Like Dublin, Galway has done little to capitalise on its coastal location. Neither city has the type of seaside energy you find in, say, Barcelona. But if you are looking for a blast of salt air as you head in to dine, the very handsome building on the docks, which has been home to Rúibín since 2019, is a good place to start.
I first ate in this building in 2008. At the time I was the restaurant critic for Irish Tatler, and I had heard that the chef manning the stove was worth checking out. A glitch that meant the early licence was not renewed resulted in the closure of the restaurant, so I never got to file my very favourable review of Sheridan’s on the Docks.
As it happens, Rebecca Burr, the former editor of the UK and Ireland Michelin Guide, had been in at around the same time. She too had noticed that something very interesting was happening in this kitchen.
The chef was Enda McEvoy, who shortly afterwards went on to win a Michelin star for Aniar, then Loam, and working with him was Jess Murphy, who holds a Michelin Bib Gourmand and a Michelin green star for Kai, the Galway restaurant she owns with her husband, David Murphy.
The low-key attention to detail starts with the comfy brown leather chairs, in a room where everything seems to chime
Now this beautiful building has more young blood, in Alice Jary and Richard Kennan. I meet neither of them when I visit, but I later discover that Kennan was the person who gave me a guided tour of Ballyfin Demense when he worked there, made all the more interesting by the fact that he had been a boarder pupil when it was a school.
They are a couple with quite a bit of pedigree. Jary worked for Gordon Ramsay at Claridges Hotel in London, and Kennan spent five years as a manager in Ballyfin. They have travelled extensively, to New Zealand, South America and Mexico, influences that spill into the dishes on their very interesting menu.
Downstairs, we’re in the front room, where the low-key attention to detail starts with the comfy brown leather chairs, in a room where everything seems to chime – the grey slate floor is echoed in the paintwork on the windows, and there are lovely touches, such as jars of dried lemons, juniper berries and blackberries sitting on a shelf over the fireplace, and small bouquets of dried flowers wrapped in brown paper.
Upstairs, it is considerably livelier, but regardless of where you are sitting, it just feels like the perfect place to be for lunch on a Saturday. There’s plenty of energy, but it’s far from the hungover hordes of hens, stags and whatnot traipsing along Quay Street.
The menu includes house-made hash browns with poached eggs or smoky butterbeans, the sort of thing you’d associate with brunch, and some more classic lunch options, which is the direction we decide to take, starting with three Flaggy Shore oysters, small, sweet and briny, in pickled rhubarb (€10).
Rúibín chowder (€8) comes with seeded soda bread – of course it does, because this is what the menu here is all about – the pearly fish peeping out like icebergs from the fresh broth, chopped chives bringing a fresh allium note. I would perhaps lose the few chunks of salmon, but this is a very fine chowder indeed.
To finish, a delicately constructed pavlova is filled with blood orange and cardamom yogurt cream, bringing a heady hint of spice to the fresh cut of the citrus
The house-made milk bun with battered fish (€14) is just about everything you could ask from this combination, a soft bun with fish steaming out of crisp golden batter, with a remoulade. As advised by our absolutely excellent server, we have opted for the side of crispy fried potatoes with rosemary salt and aioli (€5).
Do yourself a favour and make sure that you order a side each. They are Ballymakenny potatoes – really, a lunch with just these would be enough to have you smiling for the day.
The fermented potato flatbread has plenty of Middle Eastern influences, adding interest to the topping of dried pepper beef with coriander yogurt and crispy onions (€15). And, to finish, a delicately constructed pavlova is filled with blood orange and cardamom yogurt cream (€7), bringing a heady hint of spice to the fresh cut of the citrus.
Rúibín is the place you wish you’d booked before you headed to Galway – if you don’t already live in Galway, that is. It is the place where locals love to go. And as an outsider, you immediately feel like you’ve found the best place in town and not just landed in a touristy joint.
Lunch/brunch for two with two teas was €64
THE VERDICT A restaurant that immediately makes you feel like you’ve found the best place in town
Facilities Compact and clean
Music Background and unobtrusive
Food provenance Andarl Farm, The Friendly Farmer, Galway Bay Seafoods, Mad Yolk Farm, Bullan Ark, An Garri Glas, Sheridan’s
Vegetarian options Dishes such as spiced butternut squash with wild rice, and for vegans, shiitake and tofu dumplings with miso broth
Wheelchair access Accessible, with accessible toilet