Review: Loam restaurant in Galway- not perfect, but close

Ingredients are king and Enda McEvoy is developing a style all his own

Sat, Mar 28, 2015, 06:35

   

Loam

The door looks like an emergency exit. Inside, there’s a modern box that might have been a Mace or a Spar in another life. It houses a starkly bright kitchen. Bare Danish tables and chairs are dotted around between box planters and counters. The look is equal parts Ikea and Woodies.

It’s not a setting where you expect to find a piece of meat that stops you in your tracks, trying to figure out what kind of kitchen magic has infused it with the flavours of hazelnuts and toasted mushrooms. 

The meat isn’t even on my plate. I’m filching it shamelessly from someone else at the table. It’s mutton, but not as we know it. That woolly lanolin cloy of sheep that makes you yearn for some spring lamb isn’t here. This is mutton dressed as fillet.  Chunks of silken umami, so good I’m going to break a reviewing rule after paying the bill and walk up to the pass to ask chef Enda McEvoy how he made it taste so good. 

I’m in Loam on Galway’s Fairgreen on a quiet midweek night with two of my favourite Galwegians. The restaurant opened late last year after months spent wrangling the space into shape as a restaurant. It’s McEvoy’s first solo venture after leaving Aniar, where he earned a Michelin star. He’s named his new restaurant after the kind of rich soil that produces delicious food. 

So there’s no place like Loam? Actually there are lots of Scandi-style restaurants that have rippled out across the world from a certain harbourside restaurant in Copenhagen. But it’s been a long time since McEvoy did his stage in René Redzepi’s Noma and you get the impression that he’s a chef who is relaxing into his own style and revelling in his own larder of ingredients.

So our main courses (not cheap at the guts of €30 apiece) come with a great big bowl of waxy yellow new spuds, their skins glistening with butter like a baby-oiled farmer in a charity calendar. They’re as tasty and uncheffy a touch as I’ve seen, with a generous sprig of aniseedy chervil wilting in the buttery heat on top.

But first, all eyes are on the man who ordered beef tartare as a starter, a diner who has never eaten raw meat. His verdict? “Different for me. But delicious.” And it is. The blood red meat has been speckled with tiny pieces of tangy salted gooseberry and sits on a cooked egg yolk that binds the sweet rawness with a veil of cooked warmth.

Before the starters there have been snacks: three birds’ nests of tangled fried potato threads dusted with leek ash, a cone of herbed goats’ cheese and an open wonton of celeriac – except the wonton pastry is a piece of soft raw celeriac folded like a napkin around a remoulade topped with a pea shoot.

The brown bread is a perfect loaf speckled with seeds and nutty whole grains. There’s a wholemeal sourdough that tastes so strongly of wheat it reminds me of splitting grains with a thumbnail as a child and tasting the chewy insides.

There’s a beautiful crab starter with delicate garnishes of radish, cabbage and a tangy yoghurt. “It tastes of the sea,” Yvonne says, in the best compliment you can give a seafood dish.

My pig’s tail is a little chewy but there’s plenty of crunch in sweetly charred pearl onions, and ribbons of cuttlefish. A shiitake mushroom broth gets poured over it all and there’s a spoon to scoop the medley of sea, field, forest and farmyard out at the end. I stick with the pig and get the pork belly for main, soft meat smothered in a fruity glaze with charred chicory to keep it from tasting too sweet. It’s finished with discs of poached pear so perfect they look like soft frosted glass. Paul has the cod, a meaty slab of great fish with smoked mussels, glassy kale crisps, salsify and raw cauliflower mandolined to look like cheese.

It’s not a flawless meal. A beetroot and rose sorbet tastes too much like one of your five a day. It’s surrounded by ash meringue like shards of cavity wall insulation after a fire and a jumble of malted crumbs and caramel.

My sheep’s milk yoghurt sorbet is gorgeous, flanked with two fissures of card-thin apple meringue and spiked on the top with two briefly frozen sorrel leaves. Less alluring is the pool of cucumber balls and smaller green gelatin balls which look like they were a lot of faff to make but I would have happily gone without.

Dessert wobbles aside, I love Loam. And the secret of that meat? It comes from the flavour of the bones of the animal itself. It’s hung for three weeks until the outside gets a kind of bloom on it, McEvoy explains. He just cooks it. That care and stewarding of great food onto the table is what makes Loam a richly delicious place to visit.

Dinner for three with three glasses of wine and water came to €171.40.

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