A Love Affair with Loam by Niamh Mannion
Loam in Galway has been on my foodie bucket list for a while so I was delighted to finally get the opportunity to visit recently. Located off Eyre Square in a rather anonymous looking building, this restaurant cum wine bar has a spacious, modern feel inside which reflects the style of the food perfectly.
Diners can opt for a ‘simplicity’ menu and select from the three options given for each course or choose the 6-course tasting menu. Although brief, the menu features many unusual ingredients along the way. As seems to be the fashion these days, dishes are described by means of a roll-call of the ingredients, which in real terms doesn’t overly enlighten the diner about what they will eat, but certainly does retain an element of surprise which is only revealed when the dish arrives.
Suppliers are referred to as ‘collaborators’ reflecting the ethos of the restaurant which adopts an almost partnership approach to its producers. Granted, this ideological standpoint might seem contrived but many would argue that it offers a sound template for the future of food and dining out. Restaurant food is not divorced from the environment in which it is produced, so one can only admire those chefs who recognise and embrace this on the menus that they create by using ingredients from the immediate locale. The menu in Loam changes regularly to reflect the seasonal availability of ingredients locally.
With an open, on-view kitchen you can freely observe Head Chef Enda McEvoy as he works. I was transfixed watching my meal being prepared and was struck by the Zen-like air of focused calm which prevailed in the minimalist kitchen.
Bread and an amuses bouches selection arrived soon after we were seated. This troika of bite-sized delights looked beautiful and I was eager to dig in. Least successful was the Potato Nest with Ash as, despite possessing a pleasing crunch, I couldn’t detect the flavour of the ash. The Pear, Kohlrabi, Hazelnut was full of refreshing, crunchy textures and tasted deliciously clean on the palate. Similarly, the cone of Whipped Goat’s Cheese & Chive Flower using Dunmanus goat’s cheese teased the taste buds in all the right ways and promised further treats ahead on the 6-course tasting menu which we had decided upon.
Beef Tartare, Egg, Salted Gooseberry was the first dish to arrive. Simply presented this was a striking dish which showcased the wonderful quality and delicious flavour of the beef that was used. For anyone squeamish about eating raw meat, I urge you make your way to Loam and try this dish. The beef was wonderfully tender and succulent and I loved the warm ‘sauce’ created by the runny but cooked egg yolk. The elements of a classic beef tartare were all there but what distinguished this from others that I have eaten was the inclusion of salted gooseberries. The salty astringency that they imparted elevated this dish to something that was as close to perfection on a plate as you can get.
Next up was Monkfish Liver, Onions, Lion’s Mane Mushrooms. Here the fish liver had been combined with cream to create a fine textured ‘sausage’. Sitting in a small pool of squid-ink broth and accompanied by some bittersweet caramelised onions and almost alien-looking lion’s mane mushrooms, this was a delicate dish, sensitively cooked. The mushrooms in particular were a revelation, possessing a slightly chewy texture und an underlying subtle seafood taste that worked so well with the other elements of the dish.
Susan, my guest for the evening has a fish allergy so couldn’t eat the monkfish but this did not present a problem. Duck Hearts, Little Gem, Sheep’s Milk arrived in its place without any fuss. I have only eaten duck hearts on one previous occasion and wasn’t particularly enamoured with them but here they dazzled jewel-like on the plate and looked so inviting that I felt compelled to try them and I was delighted that I did because they were outstanding. Accompanied by charred little gem lettuce, lovage sauce and a sheep’s milk froth, this was another perfectly balanced, top-notch dish.
Asparagus, Woodruff & Pine, was a seemingly simple dish consisting of both wild and cultivated asparagus on a woodruff and lovage purée with fermented double cream. Wild asparagus possesses a somewhat grassy taste which I found contrasted beautifully with the lactic tanginess of the fermented cream. Pickled spruce needles are new to me, but I loved their inclusion and the unexpected ‘pop’ of flavour they delivered.
Duck, Chicory & Beet was the next course to arrive and in many ways was the simplest of the evening. The accompanying beetroot provided a gentle sweetness as did the duck and apple jus whilst the slight bitterness of the braised white chicory cut through the overall richness of the dish. For me, the extreme bitterness of the red chicory leaves was a little too much but the perfectly cooked duck breast made up for this and I enjoyed the dish.
We were then presented with a stunning looking pre-dessert. Cucumber & Pear consisted of a cucumber sorbet, small pearls of compressed pear macerated in lemon and some shards of cucumber meringue. Carefully flavoured with a little dill, I thought it was absolutely delicious and one of the most unusual sorbets I have ever tasted with palate cleansing properties that were second-to-none.
I certainly wasn’t expecting to see ice-cream when Sheep’s Milk Yoghurt & Strawberry arrived. Not that this was regular ice-cream but rather, a frozen confection made from sheep’s milk yoghurt and squid ink! Although the dark grey colour was unsettling to look at, I liked its unique taste, particularly when eaten with the strawberry meringue, strawberry gel and dehydrated white chocolate crumb which came with it. This was a great finish to the meal.
Petit fours – a Blackcurrant Pastille and Nougat were presented as we sipped on well-made espressos and finished off our wine – a bottle of 2011 Garnacha ‘Salvaje del Moncayo’ from Spain; a smooth wine with a nice fruity character, which I felt was reasonably priced at €27.
Of all the restaurants I have eaten in over the past two years, Loam has lingered longest in my thoughts after the meal was finished and I want to do it justice. Reviewing restaurants is subjective and often difficult. No words can fully express nor do photographs truly depict the experience of eating a meal for yourself. Reviews document the food in a very two-dimensional way and at best merely whet the appetites of readers and potential diners.
In many ways you have to leave your culinary pre-conceptions behind when you enter through the doors of Loam but this is what makes the food so exciting and different. I felt as if my palate had been invigorated by the meal that I ate. On one level the food is challenging and may not be accessible to all but this is impressive cooking that is innovative and deserves to be recognised. More importantly, this is food that should be experienced, eaten and enjoyed.
Items on the ‘Simplicity’ menu are individually priced with starters and desserts around €10 and main courses €30. The 6 –course tasting menu which must be ordered by the entire table costs €60 or €90 with wine-pairings.
I’m simply someone who loves cooking and experimenting with food and different ingredients. From my early childhood spent in Zambia and Australia before returning home to Ireland I was fascinated with cookbooks and reading recipes. I would spend many hours reading my grandmother’s cookbooks and watching her preparing food in the kitchen.
Although I studied to become a graphic designer and spent a few years working in advertising before then becoming a civil servant, the one thing I always wanted to be was a food writer – sharing my enthusiasm for cooking with others, but I lacked the confidence to do the thing I wanted to do most in case I failed. I finally decided to take a risk and applied for MasterChef Ireland 2014 and was one of the three finalists.
For me, food and cooking is about family, friendship, sharing and conviviality. As a mother of three, I want my children to grow up with a love and appreciation of how lucky we are to live in a country like Ireland with such great produce and so many wonderful food producers. I continue to write and share my enthusiasm for food on my food and recipe blog The game bird Food Chronicles at http://thegamebird.blogspot.ie/