Cava Bodega is one of three Galway restaurants owned and run by husband and wife team JP McMahon and Drigín Gaffeywho are also responsible for the Michelin-starred Aniar and the more casual Eat Gastropub. Originally located on Dominick Street, Cava Bodega moved to its new home beside the Dáil Bar on Middle Street in late 2013 from where it continues to go from strength-to-strength, consolidating its position as one of the city’s most popular restaurants.
The restaurant is split over two floors with a small street level bar cum dining area and a larger downstairs dining room where the chefs work at a furious pace in the open kitchen producing dishes from the extensive menu. The décor has a raucous, eclectic feel to it, with exposed stonework, brightly painted walls and artworks depicting various breeds of pig in all their glory. Empty wine bottles serve as candle holders placed on tables made from reclaimed wood and old wine crates form the serving bar in front of the kitchen pass. I found it immediately appealing.
The menu feels a little intimidating at first, with small print covering both sides of an A3 sized card. However, after closer inspection we realised that it included both the food and a wide range of Spanish wines. Also included are a nice selection of Spanish Sherry and Irish craft beers and ciders. Despite its length the menu is divided into easy-to-navigate sections covering vegetarian, fish, meat and dessert tapas options. With relative ease we selected a number of dishes to kick off proceedings, knowing that we could always order more at any time during our meal. After discussing preferences with my dining companion, we selected an easy-to-drink Garnacha/Syrah (Calatayud, 2015) (€30 per bottle) full of soft red fruits. This wine, like many in Cava Bodega, is also available by the glass or a 500ml carafe.
A large basket of Sourdough bread was first to arrive to the table and was served with a full-flavoured Pedro Ximenes vinegar and a fruity virgin olive oil. This was soon followed by a duo of Pinchos – a type of open sandwich. The first of these Octopus, Onion Marmalade, Piquillo Pepper (€6.50) was a delicious combination of tender octopus, sweet peppers and piquant, almost jammy, onions whilst the Smoked Duck, Plum Compote, Hazelnut (€7) was also excellent with generous slices of gently smoked duck meat balanced by the acidity in the fruit compote and the crunch of the toasted hazelnuts.
There is one dish that I always order when I visit a tapas restaurant and in many ways it has become the culinary yardstick by which I judge the quality of these popular shared-plate meals. Unfortunately, I have eaten a lot of mediocre Patatas Bravas in my time but the version in Cava Bodega (€5.50 per portion) with its spicy hit of smoked paprika and creamy sauce did not disappoint.
Our next dish – a vegetarian offering was the beautifully plated Goat’s Cheese, Piquillo Peppers, Walnut Powder (€8). This was full of simple flavours which worked together to accentuate the mild and creamy goat’s cheese which had a wonderful grassy flavour on the palate.
Portions are generous in Cava Bodega and at the outset our waiter had advised that five or six dishes would be more than adequate for two people but we decided to forge ahead and order a trio of savoury plates. The first of these – Scallops, Black Pudding, Cauliflower, Panceta Iberica, Pistachio(€14) comprised three fantastically plump scallops which had been perfectly pan-fried with a lovely caramelised crust and soft, sweet centres that tasted of the sea. They sat on a bed of creamy cauliflower purée. Meaty, iron-rich black pudding and a strip of salty Iberico ham completed the dish whilst a pistachio crumb and a cauliflower crisp provided textural contrast. Quite honestly, I would go back to Cava Bodega for this dish alone.
The scallops were followed by Beef Steak, Broccoli, Jerusalem Artichoke, Hazelnut, PX Sherry (€14.50). Here a substantial piece of pan-fried beef was served with a silky-smooth Jerusalem artichoke purée, crunchy toasted hazelnuts and a to-die-for dressing made from Pedro Ximenes sherry. Although this was a seemingly simple dish, it more than delivered on the flavour front. Like so much of the cooking in Cava Bodega, the focus of this dish was on the outstanding quality of the ingredients that had been used.
Our final savoury dish was the Moorish Chicken, Piquillo Sauce, Black Olive Soil(€9.50). Although my hunger was waning I found it impossible to resist the crispy-coated tender chicken with its accompanying piquilllo pepper ‘ketchup’ and the black olive crumb which was used almost like a seasoning. This was an uncomplicated dish but deeply satisfying to eat.
I will admit that by this stage our appetites were well sated but I’m a total dessert diva and insisted that we choose at least one. In the end we chose three to share between the two of us!
Desserts offered include the classic almond Santiago Tart and Crema Catalana but we were immediately tempted by the Churros, Chocolate Sauce, Chocolate Ice-Cream, Honeycomb (€6 small/€12 large). Churros are deep-fried fritters which are a popular street food throughout Spain and Latin America. They are also commonly served for breakfast with cups of hot chocolate. Here the churros were presented along with a velvety-smooth chocolate ice-cream and a fabulous chocolate sauce flavoured with PX sherry to create a delightful dessert. Chunks of an excellent honeycomb completed this crowd-pleasing dish.
Our second dessert – Leche Frita, Orange, Sorbet (€8) was another traditional Spanish offering consisting of wedges of thick – almost solid – custard which are bread-crumbed before being deep fried. In many ways my stark description does this fantastic dessert a huge disservice as it does not describe the sheer pleasure that is obtained from biting into the warm creamy custard set against the contrasting coolness of the sorbet and the juiciness of the slices of fresh orange.
The final dish of the evening, Sorbet, Rosé Cava, Berries, Liquorice Meringue (€9) finished our meal with an elegant flourish and in many ways was, for me, with my sweet tooth, the dish of the evening. I absolutely loved the minimalism of this dessert comprising scoops of fruity sorbet and berries onto which dry rosé cava was poured. Shards of liquorice-laced meringue highlighted the natural sweetness of the berries and introduced an unexpected taste.
Cava Bodega hit all the right notes with me. There was an exuberance to the whole experience that made it a place I want to visit again. The primarily produce-driven cooking is innovative, based on using carefully sourced ingredients. The cooking seems rustic but you soon realise that a lot of care and consideration has gone into each plate of food that is produced. Service is unpretentious and delivered in a brisk but friendly manner. I was in total awe of the waiters who climbed up and down the restaurant’s two sets of stairs between the dining rooms with the speed and agility of mountain goats. Put succinctly, Cava Bodega has the feel- good factor and it is easy to see why it is such a hit with Galway diners.
Niamh believes Ireland produces some of the best food in the world, and travels around the country; seeking out the best food producers, and places to eat.
An accomplished cook and baker, Niamh is also a previous MasterChef Ireland finalist. During the competition she had the opportunity to cook in some of Ireland’s top restaurants and experience life on the other side of the kitchen pass.
Working with TheTaste allows Niamh to write about her experiences and to share her passion for food and cooking with a wide audience.
Visit Niamh’s blog The Game Bird Food Chronicles.