Jp McMahon

An Irishman walks into a food festival and changes his region’s culinary landscape in a big way. In 2015, he founded Food on the Edge International, a two-day symposium for chefs and food enthusiasts all around the world who want to create a better global network, which takes place in Ireland every year. JP McMahon oversees some of the most vital restaurants on Ireland’s west coast and helps nurture 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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An Intro to Ireland’s Best Produce and Producers

One of the reasons we created Tartare [which sadly closed in 2022] was that we wanted to have a space that’s dedicated to natural wine and that offers high-end produce in a casual dining environment, so that anyone can experience incredible Irish produce. We used amazing Castlemine Farm beef in our tartare and served relevant things like oysters with trout roe and seaweed, buttermilk and wild garlic oil, and rose vinegar and sea-herbs. 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.

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. It probably has every Irish-produced cheese available, as well as a great selection of European cheese. Next-door 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 to have a little picnic by the river.

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 that uses a lot of local produce. The food is cooked super simply but is full-on with flavour. I wouldn’t say that it’s Mediterranean-slash-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 design of the restaurant, but the food as well. It’s a beautiful place for brunch – we often go there for dinner as well.

Great Wine Lists and Fantastic Food To Share

A three-minute walk away is Éan, a great addition to Galway. It’s a bakery and cafe by day and switches to full-on casual dining and wine bar by night. About six miles outside of Galway, there’s Pins Gastropub located in a beautiful boutique hotel called Twelve Hotel. 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.

Pasta, an All-Italian Wine List and Great Ambience

Il Vicolo is a chic neighbourhood Italian restaurant that serves beautiful pasta dishes, fish and steaks. The chefs work with many local suppliers and there’s a great all-Italian wine list. The ambience is chilled with upbeat music and the restaurant has a wonderful river-side terrace. 

The Pub I Take Visiting Chefs and Friends

When friends and chefs are visiting, I take them to eat oysters at the Kings Head, an old pub in 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. I love to find a place by the fire at the door: having oysters and a pint of Guinness by the fireplace is uniquely Irish. They also do nice food and use a lot of produce from the same local farmers that I 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. These 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 come in, the natives wouldn’t have survived so, to a certain degree, the native oyster owes itself to the Pacific.

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. It uses Irish produce at the forefront, but there’s a certain New Zealand or Australasian feel about the food – which is very, very good.

Selected Works: The Irish Cookbook (2020)

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