Irish chef Jp McMahon on Galway's best restaurants

The author of the The Irish Cookbook shares his passion for local produce and where to eat out in his hometown, a city fast becoming famous for its culinary heritage and Michelin stars.

Friday, May 29, 2020,
By Jp McMahon
Jp McMahon

Chef, restaurateur and author Jp McMahon also heads up the Aniar Boutique Cookery School in Galway.

Photograph by Julia Dunin

Rightly or wrongly, Irish food is often associated with the potato. Yet, the potato came to Ireland relatively late, only becoming a staple for the poor in the 18th and 19th centuries. Dishes heavily associated with Irish food, such as lamb stew and boxty (potato pancake), only emerged after the famine of 1846-1849. This isn’t to say they’re less relevant to an enquiry into Irish food, but they can’t be the only story told. 

When the first people migrated here around 10,000 years ago, they ate things we still encounter today: oysters and seaweed, nuts and berries, sea and river fish. Irish food culture has always centred around what’s to hand, what’s growing on and in the ground. There’s a wonderful tradition of using wild food, despite it being something of an undercurrent to the main tradition of meat and vegetables. Shellfish, since ancient times, has also held a central place in Irish food culture. It was a vital food for the earliest inhabitants of Ireland, and there’s very little we don’t do with it now.

The 21st century sees our food and its culture growing, in terms of chefs, restaurants and producers who grow the fine produce Ireland has always been noted for. For the first time, I think it’s fair to say ‘Irish cuisine’ exists. With a focus on the sea and the land, we can start to craft a food for the future. That being said, our future needs to stay cognisant of the past; to the waves of migration that changed Irish cooking again and again. The next food wave, whatever it will be, will come from the outside again.

This is an edited extract from The Irish Cookbook, published by Phaidon (RRP: £35)

Jp’s top three Galway restaurants 

Kappa-ya
This is a small Celtic-Japanese fusion restaurant and sake bar located on Middle Street. Expect beautiful sushi and a range of Japanese noodle dishes. Go for the bento box — a beautiful assortment of local food cooked in a sophisticated Japanese manner. 

Handsome Burger
These are some of the finest burgers in Galway, if not in Ireland. Fast and casual with great service, my daughters and I often go here for burgers and fries. My pick is the ‘handsome burger’ (with cheese) and loaded fries — because sometimes you have to be bold. 

The King’s Head 
This historic pub and restaurant is located in the heart of the medieval quarter. The pub also serves a range of fish, shellfish and meat dishes, including the must-try native oysters. Close your eyes and imagine you’re by the sea as you eat them. 

Jp McMahon is a chef, restaurateur and author and runs the Aniar Boutique Cookery School in Galway.

Published in the May/June 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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