It's been almost four years since I last ate at Loam, Enda McEvoy's Michelin-starred Galway restaurant. Back then I loved it, but something has happened in the intervening years and the mojo appears to have been misplaced. Let's hope that it can be retrieved.
efore we talk about the food, let's consider service and ambience, which I think are even more important factors in determining whether customers have a restaurant experience they would like to repeat.
The first thing that happens is that we are left standing around for too long when we arrive. Nobody appears to notice us. Then we are abandoned at our table with menus, but no one asks if we would like to order a drink. When we do eventually manage to order, it takes a full 10 minutes for our bottle of wine to reach the table. And that's when the fun starts. (We have been in the restaurant for 25 minutes at this stage.)
Am I familiar with the Etna Rosso that I've ordered? I am. No matter, I'm going to have it explained to me anyway, and in a manner that does little to enhance my enjoyment. (The wine guy does, however, leave out the information that the bottle he's brought me is the 2017 rather than the 2016 specified on the list.)
We go for the three-course 'simplicity' menu, a decision for which we thank our lucky stars by the time we escape out into the summer evening, leaving behind us a room of people barely half-way through their 'extended' meal, including two (German?) women valiantly trying to stay awake through the explanation of the wine pairings.
Several different people serve us during the course of our meal; regrettably only one of them has real charm. The ability to smile is surely an essential prerequisite in waiting staff? (When my son got his first waiting job, he was told by the manager to 'lose the resting bitch face' and he'd do fine - excellent advice.) One server is almost rude - three times I ask him to describe a dish because I can't understand what he is saying, three times he tells me that the mushroom involved is 'wood'. It's only later when I overhear a different server describing the dish that I realise it's Hen of the Wood.
Our meal starts with dull snacks of beetroot and apple, a little crimped tart filled with smoked tuna and other bits and an over-baked, too-brown gougere of Knockanore cheese. Then comes exceptional bread - sourdough and seeded spelt; Loam should open a bakery.
The menu has just two options for each course, so we get to try everything. Sweetbreads come with lettuce, egg and a savoury crumb for texture, scallops with the 'wood' mushroom and crisps of Jerusalem artichoke. Both dishes are good rather than thrilling. The same could be said of the lamb with turnip, broad beans and slender scapes of garlic. The slices of loin are beautifully cooked, and the braised neck (I think) on the side full of flavour. There's grilled radicchio and mint around the place. A piece of perfect monkfish submerged under sprigs of broccoli and adorned with plump mussels doesn't scare the horses either.
A side dish of roasted potatoes perplexes. Firstly, why roast potatoes? This is no carvery. Secondly, half the potatoes are browned, the other half completely without colour. I ask one of our servers why this is, and he confidently tells me that it's down to two different cooking methods, only to return sheepishly a few minutes later to say that this is not in fact the case. A dessert of parsley, rhubarb and woodruff is quite bonkers and begs the question: 'Why?', while cheese, all Irish, is perfect.
Loam has a commendable policy of sourcing its ingredients in the west of Ireland and holds a three-star rating (the highest possible) from the Sustainable Restaurant Association, so the plastic bottle of soap from the UK in the loo is a jarring note. Our bill comes to €163.25 before service (€49 for the wine), which I consider expensive. I don't know if Enda McEvoy was in the kitchen on the night of our visit.
ON A BUDGET
The two-course 'simplicity' menu is priced at €45, so dinner for two will cost €90 before service.
ON A BLOW OUT
The 'extended' menu (nine courses) with wine pairing will set you back €318 for two people, with cheese an extra €10 per head. That's before service.
THE HIGH POINT
All the well-behaved children.
THE LOW POINT
The lack of smiling on the floor.