Restaurant review: Aingeala Flannery at Against The Grain, 8 Wexford Street ***
Here's my issue with pub grub: if I don't like the pub, chances are I won't like the grub. Give me a pub I like and I'm happy as the proverbial pig to get stuck into a toasted ham'n'cheese in an unmeltable plastic sleeve -- with a jar of crusty Colman's on the side. Call me old-fashioned, but pubs -- to my mind -- are for drinking, just as restaurants are for eating. And sweet suffering Jesus preserve us from "gastropubs", which (as anyone with a jot of sense will tell you) are for sissies.
Alehouses -- bars that only sell beer -- are another matter entirely. And they are something I have a bit of expertise in, having misspent much of my youth behind one in Brooklyn. I saw things there a lady here would never see: men drinking stout made with coffee and chocolate. T'was an education alright and now I know, for example, that IPA stands for India Pale Ale, and that you'd never serve a kriek in a krug, which, by the way, is a mug. Not entirely useless information it turns out, since here I am recalling it.
The beer nerds that frequented Sparky's Alehouse never trusted my credentials as a braufrau. No matter how cleverly I seasoned my bartalk with Teutonistic gems such as hefe, dunkel and bock, the tendency to judge a beer by its name always let me down. They'd smile quietly to themselves as I guffawed over Alimony Ale, Fin du Monde and McQuire's I'll Have What The Gentleman On The Floor Is Having. Looking back, they'd little to be smug about -- overweight men with foam in their beards, wearing sweaty baseball caps and glasses that needed a good wipe.
That was then, but this is now, and every day I pass Against The Grain on my way to work, but I never clocked that it was an alehouse. I just thought it was a badly named bar. Then, one evening, on my way home, I poked my head inside and was surprised to find a jolly crowd supping ale with plates of decent-looking grub before them. Later, a superficial web search threw up more information: Against The Grain is a proper alehouse -- the owners have three other bars in Galway that sell beer from across the globe. The fact they also serve food was all the encouragement I needed to slap Against The Grain on to my to-do list.
So I went last Friday evening, with The Cartoonist in tow. The place was buzzing with after-work drinkers and diners. We scored two stools at the bar and The Cartoonist searched in vain for a friendly face among the beer taps. He settled on a pint of Fruh Kolsch -- a fresh, hoppy beer that looks like lager but has the mouth-feel of a summer ale. I went for a girlish glass of Lindeman's Apple, which wasn't quite as tart as I like my lambics, but it quenched my thirst without the stickiness you get from cider.
The food menu is casually presented on a clipboard -- and there's nothing fancy about it. There are wraps, sandwiches and salads to start, then a list of main courses that's apologetically populist -- we're talking burgers, some Tex Mex, a curry and a pasta dish. It being a Friday, I'd a penitent urge for fish'n'chips, but that was sold out, so I tried the burger instead.
Prepared with minced round steak, it was obviously made "in house" -- with an irregular shape and a lovely homemade texture that you never get from mass-produced burgers. All the pink was grilled out of it as per the food safety fascists' diktat, yet it retained plenty of deep meaty flavour, which married well with a chunky tomato relish boasting the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. Traditionally served in a floury bap with lettuce and sliced tomato, it came with golden fat chips that were crisp without and floury within.
The Cartoonist's falafel, which also came as a burger, put in a good turn. It had a crunchy almost nutty shell, and was moist and spicy inside. My only criticism was that it wanted more aioli.
We also tried a couple of salads. Duck for the Cartoonist, chicken for me. The one I chose was presented as a Thai noodle salad, with exotic flourishes of coriander, pickled ginger and chilli. I found scant evidence of these three things, the flavour came mostly from sesame oil, of which there was an abundance. Thankfully there were plenty of noodles to soak it up. The salad dimension comprised julienned carrot, cucumber and tomato. The chicken was not too tough and decent enough in terms of flavour.
The Cartoonist's duck salad featured warm, dark-pink slices of breast that were dense but mild in flavour and not too fatty. It was nicely coated with a plum dressing and accompanied by a colourful jumble of bok choi, bamboo shoots, carrot and peppers. It tasted better than it read. I'd venture the same could be said for most of the menu at Against The Grain.
What you've got here folks is a great bar, with a good crowd and pleasant staff -- in what was once perceived as a cursed location. It's the kind of place that makes you want to eat, drink and be merry. Just so long as nobody mentions pub grub.
TYPICALDISH: Warm roast beef sandwich with chips
RECOMMENDED: Steak burger and chips
THEDAMAGE:€78 for two salads, two mains, six beers
ONTHESTEREO: iPod shuffle
ATTHETABLE: Beer snobs
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