Select: fall in love with some Galway grub

Galway International Arts Festival rolls into the City of the Tribes this weekend, and in among the visual arts, theatre and music there's some great food to be found

Grab a coffee from the Jungle Beach Break Cafe on Salthill Prom, above, and go in search of Patricia Piccinini’s majestic Skywhale hot air balloon

Grab a coffee from the Jungle Beach Break Cafe on Salthill Prom, above, and go in search of Patricia Piccinini’s majestic Skywhale hot air balloon

 

Time to make like The Pet Shop Boys and go west, as the Galway International Arts Festival returns from July 13th for a fortnight of top-notch music, visual arts, theatre, dance and more. The City of the Tribes has sterling eating options year round, and there are some special offerings for the festival.

The Big Top has pitched up in the city centre with gigs most nights, including Sinead O’Connor with John Grant, Kodaline, Damien Rice and the excellent St Vincent. Fergus O’Halloran of the Twelve Hotel and restaurant in Barna is returning for his fourth year to offer gourmet festival food to Big Top-goers. “We wanted to get rid of the chipper vans and offer people quality food from the local area,” he says. “It’s a big task as it’s a gourmet offering that ties in with the bands playing, but you also have to be able to eat it on the move.” You can head to his custom-built 10ft-long barbecue beside the Big Top from 6.30pm each evening to sample the Indie Bay Seafood Chowder (€6), “Sinead’s 5oz of Mandinka” (€6), a flame-grilled burger with caramelised onions or a “High Hopes Hot Dog”, with James McGeough’s turf-smoked Connemara sausage on a bun with onion marmalade (€6).

Look up and you might spot Australian artist Patricia Piccinini’s enormous Skywhale – a majestic hot air balloon whale with huge gas-filled udders. The floating mammal will watch over the city for a fortnight, in spots such as South Park in the Claddagh and Salthill Prom. It’s a good excuse to grab some coffees and treats and go whale-hunting (in a nice way, of course). On Salthill prom, the Jungle Beach Break Café serves smoothies and shakes, Italian ice cream, fresh Costa Rican coconut water – opened with a machete – or, if it’s a typical freezing Galway day, good hot chocolates and Badger and Dodo coffee. If the flag is up, it’s open.

A short stroll from the Claddagh, you’ll find Coffeewerk + Press (4, Quay Street), a beautiful new spot with flower-adorned tables outside. Inside, it sells books, prints, cards and slick Falcon Enamelware. There’s a design store upstairs with vinyl playing on the record player, but we reckon you should grab a coffee (they serve Denmark’s Coffee Collective and Berlin’s The Barn roastery), and one of its massive, chewy cookies and go in search of the whale. Around the corner Le Petit Delice (7 Mainguard Street, 091-500 751) is a busy patisserie that may distract you from your whale mission with its French pastries, including macarons, éclairs, torte, some very good almond croissants or tasty little chouqette – bites of sugar coated choux pastry (€1 for 5).
See locations and dates for the Skywhale here.

The festival is also birthday time for Electric on Upper Abbeygate Street, as it celebrates its third anniversary. On the roof, you’ll find Biteclub – which serves good streetfood with great music. On Sunday, July 26th, there’s a Day to Night birthday party which kicks off with brunch, beginning at 2pm. Try the Scotch egg with tabbouleh and hollandaise and either falafel or sausage (€9) or a brunch bap with a Hertrich sausage patty, smoked streaky bacon, fried egg and an ancho chilli crema (€8.50). If you’re feeling tender, the Bloody Máire should sort you out. It's a west of Ireland take on the traditional Bloody Mary, with poitín and sriracha added to the mix.

Ard Bia at Nimmo’s (Spanish Arch) has become a Galway institution and its annual block party takes place this Sunday, July 12th, after the launch of the festival’s visual arts programme. From 3pm, there will be al fresco mezze, prosecco and DJs playing until 10pm. Or pop in for an early dinner during the festival where you can try west-coast monkfish with lobster, saffron bisque risotto and Slow Hill pea shoots (€24) and kefir ice cream with homemade elder flower cordial (€4.50), before strolling around the corner to the Mick Lally Theatre on Druid Lane where Amy Conroy premieres her latest make ’em laugh and cry piece of theatre, Luck Just Kissed You Hello.

Finally, NUI Galway hosts a number of interesting talks in its Aula Maxima, while Enda Walsh’s A Girl’s Bedroom, voiced by Charlie Murphy, will run at 20-minute intervals in the university’s Bank of Ireland Theatre from 11am daily. Afterwards, make use of the new Galway Bikes scheme and take a short cycle from the college to 37 West Café (37 Lower Newcastle Road). This cool little cafe does healthy breakfasts and lunches, including fish cakes (€11) made with cod, salmon and gluten-free breadcrumbs, served with a Greek salad and tartar sauce, or a creamy chowder (€5.50), which comes with homemade Cuinneog Buttermilk brown bread.

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