A dramatic location – on the roof of the Radisson Blu Hotel Galway, overlooking the city and Galway Bay – makes an interesting setting for this unusual destination restaurant. With modern furnishings in fashionable purple tones, crisp white table linen and napkins and quality glass and cutlery, it has a classy feel and provides a good backdrop for a unique dining experience.
RAW is very much a one-man operation: Hisashi Kumagai is both the inspiration and the chef. Kuma, as he is known, is no stranger to Galway, having been the stalwart behind the culinary success of St. Cleran’s Country House in Craughwell, about fourteen miles east of Galway, for several years before it closed.
In RAW, his focus is on Japanese Sushi, the star attraction being fresh raw seafood, fastidiously selected and prepared: sliced and artfully arranged as sashimi and as lightly vinegared rolls with rice and seaweed cut into bite-sized chunks. The secret is absolute freshness, as in his dish of raw halibut cured with sugar and lime with honey mustard and paper-thin vegetables.
In the sushi tradition, the virtuosity of the chef is considered secondary to the quality and beauty of the ingredients. Nonetheless, it takes the artistic hands of the likes of Kuma to present the mostly uncooked food in a manner calculated to enhance its natural beauty, to be as stunning to look at as it is to eat.
Guided by the very helpful, informed waiting staff, a meal in RAW is an adventure beyond the common ken, bearing little relationship to our usual taste experience.
Sushi’s pristine freshness of seafood is set off strikingly by the accompanying pickles, salads and vegetables. Sweet-pickled ginger, the punchy wasabi (a variant of horseradish), citrus juices, soy and sake act as catalysts in teasing out the essential flavours of the fish and seafood such as scallops, halibut, salmon, tuna, prawns and mackerel.
It is important to note that RAW is a Sushi not a Japanese restaurant as such – no tempura or teriyaki. There is only one hot dish and that is the Miso soup (€3), a beautiful concoction of soya bean, seafood, tofu and scallions, in a gentle sea-tasting broth.
The sole meat offered at this Galway restaurants Barbary duck breast marinated in a sweet/sour mix that includes sake, ginger and balsamic vinegar.
A selection of dishes, all served at one time and featuring fish such as tuna, salmon, prawn, mackerel and halibut dressed with colourful grasses, greens and vegetables, make a dazzling array. Prices range from about €7 upwards to €16.50 depending on portion size and variety of seafood.
There are three desserts on the menu: a chocolate encased sushi roll with raspberry sauce, a sundae of seasonal melon and, best of all, homemade green tea ice cream.
The wine list is short and interesting even though anything other than sushi, sashimi, tea and sake is considered irrelevant in this kind of restaurant. However, in the Guide’s experience, some of the listed wines will go very well indeed with choices from the menu. Penfolds Autralian Riesling (at €9 per glass, €36 per bottle) is to be recommended, also the Austrian Sepp Gruner Veltliner (€38 per bottle). Japanese beer, sake and whisky are also listed.
At around €35 per head, RAW offers excellent value for such an unusual and daring dining experience, and it is an exciting addition to the growing number of interesting restaurants in Galway.