Sunday 12 April 2015

It'll be fun showing Lonely Planet's Ryan the best of Galway again!

Being a scribbler brings unexpected and very welcome fringe benefits. In March 2009 I was writing about how good it felt to have my backside on a barstool in Lahinch, Co. Clare. A midweek night, the gales were bowling gigantic breakers onto the beach and over the sea wall. The hilly seaside town was very quiet and apart from myself, everyone in the pub was a local.

The old fella next to me was eating his fish and chips. A little girl was attracting attention by practicing her Irish dancing. Neighbours chatted to neighbours.

“This is what the tourists who come to Ireland want: as real a slice of Irish life as it is possible to experience.”

Three months later, far away on the Pacific North West coast of America, Ryan Ver Berkmoes googled something like “Real Irish life” and came upon the online version of that colyoom.

He emailed me, explaining that he covered Ireland for Lonely Planet guide books and was coming to Galway. Could I tell him anything about the best places to go in Galway? Could we get together and have a chat?

We arranged to meet up outside Tigh Neachtains at 2. It was a rare Summer afternoon, hot and still. White T-shirted 20somethings paraded their blistered sunburned biceps. Gulls swept down to scoop up chips dropped by the hordes of tourists parading along Quay Street.

I sat outside the pub, admiring the tiles on the medieval rooftops opposite, drinking in the river of deep blue sky running above the narrow street.

A large avuncular man walked directly towards me with his arm thrust out, inviting a handshake.

“Ryan? Hi! I was wondering how we were going to recognise each  other. How did you know it was me?”
“I couldn’t miss you! You look exactly like you do in all those great cartoons Allan Cavanagh does of you each week!”
“But he draws caricatures! What are you saying?”

I went off to get pints and we sat outside that unique pub, talking easily to each other for many hours. Ryan’s face wears a natural smile. He’s easygoing yet hardworking, hedonistic yet self-disciplined; almost a mirror-image of this city.

Thankfully, he’s not a man in a rush, so the afternoon unfolded before us in a gentle stream of pints and people. Passers-by stopped to chat over the rails, to share a little craic and gossip; to do what Galwegians do.

Surprised by the number of people who said hello, Ryan mistakenly took me for some kind of social magnet, until I explained that this was just the way of Galway, where we all have our 10,000 Howyas and nobody knows anyones address.

Whoever you might be, whatever mood you find yourself in, it’s impossible not to enjoy a few hours spent in the sunshine on Quay Street, but shade is good too, so we moved over to the Quays where we bumped into two of the finest folk I know. Much laughter ensued as the others shot suggestions Ryan’s way, which he diligently noted in his book and on his map:

“You have to go there! Eat here! Drink that! See this!”

Ryan has a strange job. I think I’d hate it. While I often end up writing about the places that I visit, the last thing I want to do is feel that I have to. Yet Ryan must cover much ground, find the essential heart of each place and then move swiftly on.

By 6 o’clock Quay Street was starting to feel as if it were Race Week so we slid off to the sanctuary that is Sheridan’s Wine Bar. Up the stairs above the cheesemongers, we drank lovely reds, ate homemade pizza, olives, cheeses and salamis, trying to replenish our stamina before the evening ahead.

However the mixing of the grape and grain wiped out any beneficial effects the scrumptious food might have had, so rather than hesitate and find ourselves lost, we headed west, towards the Blue Note, the Crane and all points subsequent fade to grey.

Somewhere along the way Ryan fell completely in love with Galway, and thankfully the friendship forged that night has endured, beefed up by further visits for Lonely Planet updates.

With Ryan due back soon, I wonder: where will I point him this time?

The ‘gourmetisation’ of Galway over the last 20 years has been astonishing. Thanks in no small way to the triumvirate of Harriet Leander, Seamus Sheridan and JP McMahon, Galway’s young chefs have been inspired, encouraged and supported.

Emerging from dark days of soggy sandwiches and thin tinned soup we now have a plethora of sparkling choices at all ends of the foodie spectrum.

Very favourable reports are coming in about Hooked, the new fish restaurant on Henry Street, which is sourced daily by Ali’s fishmarket. I’ve not yet been so that’ll be a good place to start with Ryan. 

Then I’ll point him towards Loam, tucked away on Fairgreen just down from the coach station. Now running his own restaurant, chef Enda McEvoy is performing magic with local ingredients and very possibly heading towards another Michelin star, to add to the one he earned at JP McMahon’s innovative Aniar.

On Sea Road, Jess Murphy continues to thrive at Kai Cafe, offering modern cuisine with a whole lot of soul, while Connemara chef Joe Flaherty does wondrous work with meat at the Brasserie on the Corner, on Eglington Street. If you’re not in the mood for the full restaurant experience, try their steak and pint deal in the bar.

Despite tumbling prices it still costs a pretty penny to dine out in Ireland, but Ryan will be spoilt for choice when he returns to Galway city.

Life’s not all about food: there’s drink to consider too, and I’m looking forward to sharing a couple with my friend. It’s a tough job, with long hours and no pay, yet this Londoner feels privileged to be Galway’s very unofficial ambassador to Lonely Planet Guide Books.

© Charlie Adley

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