Review: Everything on this menu costs less than €11 - and it's full of real thought and imagination
The Light House, 8 Abbeygate Street Upper, Galway; (091) 568 706
It really couldn't be any more Galway. First of all, it's raining. (I don't think that I have ever visited Galway when it hasn't been.) And at a corner table in The Light House Café, a man with a beard and nose-ring has his watercolours out and is painting away. Every other table is taken; the customers are predominantly female.
Twitter is a brilliant tool for journalists. It's full of food folk for one thing, and we're a nice bunch that tends to stay away from politics for the most part so things rarely get heated. And food people are generous souls, who love to pass on their discoveries and recommendations. We share a common ambition that no opportunity for a good meal should ever be wasted. Every time that I'm heading to a town or city that I'm not very familiar with, I ask Twitter to suggest places to eat - restaurants that may have opened since the last time that I was there, or may simply have slipped under my radar.
And Twitter almost always delivers.
Galway has plenty of good restaurants - Aniar, Loam, Ard Bia and Kai being amongst the best known - and Wa Café is another great spot that you should investigate if you have an appetite for Japanese food, particularly sushi made with excellent fresh fish supplied by Stephane Griesbach of Gannet Fishmongers. (Don't miss the Japanese Snickers Bar dessert either.)
This time, the recommendation that piqued my interest was one for The Light House Café, which came from Jess Murphy of Kai, and others. "Vegan and vegetarian," said Jess, "it's fantastic."
The enthusiasm persuaded me and we pitched up for a late lunch on a Friday afternoon. The menu is short, and nothing on it costs over €11.
Carrot and caraway soup drizzled with pesto is hearty though a tad bland, but the dense rye sourdough that comes with it is properly good. This on its own would make a fine simple, lunch.
A chickpea pancake (crisp and very good) comes filled with courgette, mint and potato fritters that are seriously delicious and don't taste remotely virtuous. There's a tahini dressing, some perky leaves, beetroot hummus and all manner of crunchy salad alongside.
The day's salad plate features hummus, lentils, cabbage, grains, leaves and more, with copious amounts of Fivemiletown goat's cheese; the vegan version comes with smoked tofu, but that was a bridge too far.
This the kind of food that we all want to eat at lunchtime to fend off the dreaded mid-afternoon slump, and at The Light House it's more than an elevated notch above your run of the mill salad bar offering; real thought and imagination has gone into what's on the plate, and the presentation is exquisite. It's true that we eat with our eyes, which explains why all the plates at The Light House are sent back clean.
We don't have dessert, but there are some good-looking bakes on offer, of the lemon polenta cake / brownie /carrot cake type variety.
Our bill for lunch for two, with a couple of those good KO kombucha teas that are cropping up in lots of places now, comes to a little over €30.
Later we take a wander down Quay Street and happen upon the Kasbah wine bar, another place that cropped up in those Twitter recommendations.
Located above (and co-owned with) Tigh Neachtain, the window tables are ideal for watching people on the street below. A board by the entrance tells us that in the late 1950s and early '60s, the Kasbah was Galway's first night club, "a late night eatery where you could get 'atin soup or drinkin' soup, crubbeens and chips. The name of the wine bar is an affectionate tribute to the two sisters, Nora and Dilly, who ran the establishment at the time."
The menu these days is mainly snacks, small plates and boards; there are no crubbeens on offer, for which we are grateful. We may have reached Peak Croquette (is there a menu in the country on which they do not appear?), but the chicken version made with Ronan Byrne's Friendly Farmer chicken is no hardship, and oozily comforting. There's sumac and pepper crispy squid too, served with a miso and black sesame aioli, that's not quite as interesting as it reads, and a taco filled with confit duck leg, red cabbage, orange 'slaw and peanut sauce. It sounds whacky but works.
Most of these small plates costs around a tenner and there's a decent selection of wines by the glass. The majority of the other patrons appear to be tourists.
And then we stick our heads into the newly refurbished Sheridan's, where the smell of fresh paint is still in the air and Galway's post-work crowd is enjoying the very civilised pleasures of wine, cheese and charcuterie on a Friday evening, with an intact weekend still ahead of them. They are an interesting bunch, and many of them look as if they are regulars. The airy room is up on the first floor over the cheese shop and has nice views out over the church and surrounding rooftops; it's a pleasure to be there with a glass of modestly priced yet interesting wine. Next time I'm back in Galway I'll make a point of returning and having something to eat.
8/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET
Soup of the day with Coolfin rye sourdough is a pocket-friendly €4.50. It's a substantial portion.
ON A BLOW OUT
It wouldn't be easy to spend a lot of money at The Light House.
THE HIGH POINT
An unpretentious café serving vibrant vegan and vegetarian food that does not feel like punishment. To a committed omnivore, that's something of a revelation.
THE LOW POINT
The Light House does not open in the evening.