Jp McMahon

An Irishman walks into a food festival and changes his region’s culinary landscape in a big way. When he’s not busy chairing the Galway Food Festival, JP McMahon oversees some of the most vital restaurants on Ireland’s west coast and helping preserve Irish produce and producers. This respect for Gaelic food culture is a recurring theme in McMahon’s guide to dining in Galway. From contemporary pub meals to a cheat-sheet of things-to-seek-out at local markets, it paints a vivid picture of our man’s corner of paradise.
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Casual Dining By The River

I love to go to Ard Bia down by the river to sit back, relax and watch the river go by. It’s a beautiful casual dining restaurant using a lot of local Irish produce. The food is cooked super simply but is full-on with flavour. I wouldn’t say that it’s Mediterranean/Middle-Eastern cuisine, but that inflection is certainly there. The woman that owns it also designs clothes, she’s very artistic, and that kind of feeds through into not only the food, but the design of the restaurant. It’s a beautiful place for brunch, and we often go there for dinner as well.

The Pub I Take Visiting Chefs And Friends

When friends and chefs are visiting, I take them to eat oysters at the Kings Head, a beautiful old pub. I love to find a place by the fire at the door; having oysters and a pint of Guinness by the fireplace is very uniquely Irish, and the Kings Head is a beautiful building with loads of history. This was actually the house of the Irish lad who chopped the head off the King of England in 14-whatever-it-was; it has a nice medieval feel. They also do nice food, and use a lot of produce from the same local farmers that we use – and they always have great oysters, which is probably the main thing that I love about Ireland; the oysters we get. We have two types of oysters here in Ireland. Our native oyster (ostrea edulis) has been here for around 4,000 years. Theses are shallow, flat-looking wild oysters with a smooth shell and a delicate, gamy flavour. They mostly grow in the west of Ireland and are only available between September and April. Then there’s the Pacific oyster (crassostrea gigas), which are available any time of the year. These were brought in during the 60s because the natives were being over-fished, and really, if the Pacific oysters hadn’t of come in, the natives wouldn’t have survived; so, to a certain degree the native oyster owes itself to the Pacific.

Pizza For The Kids, Wine For The Adults

Pins Gastropub is in a beautiful boutique hotel called Twelve Hotel which is about six miles outside of Galway. We bring the kids there a lot. They do beautiful pizzas, and use a lot of local produce, particularly wild and foraged ingredients. The guy who runs it, Fergus O’Halloran, is a very interesting guy and a professional sommelier, so there’s also a beautiful wine list.

When High-End Produce And Natural Wine Go Casual

One of the reasons we created Tartare was because we wanted to have a space that we could dedicate to natural wine and offer high-end produce in a casual dining environment; so that anyone can experience incredible Irish produce. We use amazing Castlemine Farm beef in our tartare with smoked egg yolk puree, and we have oysters with trout roe and seaweed, buttermilk and wild garlic oil, or rose vinegar and sea-herbs. The oysters and tartare are our signature items, but during the day we are a café that does things like steak and sandwiches with beautiful sourdough bread. It’s really about showcasing what we do best.

Where To Taste Wild-Caught Irish Seafood

We have a great French fishmonger in Galway named Stefan, and he’s really tried to elevate fish to the same level as beef in Ireland. He’s travelled to Japan to improve his skills and knowledge, and he’s very much about promoting wild Irish fish. A restaurant that does a wonderful job using this incredible seafood is Japanese restaurant Kappa-ya. I suppose there’s a certain lightness to the way chef-owner Junichi Yoshiyagawa prepares and cooks the products, it’s really beautiful and very, very interesting for me.

A Casual And Intimate Neighbourhood Restaurant

Kai is a small, neighbourhood restaurant run by New Zealand chef, Jessica Murphy together with her husband David. Jessica is fairly famous in the Irish food scene, but Kai has a pretty casual and intimate atmosphere. They use Irish produce at the forefront, but there’s a certain New Zealand or Australasian feel about the food – which is very, very good.

The Best Way To Taste Our Local Produce

There’s a Galway Farmers’ Market at St. Nicholas square every Saturday. It’s a little melting pot of Galway; a fantastic way not only to eat, but to see the best of our local produce. Right beside the square you have Sheridans’s Cheesemongers – maybe the first in Ireland, and a great place to gorge on cheese; they probably have every Irish-produced cheese available, as well as a great selection of European cheese. And next door to them is a wonderful olive store; Toby who runs this was one of the first to bring olives and olive oil into Ireland some 35 or 40 years ago. So, you can go down to the market, pick up your cheese, your bread, olives and a few other lovely products from the whole host of different producers, and then wander down and have a little picnic by the river.

Selected Works: The Irish Cookbook (2020)

Guide last updated March 2020

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