Restaurant review: 'Tuam eatery Gather pays more than lip service to locally sourced, community-friendly food'
Gather, Varden House, High Street, Tuam, Co Galway. gatherrestaurant.ie
Heading home after a whistlestop visit to the West, there's a chance to fit in one more meal on the way and the place that's calling to me is Gather in Tuam, about which I have been hearing good things since it opened almost three years ago.
In fact, it's a toss-up between Gather and Browne's, both of which serve lunch on a Friday, but there's a serendipitous parking spot right outside the door of the former, so Gather it is.
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A week or two later, when I call Aoife Flaherty to ask her about the restaurant that she owns with her sister, Siobhan, she tells me that they chose the name for two reasons - firstly, that they wanted their restaurant to be a place where the local community could gather and, secondly, that the ingredients they would use would be gathered from the surrounding area.
The sisters grew up in nearby Abbey- knockmoy and went to school in Tuam, so they are rooted in this place. Siobhan is the chef and Aoife the restaurant manager - both have been in the business for a number of years, and worked together previously in Il Vicolo in Galway, where Aoife was one of the owners. Aoife says that when the Tuam premises came up for lease, Siobhan was the one who persuaded her that they should dip their toes back in to the water.
"We already knew many of the suppliers that we wanted to work with," Aoife tells me, citing people such as Ronan Byrne aka The Friendly Farmer, who pasture-rears fabulous, tasty chickens at Knockboy near Athenry, and Dave and Diana Milestone who produce the magnificent Andarl 'velvet' pork from happy, muddy, properly free-range pigs in nearby Glenamaddy.
A cursory look at the menu shows that Gather is truly walking the walk rather than just talking the talk when it comes to provenance. Every restaurant in the country now claims to source locally and seasonally, but the reality is that many are shopping for low-cost imported ingredients in the supermarkets, and buying imported meat (chicken and pork in particular) for the simple reason that it's cheaper to do so, no matter that the chicken that comes from cutting houses in Holland may have originated as far away as Eastern Europe, and is long past its best by the time that it arrives in Irish restaurants.
Potato, broccoli and fennel soup is based on good stock, the kind of combination that's dictated by what comes in the door of the kitchen and all the better and fresher for that. A fine strapping burger of Brady's beef comes with Durrus cheese, pickles, tomato relish and great hand-cut, skin-on chips, with a side of 'slaw for good measure. (No one is going to go hungry at Gather.) It's as good a burger as you'll find anywhere; the addition of rashers of Andarl bacon makes it nigh on perfect.
A fish special of plaice - two generous, perfectly cooked, crisp-skinned pieces, sitting on a mound of herbed organic cherry tomatoes, courgettes and potato rosti -comes with an excellent Café de Paris butter.
With a side of coleslaw and an organic green salad from Fuinseog Farm that has the taste of 'picked this morning' about it, a raspberry kombucha from Emmett Kerrigan and Keith Loftus's Galway-based All About Kombucha, and a reasonable macchiato, lunch for two costs €47.70.
What Aoife and Siobhan are doing at Gather is a model for the kind of restaurant that should exist in every Irish town, supporting local farmers and growers, and acting as a hub for the community.
It's rare that a restaurant manages to be all things to all people, to cater as well for families with children as it does for couples looking for somewhere 'nice' to go out for dinner, but on the evidence of my recent visit and the reports that I hear from people who live locally it would appear that Gather is doing just that.
Up with this kind of thing.
ON A BUDGET
At brunch, you can have Cuinneog buttermilk pancakes for €6.75.
ON A BLOW-OUT
Braised oxtail with mushrooms, truffle oil and sage crisp to start, followed by venison loin with sides and dessert will cost in the region of €100 for two before drinks or service.
THE HIGH POINT
At Gather, provenance reigns supreme.
THE LOW POINT
That every town in Ireland doesn't have a restaurant like Gather.