Le Petit Pois: new French restaurant in Galway

This cheerful family run place with French food and wine excels at relaxed good dining

Sat, Nov 28, 2015, 04:00

   

Le Petit Pois

There’s nothing about the sign for Le Petit Pois that says cool or hip. It’s a cartoonish string of multicoloured peas jumping out of a pod. Glance at it you might mistake the entrance for a crèche rather than a place to go for dinner.

The small French restaurant is tucked in to an old stone building at the end of lane off Victoria Place in Galway city. It’s minutes from Eyre Square but on a busy road rather than in the more meandering heart of old Galway.

The family operation run by cook Michele and her other half, wine expert Philippe, opened in July.

There’s a covered lane down to the old stone coach-house that is the restaurant. The kitchen and wine bar are downstairs. You climb steep narrow stairs to get to the small dining room. And those pea pops of colour are repeated in strings of fairy lights each covered with a different raffia bauble. Overhead bigger raffia baubles cover the light bulbs. The floorboards are painted a chalky grey and the stone walls are whitewashed. They’re hung with colourful line drawings by David Barou.

Looked at closely enough you realise they depict the staff members who are serving the food. There’s one of the young woman they describe as their “front-of-house energy bullet” Lassa speeding around the corner from the steep stairs after one of her many ascents from the kitchen. It’s as cheerful as the set of a children’s TV show. Nothing very po-faced is going to happen here, the decor seems to say. We’re going to have some good clean fun. In primary colours.

The food is French but with a little sprinkling of Mediterranean cooking and ingredients. We go for the set menu with two matches which is cheerfully good value at €37 a head.

Hence the slightly odd start of egg and soldiers for me, a comforting cup of soft yolk egg with tomato and basil. At the bottom I fish out long chewy strings like vanilla pods. They’re black trompettes (known in France either as the trumpet of death or more optimistically the horn of plenty). They add a mushroomy depth to the simple dish, which feels less like a brunch classic thanks to the wine match of a nicely spicy syrah and grenache blend.

Across the table there’s a more grownup dish: expertly cooked duck fois gras au torchon, where the liver is poached in a muslin like a pudding. The result is a silken delicate fois gras with two types of toast, a sweet brown almost gingerbread version and another more regular crusty. Delicate threads of confit shallots provide the sweet foil.

The turbot has gone so we get another special of fresh squid, “just caught in the Atlantic”. It’s the freshest squid I’ve had anywhere; silken purses of soft flesh tumbled with more nubbly tentacled baby whole squid. They’ve been dressed with a sauce that has just enough spice, set off perfectly with a flinty Sauvignon Blanc, and served with marinated button mushrooms that remind me of a childhood picnic dish.

The only let-down are the “micro potatoes,” baby potatoes by another name and chosen for their cute looks over flavour. Liam has a hearty bowl of veal osso bucco, chunky shin bones cooked long and slow with tomatoes and then lifted out of the meaty stew spectrum by making it alla gremolata: adding orange and lemon flavours. It comes with tagliatelle and is a simple and comforting bowl of good food.

Michele’s signature dessert, a homemade almond milk ice-cream, is almond flavour on speed: like an amaretto in ice-cream form. It’s served on a tear-drop shaped meringue as “crunchy” as the menu promises with a sooty chocolate sauce, all of which tastes house made. Good coffee comes with a “sweet bite” for a euro extra.

Le Petit Pois does wine evenings. It import all its wine from France and you can share platters of cheese and meat if you don’t want a full meal. As French food struggles to regain its ascendancy in the face of Spanish gastronomy, Scandi-chic and cool Britannia, this small, ridiculously friendly place might show the way. The techniques and wine may be French but some of the food, like that memorable squid, come from closer to home. And it’s as unselfconscious a place as you’re likely to find.

Last I checked they’d updated their logo by drawing Rudolph’s face behind the red “pea”. It’s not cool. But Le Petit Pois is, like the food it’s named after, undeniably likeable and sweet.

Dinner for two with two paired wines each came to €83.50.