It’s hard not to fall immediately in love with Brownes in Tuam. The restaurant, which is owned and run by husband and wife team Stevie Lane and Amanda Fahy, is housed in the building that was once home to the famous Brownes Pub, forever immortalised in Never Mind the Strangers – a song by the Saw Doctors who hail from the area.
Brownes is located on the main square in the centre of Tuam. There have been licensed premises on this site since 1847, but the building had fallen into disrepair in recent years. When Lane and Fahy acquired the property, they undertook extensive renovations before opening it as a restaurant in late 2016. Many original features have been retained and you can really sense the history of the building inside.
Storm Georgina was kicking into action on the night we visited, so we were delighted to warm ourselves in front of the open fire facing the Formica-topped bar in the front area of the restaurant, which is called the Grocery Bar. This is a reminder of its past as Brownes, like many other pubs in years gone by, used to sell foodstuffs and other provisions, along with whiskey and pints of stout.
We decided to linger a little in the Grocery Bar before moving into the main dining room, which is situated at the back of the building. Here we sipped on G&Ts from the large selection of Irish gins that are available. There is also a generous assortment of craft beers, many of which are on tap and some appealing cocktails.
Our drinks were served in faux cut-glass tumblers – the kind that I remember my granny using when serving orange squash to me when I was a child. Bar snacks are listed on the old grocery paper roll at the edge of the bar and although tempted by the likes of Castlemine Pork Croquettes and House Roast Nuts, we decided to keep our appetites intact for our meal.
The dining area is attractively designed in a minimalist style with an open kitchen pass at the far end of the room, from where we were able to watch Head Chef Stevie Lane working in a calm and focused manner. Having booked an early sitting, we were the first diners to arrive, but other tables soon filled up and by the time we were eating our main courses, the room was abuzz with the happy chatter of satisfied customers.
Lane previously worked in L’Ecrivain, The Pig’s Ear and Mulberry Garden and his fine dining background is evident in the food that is served. Despite the building’s history, this is a modern restaurant offering his interpretation of contemporary Irish cuisine showcasing the best of local, seasonal produce.
In keeping with modern dining trends, the menu is succinct but there are still plenty of dishes to entice the taste-buds. Menu descriptions are simple, merely listing the main constituent ingredients rather than over-describing each dish and as a result, there is an element of surprise when each one arrives.
We grazed on excellent homemade Brown Soda Bread as we waited for our starters to arrive. My Crab, Apple, Kohlrabi was a beautiful, delicate looking dish which was made up of a very generous amount of white crab meat.
Textural crunch was provided by the thin wafers of lightly pickled kohlrabi and crisp fresh apple. I also detected subtle floral notes which reminded me of hibiscus. This underpinned the dish and brought everything together. This was a simple but elegant plate of food that was packed full of clean, fresh flavours.
My companion opted for the Galway Goat’s Cheese, Beetroots, Walnuts – a tried and trusted combination of ingredients but one that works for good reason.
Here, the ingredients were allowed to speak for themselves without too much faffing around or needless embellishment. The goat’s cheese used was creamy and mild with an underlying tanginess that gave way to sweetness of the palate.
After the lightness of our starters we both decided on heartier fare for our main courses. My Cod, Cauliflower, Almonds included a large portion of expertly cooked cod. Cauliflower made a couple of appearances on the plate which showed off the wonderful versatility of this vegetable.
Lightly cooked florets were charred and presented alongside the cod, which sat on a smear of cauliflower purée. Whole almonds were an inspired addition and complemented both the cod and cauliflower perfectly, adding a sweet nuttiness to proceedings.
Across the table, my companion’s Friendly Farmer Chicken, Butter Beans, Chorizo was going down a treat. I can’t remember when I last saw butter beans mentioned on a restaurant menu and I was delighted to see them included in this deeply satisfying, heartwarming dish.
The pan-fried chicken was moist and flavourful and a world removed from much of the chicken on sale in supermarkets these days. Sourced from The Friendly Farmer in nearby Athenry, it had been cooked to perfection by Lane and we both agreed that this was one of the best chicken dishes that we had ever eaten.
Dripping is one of those things that I honestly believe could make anything taste better, so with little persuasion we shared a side of Beef Dripping Hand-Cut Chips, which as we suspected were delicious with their crispy exteriors and soft, fluffy centres.
The Broccoli with Dukkah – a herb, spice and nut mix – was also superb and a fantastic way to treat this oft maligned member of the cabbage family. This is one idea that I will try to replicate in my own kitchen at home!
For dessert we shared a Peanut Parfait, Chocolate, Caramel and the Irish Cheeses, Quince & Crackers. At first glance the dessert looked quite unremarkable… nice but nothing spectacular… merely a scoop of parfait surrounded by some chocolate ‘rubble’.
However, it more than delivered on the flavour front and after each taking a spoonful, we were soon simpering like idiots extolling its delights. Put bluntly, it tasted like a Snickers Bar but here the concept elevated those familiar flavours to something that was quite simply sublime. We loved it.
The cheeseboard was made up of a quartet of well-chosen Irish Cheeses including a Mossfield Organic Cheddar, Cashel Blue, soft goats cheese from Galway Goat Farm and St. Killian Brie. All were in good condition and nicely presented alongside some superior crackers. The cheeses along with a glass of one of my favourite dessert wines – a Banyuls from the south-west of France was the perfect way to end an excellent meal.
The total bill for our meal which included two G&Ts at the outset, a large bottle of sparkling water, a glass of red and a glass of dessert wine came to an extremely reasonable €107.10 which for the quality of food that we ate, represented phenomenal value for money. Yes, Stevie Lane brings his fine dining past to the food he creates at Brownes, but there is nothing pretentious or intimidating about it.
In fact, there is something so quintessentially Irish about Brownes and the front Grocery Bar in particular, which is so unlike the contrived ‘paddywhackery’ found in too many bars and restaurants around Ireland, keen to cash in on their Celtic credentials in the mistaken belief that visitors to our country find it appealing.
If you plan on travelling west, make a detour via Tuam and visit Brownes, because the genuinely warm welcome that you receive, and the quality of food makes it worth the trip.
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.