Brownes of Tuam: Delicious new life in pub made famous by the Saw Doctors

Review: Saw Doctors pub Brownes of Tuam has been given a new lease of life

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Maybe they didn’t have the money for a glossy slab of Chinese granite or a poured concrete counter. Or else they just knew that the formica bar counter with its curved zinc edging in Brownes Pub is as much a piece of history as its name. For my generation formica was the surface we balanced bony elbows on as children, watching gimlet-eyed as jellies were counted into bags in sweetshops. 

Brownes is a small pub in the centre of Tuam, the Co Galway town that sugar made until the beet factory closed and left the place gutted and gap-toothed. The tiny Grocery Bar at the front is still a bar, that formica counter enclosing a small space in front of a low curved fire, where coals are glowing in an unshowy real fire as we are blown in from the chilly footpath. There’s a bench with some large cushions and a table in the window. Lovely as it is we’re not here for the bar. We’re heading into the back room, a cream and green painted place with a small kitchen at one end and bare wooden tables and chairs arranged with tealights and fresh flowers in small bottles on each table. 

New Brownes is the work of chef Stevie Lane and his wife Amanda Fahy. Lane is a grandson of the original owner Gay Browne. Lane spent 12 years in Dublin cooking in kitchens that included L’Ecrivain, Mulberry Garden and The Pig’s Ear. In October last year after many years in darkness the lights came back on in Brownes and the fire is lit. It’s a minimalist makeover. The thinking and the money have gone into the food. A list of great Connacht producers, mongers and butchers is literally the length of your arm on the back of the long cardboard menu. The non-alcoholic options are listed as “minerals” in true pub fashion. So old Irish pub meets young chef who knows his ingredients? I have a feeling good things will happen. 

Swiss watch

The clever cooking starts with ham hock terrine, soft pink threads moulded into a round and served with blobs of golden raisin puree with mustard seeds for pops of heat and zing with all the salt and sweet.

A bowl of crab meat is toped with curls and rounds of pickled kohlrabi, sweet as curls of apple, which are here too making a set of flavours as crisp as the ticking of a Swiss watch. There are fish cakes (more balls actually) – breaded rounds of potato and smoked fish (haddock I’m guessing) – sitting in a tangy puddle of tzatziki made with that ingredient that’s becoming a menu byword for good kitchens, Velvet Cloud sheep’s yoghurt

It takes guts and an eye to the future to put a root vegetable on as a main course this far west. Here it’s a plate of salt-baked celeriac, wedges of flinty root crinkled and crispy outside, sweet and squishy inside, served with dots of tangy cream, toasted hazelnuts and cubes of pickled vegetable I’m guessing is more of that kohlrabi. There’s spinach here too, baby leaves of it just wilted and dropped over the plate like the last winter leaf fall.

Yvonne’s beef cheek has been slow-cooked to a fudge softness. It comes with celeriac and sweetly roasted onions. Ciara has the hake, a china-white fillet with Tayto-crisp skin. The only slight let down is cauliflower which is a little soggy. We get two portions of great chips, crisped in beef dripping.

The second side is a test to see if the (dreaded) Brussel sprout can be spun from a duty green into a joy. And yes it can, cooked lightly so the sulphur slime stage is never reached and then dotted with a creamy chestnut puree. 

Desserts are proper treats, more restaurant than pub variety. A glass bowl of trifle is topped with gooey Italian meringue, a great vanilla-flecked custard and fruity jelly. A chocolate parfait with caramel does what it needs to do and a lovely cheese plate with Cooleeney brie, Galway Goat’s cheese, Mossfield gouda and Cashel Blue with quince jelly and a quivering dollop of crab apple jelly. 

Brownes was immortalised in the Saw Doctors’s anthem to friendship Never Mind the Strangers: “Even now it’s hard to think back, When did it all begin. Was it some night drinking in Gay Brownes pub. Every soul is welcomed in,” the lyrics go. This is the time of the year we flock to pubs and wonder why we don’t go more often. Pubs are not just for Christmas. Rooms with great food like Brownes of Tuam are the keepers we need for heart and soul in our country towns. 

Dinner for three with two glasses of wine, a ginger beer, desserts and cheese came to €124.80

The lowdown

Verdict: Confident clever cooking in a lovely old Irish pub  

Music: The Saw Doctors and Van Morrison featured

Wheelchair access: Yes

Facilities: Nice

Food provenance: Extensive Solaris Botanicals, Galway, Cuinneog butter from Mayo, Gannet Fishmongers and Galway Goat Farm in Dunmore among the names. 

Vegetarian options: Limited but good