About a hundred years ago, in a past life, I spent several months in the beautiful Palladian Roundwood House near Mountrath in Co Laois, an estate in Hidden Ireland. At the time I was producing Barry Devlin’s film All Things Bright and Beautiful and our main location was in the small village of Rathdowney nearby.
I drove to and from Roundwood a few times a day to sit on the extraordinarily deep and comfortable sofa in front of the fireplace in the living room and to feed the little baby I had had a few months before filming began. (A sofa so deep and comfortable that when I had to leave Roundwood – reluctantly – at the end of the shoot, I wrote down its measurements and then had someone make an exact replica for me.) A kind person would often bring me a mug of which tea and biscuits to nourish me through feeding and in the evening the baby was mysteriously wiped away and cuddled so I could eat in peace.
Frank and Rosemary Kennan, who then ran Roundwood, are now retired, but their daughter Hannah, one of the baby whisperers of yesteryear, has taken over running the house with her husband Paddy Flynn. And Hannah’s brother Richard, who I remember as a little boy, all snails and doggy tails, now owns Rúibín on the Galway docks with his partner, cook Alice Jary.
It really makes me feel very old.
I stopped by Rúibín just after it opened in 2019, before the full menu was available. We enjoyed oysters and a bottle of wine from an interesting menu and I’ve wanted to return for a long time before that but…erm Covid.
This time I’m here for lunch with a friend who lives nearby. We eat upstairs in the restaurant; A different, more serious menu is available for dinner, while a casual menu of snacks and small plates is offered downstairs.
The first good thing is that the room is busy for a Wednesday lunchtime, which shows the reasons for that over the meal. Rúibín serves rich, tasty, healthy and affordable lunch dishes that dodge all the usual lunch clichés neatly. It’s an offering far more interesting than anything I’ve seen in recent times, and it reflects the diversity of influences experienced by the couple in their travels around the world before settling in Galway.
Most of the other customers seem to be local workers eating a single course, ranging from €8 for a chowder with seeded bread to €15 for a fermented beef potato flatbread. We push the boat out a little further, ordering five dishes between us, which turns out to be too much food but gives us a good idea of the menu.
We’ll start with oysters, Flaggy Shore’s waterfront treat, topped with tiny cubes of pickled rhubarb. The oysters are lovely, tender little things, yet not overwhelmed by the tart veggies. A sea trout salad with warm potato salad, green beans, green leaves, olives and soft-boiled egg is simple and confident, the fish skin so deliciously crispy it’d rather be eaten than peeled and discarded.
Alice’s Fried Chicken with Sushi Rice, served with hefty pickles and daikon salad and topped with a fried egg for good measure, comes with an innocuous-sounding honey-butter sauce that turns out to be an absolute humdinger, a brilliant multi-layered balance of sweet and angry. This is a great dish. Turns out we’re not the first to say that. Richard tells us they just can’t take it off the menu.
Alice serves her fermented potato flatbread with dry peppercorn beef – nicely seasoned – plus cilantro yogurt, crunchy onions and onion salsa. It’s hearty – I think the kitchen could do without the generous amount of beef without detracting from the overall success of the dish – and full of flavor and interest.
We share a blood orange and cardamom pavlova with yogurt cream, garnished with mint, a reminder of why cardamom is my favorite spice of all. The meringue is fluffy and gooey and reminds me of the ones Rosemary Kennan served at the Roundwood a long time ago.
With an excellent spicy habanero vodka bloody mary with fermented hot sauce and all the good stuff – in-house cocktail maestro Dennis O’Neill’s reputation precedes him – and a glass of wine, our lunch bill comes to £80.50 € before the service. This is as warm and thoughtful as I would expect from an owner with Richard’s impeccable hospitality genes.
I plan to return for dinner soon.
From the downstairs bar menu you can have a small plate and a glass of wine for €20.
A four course fillet steak dinner for two might cost €130 without wine or service.
Rúibín, 1-3 Dock Road, Galway, ruibin.ie
https://www.independent.ie/life/food-drink/food-reviews/ruibin-restaurant-review-substantial-tasty-wholesome-well-priced-lunch-fare-im-planning-to-return-for-dinner-41614606.html Restaurant review Rúibín: ‘Substantial, tasty, healthy and cheap for lunch – I plan to return for dinner’