Review: John and Sally McKenna’s Guides

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Enda McEvoy is inimitable. Amongst the phalanx of brilliant creative chefs in Ireland today, he is the one you would find the hardest to copy.
You might eat his cooking in Loam, his Galway restaurant, and set out to try to be his culinary doppelganger. But, when you got there, you would find he had already moved on to a new style, for his progression seems relentlessly forward: he is a progressive chef.

His cooking seems to see around corners. There is beef tartare on the menu at Loam, but it’s the sour/salty confection of a pickled gooseberry embedded in the dish that has your taste buds sent into overdrive. A dish of queen scallops with cauliflower and celeriac is – effectively – inverted, as the scallops become a simple bullet point of sweetness in the midst of an astonishing cauliflower purée that is draped with the thinnest sheets of celeriac you have ever seen. Tiny watercress sprigs add a shot of colour, along with trompette powder that has been dusted over.

There is a dish of reindeer moss, topped with a scatter of trout roe, and the moss tastes the way you reckon JRR Tolkien might create candy floss: the tastes are all stream and forest floor, and make you wonder just how a kitchen can manage to confect such culinary synaesthesia – the flavours provoke colours, places and senses other than those you simply taste.

Almost the biggest challenge comes with dish of potato and egg. It sounds like fry-up brunch food, but in McEvoy’s hands it becomes a fugue on the potato – cubes of potato in brown butter (shades of a Ludo Lefebvre signature dish), a potato foam and then potato crisps that look like crisp streaky bacon slices, all showered in grated egg. It’s audacious, yet it’s potato and egg, but not as you have ever seen them.
And that is Mr McEvoy’s gift: other chefs riff on a theme, but he deliberates and considers and, finally, composes a fugue and variations on his subjects. To see and eat what he does with pheasant and bread sauce – the game poached in buttermilk, the sprouts grilled, the crumbs both textured in browned crumbs, and rich with thyme in the sauce – is to see a new concept of harmony in avant garde cooking.

The room itself is one of those rejigged spaces that used to serve one function – think Forest Avenue’s car showroom, think OX’s tile showroom – but which works wonderfully well as a space for people to enjoy food and wine. The minute I walked in it reminded me of the large space of Andoni Luis Aduriz’s Mugaritz restaurant, just outside San Sebastian in Northern Spain. Loam and Mugaritz share a zen vibe, and a striving for tactility, seen in the care taken with crockery, glassware, tabletops, paintings. McEvoy has turned every detail into a personal thesis so, for example, all the staff – chefs, f-of-h, waiters, sommelier, bar staff – are all dressed identically, with snappy teal green aprons over white shirts and dark pants. No chiefs, no minions, just a very charming and up-for-it team who all work front and back of house.

Loam offers both an à la carte and a tasting menu, and you should go for the tasting menu and the subtle and cleverly paired wines to get the full glory of this radical and dazzling kitchen. Puddings from Conor Cockram run amok with the culinary code – raw milk junket; smoked crumble; grilled pear; Teeling’s whiskey ice cream – and they are barely sweet, and just as radical as everything else on a menu that thrills with every detail. Value for money is excellent, and Loam is inimitable.

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