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Thursday, 9 May 2013

Kai Cafe & Restaurant, Galway

The last outpost of civilization before you reach Salthill. When Kai opened, it opened with a bang and very quickly achieved a cult following. It suffered not a jot from teething problems, it was a fully formed concept practically from the word go. Kai was unpretentious and fun with flower and seed strewn salads piled on boards, big Ortiz tuna tins filled with bread and the sun spilling through the skylight even on the dullest of days illuminating the lunchtime altar of cakes. Everyone's favorite Kiwi chef, Jess Murphy, brings her own brand of kitchen voodoo and you know you're a regular when you grow to understand husband and partner-in-crime David Murphy's accent at front of house.

Aside from the best brunch in town every Sunday, it is always well worth the extra trek and the couple of extra euro for their short, seasonal lunch menu. Six or seven options that always showcase the best the west coast has to offer, from potted crab to gurnard fish finger sandwiches on their own foccacia, I have yet to be disappointed. Dinner is an equally short and ever changing menu with about five 'beginnings', 'middles' and 'ends'. 

I was last there for their cookbook club, held about once a month. A book club crossed with a supper club, where Jess and her team cook recipes from one book. Past books have included Ottolenghi’s book, ‘Plenty’ and Denis Cotter's famous vegetarian cookbook 'Cafe Paradiso'. The chosen book last month was 'What Katie Ate' by Katie Quinn Davis. A great book, filled with lovely recipes and amazing photographs, it was one I had been promising myself. Originally a native of Dublin, now based in Australia, Katie is a graphic designer turned food blogger and works as a freelance commercial photographer specialising in food. 

I joined up with charming company, my new BFF, Jennie Browne from Goodness Cakes and reigning social media queen of Galway. We also had the wonderful Seamus Sheridan from Sheridan's Cheesemongers and Peter Boland from Cases Wine Warehouse at our table. Both were there to talk about the importance of local suppliers and supporting cottage industry and also to introduce some wines and cheeses to the assembled diners. The dishes selected from the book came thick and fast from the kitchen, the best value three courses for 35 euro I have ever encountered.

Among the starter dishes were patatas bravas - spicy potatoes with crispy ham and wobbly eggs baked in enamel tins and served family-style to the table along with a red cabbage and fennel slaw, lightly dressed with a creamy, lemony herbed yoghurt and studded with blood orange, goats cheese and toasted pecans. There were jugs of lemon cordial with a hint of mint as well as the excellent wines. A creamy orecchiette pasta dish in a pecorino sauce with scattered peas and pine nuts with pretty roasted vine tomatoes balanced on top and a generous bowl of wings and roasted limes to squeeze over.

For the second course Jess had chosen a lovely Panzanella with a punchy balsamic dressing and a fregola salad (a grain like giant cous cous) with bacon and preserved lemons. A crunchy leek topped fish pie landed on the table along side a 'retro' beef curry topped with caramelized bananas, piles of popadoms and jars of relish, the dishes kept coming until there was barely room to set down your glass.

Dessert was a piquant rhubarb and hazelnut tart paired with an initially strange tasting strawberry, basil and black pepper ice-cream, that grew on you eventually. 

Alas that was the last cookbook club before the summer season kicks off, but the good news is that Kai is now opening 7 days a week for your dining pleasure. Remember, they seat but 45 so make sure you reserve a table - especially at the weekends. The cookbook club will return after the summer, and I for one shall be keeping a beady eye on their Facebook page, so that I don't miss out on what is one of the best evenings out in Galway has to offer. Totally Toto Africa.

Kai Café + Restaurant. Sea Road, Galway. Tel: 091 526 003 Email: kaicaferestaurant@gmail.com

This article was written for and published in The Galway Advertiser 09/05/2013