I blame geography -- geography and distance. When piper Ronan Browne lived in Wicklow I saw him often enough, but after he moved to Spiddal we lost touch. Recently, we found ourselves again on the phone and a plan was hatched -- we'd meet in Galway for a meal.
It did take a bit of diary planning, because Ronan was busy touring with his new album, 'And So The Story Goes' with Seán Tyrrell and Kevin Glackin, but we found a Wednesday free for both of us and we set the date.
For a while now, I've been hearing about the g hotel and specifically its food. The executive chef, Stefan Matz, was awarded Chef of the Year more than once and he oversees the kitchens in the g, as well as in Ashford Castle. That was an accolade, I thought, that needed further investigation, so the g was where I arranged to meet Ronan and his wife, Máire Ní Chonlain of TG4, for dinner.
First impressions on entering the g were good. The interior decoration has been overseen by Philip Treacy, certainly a man with an eye for design detail. The lobby has a black stone theme -- cool, understated and quietly elegant.
Beyond the lobby, you find the main reception room with a double-height ceiling and an extraordinary lighting array of more than 300 silver globes all hung at varying heights. Beyond that, a pink lounge -- and beyond that, another more masculine lounge and bar. The mixture of colours, fabrics and fittings is undoubtedly high camp, but it's effective and strikingly smart. I'll admit I was much taken with it.
The dining room is also visually striking. Plenty of glass lets in plenty of light, and a few carefully positioned high-backed sofas effectively divide the space and create privacy. There is a sense, no matter where you look, that no expense has been spared.
Everything on the table had its own beauty and the chairs were heavily upholstered and comfortable. It all promised an evening of sybaritic indulgence.
The dinner menu read very well -- eight starters and seven main courses were listed. Among the starters were several that caught my eye: the smoked Connemara tuna, beignets of crab meat, and a savoury crème brÃ»lée of goat's cheese.
The mains looked just as tempting, with plenty of fish dishes, including monkfish tail, cod fillet and organic salmon.
What set these dishes apart from the run of the mill were the accompaniments: the monkfish came with homemade tagliatelle and a Chardonnay jelly; the cod came with a velvet crab bisque and a crab-meat crème brÃ»lée; the salmon with clams, chervil and a roasted garlic foam.
The starters ran from €7.50 for soup to €14 for the smoked tuna, and the main courses ran from €19 for a vegetable gateaux to €32 for the beef fillet. That puts the Matz in the mid-range of prices, while you dine in a very five-star environment.
The value continues on the wine list, where, unusually for a five-star hotel, you can find wines listed at under €30. We ordered one of these, a Spanish Verdejo priced at €28, and then pushed the boat out a bit for the red, choosing Tindall's Pinot Noir from New Zealand, priced at €43. I tend to like New Zealand Pinot Noir, the grape seems to do well in the Antipodes, but I found this one a little disappointing, since it had none of the characteristics you'd expect to find from this varietal. It was a pleasant enough wine, but you'd never have guessed Pinot Noir if you couldn't see the label.
The first thing that arrived at the table was a kind of amuse bouche, a platter for the three of us with a selection of local produce. There were slices of Connemara smoked tuna and salmon, and slices of air-cured meats from James McGeough, including his salamis and cured venison.
Later in the evening, I spoke to Regis Herviaux, the g's head chef, and he's very keen to promote local produce, using it whenever he can. It's becoming a trend, and it's a trend I really approve of. It's the first step towards regional cuisine, something that Ireland has traditionally lacked.
We'd been careful to each order something different, so our three starters arrived -- a savoury crème brÃ»lée made with Paul Keane's goat's cheese, the taste of Connemara smoked tuna and the beignets of crab meat. Each one of these was a trio, three variations on the theme, and all three came on crockery designed specifically for the task. We were all impressed with the dishes, but a couple really stood out as exceptional -- the crab-meat beignet with ginger and the smoked-tuna mousse.
We did the same with main courses, so we all tasted the Connemara lamb, roast monkfish tail and the fillet of beef with a duck raviolo. I was impressed when I saw the word 'raviolo' on the menu. It's accurate. If there's only one, it's a raviolo. If there's more than one, they're ravioli.
All three of these main courses were beautifully presented, expertly cooked and tasted terrific. It was cooking at the very highest level, very skilled, carefully selected ingredients and all coupled with excellent service. Three superb desserts finished the meal: a raspberry millefeuille, a chocolate fondant and poached rhubarb with a yogurt parfait.
The Matz lived up to its five-star rating with truly excellent food. If I had a reservation it's this: food this good needs a better wine list to accompany it. The bill came to €236.10.
Before I left Galway the next morning, the sun shone briefly on the outdoor tables of the Huntsman Inn across the road from the g. I wandered over and got an excellent cappuccino in the sunshine and was handed a newspaper to read as well. It set me up perfectly for the drive home.
VALUE FOR MONEY 7/10