When I holidayed in the Salthill area of Galway city as a child, a bag of chips and an ice cream was my dream dinner.
y palate has since improved, so a day of eating my way around the area seemed the perfect itinerary for visiting one of Ireland’s greatest cities.
Galway became Ireland’s first European Region of Gastronomy in 2018 — and for very good reason. The quality and variety of food is hard to beat.
Added to that, Galway’s array of festivals make it a culture hub that has something for everyone.
The next big date in the city’s food calendar is the Oyster and Seafood Festival, which kicks off on September 23.
Before eating my way across the city, I checked into Galway’s newest and hottest hotel, The Dean Galway. Already a bit of a social media sensation, the hotel — from the masters of hospitality at the PressUp Group — is centrally located, just a few minutes’ walk from the city centre and a stone’s throw from Eyre Square.
As well as feeling and looking new, the 100-bed boutique hotel incorporates historic structures, including a portion of the Galway to Clifden railway tunnel, built in the 1890s, which is soon to be used for Power Gym classes. The line, built to connect areas in the West, ran until 1935, when it was decommissioned.
With a striking folded facade built in Irish limestone, The Dean Galway makes a real statement on Prospect Hill. As soon as you walk in through the door and under the glow of the bespoke neon light fixture by the Irish artist Domino Whisker, you will realise how cool a vibe this hotel has.
Locals gather at Dime Coffee on the ground floor to grab a cuppa on the go or to sit down and do some work in the lobby, which has free wifi.
Art is prominent across the hotel, with the property’s art collection, curated by Sync and Swim, promoting and supporting local artists.
If you have ever visited The Dean in Dublin, you will know Sophie’s Rooftop Restaurant and its very Instagrammable set of swings. The Galway hotel also has a Sophie’s (and swings), offering 360-degree views over the city.
When we checked in during the recent heatwave, we headed up to enjoy a cocktail and catch some rays. Even in our colder weather, the awnings, heaters and cosy seating allow you to sit comfortably outside.
Sophie’s is the kind of place you could sit in all day with family or friends, and only we had the food tour we would have done just that. But we did return later in the evening — its allure proved too much.
Our host for the tour was foodie queen Sheena Dignam, who runs Galway Food Tours (galwayfoodtours.com). What Sheena doesn’t know about the Galway food scene isn’t worth knowing. She is originally from Wicklow but grew up in the Loire Valley in France, where she studied culinary arts and wine.
Food tours are one of the main things on my city break to-do list. Having done them in places as far apart as Washington, Vietnam and Budapest, I find them a fantastic and fun way to get to know a city, its people and its food.
Sheena has curated a tour that incorporates many different dishes with an array of flavours and textures.
We started with some cheeses and cured smokehouse salami from Gubbeen Farm, washed down with whiskey and poitin from the local Micil Distillery.
From there, our food adventure introduced us to some superb sushi from Yoshimi Hayakawa, chef at Wa Cafe, pastries and macaroons at the French chocolaterie Truffle (their raspberry croissants were amazing) and local oysters and beef tartare at chef JP McMahon’s Tartare, which is sadly closing down.
My highlight of the tour was squid toast from Ean restaurant’s head chef Christine Walsh. While its main ingredient is obviously squid, it also includes koji and ground dillisk. The squid is spread onto slices of sourdough bread, made by the restaurant’s bakery, dipped in sourdough crumbs and fried. To finish the dish, Ean adds miso, katsuobushi (flakes made from dried fish) and gochujang flakes to give it a bit of spice. I would drive the 200 miles there and back from Belfast just to eat that again.
We finished our tour at Galway City Distillery, based in the art deco former Tribeton building on Merchants Road, which serves a range of award-winning gins, whiskies, vodkas, rums and elegant cocktails (as well as operating as a popular cafe during the day).
Having once holidayed in The Ginstitute at The Distillery on London’s Portobello Road, I was delighted to discover a similar experience in Ireland. There I made a signature gin to my preferences, and you can do the same at the Galway City Distillery’s flavour academy.
Dublin businessman Jim Flynn created the distillery for a drinks experience to match the top-notch food experience. After my visit, I think he can tick a lot of those boxes already, but he has even more plans in the offing.
Just sitting in the vast distillery bar and working your way through the cocktail menu is a delight. The menu is inspired by Galway’s landscape and astrological cycles and is distinctly Irish. It changes with each lunar cycle, which means that the cocktail choice is always evolving.
After a quick jaunt around some of the many shops in the city centre, we headed back to The Dean for some R&R.
The London Independent recently named the hotel among the six best new hotels, and a stay there will prove just why. The bright and colourful rooms are as cool as you would expect from a destination hotel, featuring a blast rainforest shower, Netflix-enabled TV, a Nespresso machine, a fully stocked mini Smeg fridge, a record player with vinyl albums and a munchie tray which includes Skellig chocolate and Tayto crisps.
The beds are big and bouncy to guarantee a great night’s sleep.
In the interests of this review, we booked into Sophie’s for dinner. In our defence, we did wait several hours after the food tour to allow all that grub to settle and make space for more.
My only food regret was that I did not get to try any of the famous chicken wings at The Dean’s ground-floor Elephant and Castle restaurant (part of a chain that also has a restaurant in Dublin’s Temple Bar).
The menu at Sophie’s sports a selection of pizzas, succulent steaks and fish, with an emphasis on local ingredients.
For starters, I enjoyed some terrific tempura prawns with a very tasty grilled tomato and mango salsa. The prawns were plump and juicy, with an accompanying sambal aioli and an Indonesian chilli paste, which added a nice bit of heat to the dish.
My main dish was a beautifully cooked (a perfect medium-rare) 10oz ribeye with onion tempura, baked flat mushroom, rocket and parmesan with hand cut fries and peppercorn sauce.
For a nightcap, the hotel has a small and snug pub called Peg’s Bar that was once home to the famous Hogan’s Bar.
The Dean has great plans for further expansion, with the opening of an outdoor heated pool, sauna and steam room and Power gym.
The gym will offer the high intensity fitness class concepts Power Box and Power Run. Sounds like a great way to work off all those calories I unashamedly racked up.
If you are in Galway for a few days or more, remember the city is the gateway to Connemara and the Wild Atlantic Way, with its many natural wonders and so, so many things to see and do.
But make sure to check out Galway’s coolest new hotel. The Dean is going to become even more so the place to be in the west when its outdoor swimming pool opens. I am already dreaming of enjoying cocktails by the pool in the city.
• Room only rates at The Dean in Galway start from €150. Visit www.thedean.ie for offers
• Email email@example.com for Sophie’s Rooftop Restaurant reservations
• Food tour: for details, visit www.galwayfoodtours.com. Prices start from €65pp
• Check out Galway City Distillery at www.galwaycitydistillery.ie