An attractive stone building in the centre of the lovely old walled Heritage Town of Athenry, The Old Barracks has only been a restaurant since it was opened by Fiona King and her late husband Cathal O'Malley in October 2010, but it is proving to be a popular venue for both locals and visitors, who appreciate the unusually high standards of food and service and both for daytime fare and in the evening restaurant.
For Fiona, the family connection with the barracks goes back much further though - and it’s a romantic story, as this beautiful building was acquired by Fiona’s father with the prize money he won as owner of the horse Afford A King, winner of the Digital Galway Plate in 1988. A wise move at the time, and proving even more so for the next generation now.
Inside it’s an atmospheric place, with bare stone walls in the three rooms making up the dining area, where timber floors, table candles and low lighting give a warm and cosy feeling. The walls are hung with photographs of the animals and vegetables produced on the family farms (in-conversion organic) nearby at Craughwell and on The Burren in Co Clare, which supply the restaurant kitchen - notably with free range Saddleback pork (including homemade sausages), and home reared Angus beef, also lamb when in season, and the free range eggs in everyday use.
Head Chef Michelle White, an Essex girl who has made Galway her home, leads a small, efficient team and they produce interesting, ingredients-led food, which is also very reasonably priced for the quality thanks to their direct supplies.
Daytime menus begin with a range of breakfast dishes to rival that of any of the best guesthouses and, in common with all the daytime menus, a special strength is the delicious home baked goods from their own bakery (also offering a take-away service, which can be ordered online). Lunch menus offer a good choice of hot dishes as well as plenty of soups, gourmet sandwiches and salads, also a children’s menu.
While the tone of daytime fare is good home cooking, the evening menu is much more adventurous, including unusual dishes like a starter of roast quail with cranberry and pecan stuffed boxty, or a goat's cheese and wild mushroom terrine.
Of the main courses, steak lovers would find home-reared Angus sirloin hard to resist, although options including pan-fried Saddleback pork fillet medallions (with cheesy champ and wholegrain mustard & whiskey cream), venison, duck and seafood are also tempting – and it is lovely to see Linalla ice cream, from New Quay on the Burren, offered alongside their own extensive range of desserts and pastries.
Prices are very keen for the quality, with main courses mostly under €18, and this - plus excellent service from enthusiastic staff – explains why bookings are strongly advised at this deservedly popular restaurant.
There is a BYO wine policy, or alternatively you can choose a bottle from the off-licence across the road which helpful staff will collect and open for you - without any corkage or service charge. Now that’s service!