It would be easy to say that Enda McEvoy's Aniar restaurant in Galway is Ireland's answer to the latest restaurant craze, that new culinary wave that trumpets itself as "Where the Wild Things Are". But Mr McEvoy's work is more subtle than that. Yes, there are wild things on the plates here in this lean, smart room - sea buckthorn; sorrel; chickweed; hazelnut; seaweeds; meadowsweet - to name just a few on the menu from Saturday night. But emphasizing the wild things overstates their importance and understates Mr McEvoy's sensibility, and it is that sensibility that counts. McEvoy works out of a sympathy that crosses Ballymaloe House with Gregan's Castle, which is to say that he mixes his avant garde ideas with the wealth of tradition.
The food is wild, both in its source and in its imaginative ambitions, but the wildness is so disciplined, so intuitive, that the food comes across as not just gimmick-free, but also as timeless. Anyone, anywhere in Ireland, could have cooked a first course dish like "glazed sweetbreads, buttermilk, hen egg, girolles" at any time over the last half century, but it is Mr McEvoy's brilliance to take these natural ingredients and to render them according to his own template that makes the traditional so contemporary, yet with such a seemingly simple plate of food.
That the food is wow! isn't a great surprise. The surprise is that all the food is wow! The kitchen didn't miss a beat in serving virtually the entire menu, five plates to start, five mains, five desserts, for a table of six, and all we missed out were a main course of salt-baked celeriac with whey, sorrel and toasted barley and a plate of artisanal cheeses with rye crisp bread.
Every dish showcases colour, craft and creativity - a smoked potato and oyster emulsion with scallops; pickled green elderberries with monkfish; spruce syrup with beetroot in an outstanding dish with wild venison; the incredible texture of slow-cooked beef short ribs with chickweed. And every mouthful is both arresting and enlivening, as the shower of crushed hazelnuts crashes into the smoothest buttermilk pannacotta, or smoked fresh cheese allies with sour-sweet pickled carrots, or the watercress purée with pan-fried fillets of plaice with sea purslane.
The sourcing of the ingredients is as good as it can be, and eating at Aniar is nothing less than a pure thrill, a sheer, sophisticated pleasure, helped by some truly outstanding service. Galway, the most radical of Irish cities, is finally getting the restaurants that will make its culinary reputation. Go West, and eat.