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Q & A with Jp McMahon of Eat @ Massimo Bar, Galway

All the best places to eat, shop and stay in Ireland. A local guide to local places.
  • JP McMahon

In addition to his pioneering work at Cava, where he focuses on a tapas menu, and with Enda McEvoy in Aniar, where they push the culinary envelope, Jp McMahon also runs the EAT gastropub. Mr McMahon kindly agreed to answer a few questions about pubs and eating in Galway.

What do you look for in a pub?

I do look for tradition, but I also want to see some kind of innovation with regard to food wine, and beer. I want to see better food in pubs, better wine lists, and more artisan beers. Pubs can have all this without losing their own identity. We need to combine tradition and innovation in order to make a difference.

Can Ireland do gastropubs?

That's still an open question. We still have a long way to with regard the quality that your see in England but we can try. More education needs to be done on the side of the public with regard to what they should expect. Then you don’t want people abusing the terms. For me gastropubs are pubs that push food forward - in terms of identity and ingredients. It need not be Michelin quality (though there are a few in Britain!). It need only have integrity to local food. That is the most important thing. 

What are your favorite pubs in Ireland?

At the moment we are in an in-between place with regard to pub culture in Ireland. We have a number of different types of pubs from traditional bars, super pubs, and gastro pubs. Some like Ely Gastro Pub are changing what we expect a pub to look like. If I'm looking for a pint I love the old traditional bar, like Naughtons in Galway. But many traditional bars are interested in forward thinking food. I'm not trying to pigeon-hole places. I'm sure there are many. But only a handful of Irish pubs do amazing food.
Whats your objective in running the businesses you do?

Integrity. Integrity to menu, Integrity to idea. Once you begin you need to keep going, even in the face of public misunderstanding. Not everyone will get what you are about, but you need to educate your customers (even the ones that have not come in yet). I want to raise the level of food in Galway, from the simplest to most complex and I want others to follow and to join in. I'm not saying we are leading the way (there are others) but that is my philosophy. Keep pushing things forward, keep changing them. Explain yourself. Food is not only about eating. It is a cultural phenomenon and it plays a central part in our community. We need to get this across in our menus and through any other means.

Can Galway become the gastronomic capital of Ireland?

That is open to debate. What we do others can do, but whether they do it is another question. There are many good food spots in Galway but the majority of them need to raise the bar with regard to the kind of produce they buy and the way they serve it. Of course this costs money. Of course it will take time. Galway is too parochial sometimes and is afraid to make the jump. Ask me again next year and I may have a better idea. I hope it will but for me Dublin is still ahead in terms of restaurant's, gastro-pubs and other eateries. 

Who and what are your greatest influences?

I'm influenced by many people from many different walks of life. In terms of the kitchen, I look up to those with a nose-to-tail philosophy like Fergus Henderson and Anthony Bourdain. Of course, there a whole host of Spanish and English chefs. On the flip side, I'm very interested in literature and the arts (I teach and am doing a PhD in Art history) and Samuel Beckett and Vito Acconci would have to come under that answer: why - because of integrity. Integrity is what drives me forward.

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