or apple and berry crumble, to strawberry and mint pavlova, you are assured of a seasonal treat.
There are a few wines offered and service is delightful; you will find Jonathan and his front of house team are very accommodating, with a good, old fashioned Irish welcome.
If you like to know about your food, what’s in it and where it came from, The Hungry Monk has all the answers. A cosy little place to recharge and refresh when exploring Cong.