Why Oscar’s Bistro Is The One Place You Have To Eat At If You Visit Galway
A back-to-basics approach is at the heart of one of the finest seafood restaurants in the country
I’ve never thought the fish restaurant scene in Dublin has been good enough for a small island.
There's been a few great additions of late, such as Fish Shop, Super Miss Sue and Klaw – but for the most part our fish offering on this side of the country is woeful. The good news, however, is that the further West you go the better it gets – and one place that has a stellar name for seafood is Galway.
I was down there for a meeting last month when a colleague suggested trying some of the best seafood in the country. Having been let down so many times in the past by such suggestions I politely smiled and went along expecting breaded plaice, chips and vinegar.
What I got, though, couldn’t have been further removed from that grim stereotype. On the contrary, it and was perhaps some of the best fish and indeed food I have ever eaten in Ireland.
Oscar’s Bistro wouldn’t really jump out at you, and if you blinked you’d have walked past it into a pub, where you'd spent the night drinking pints of Guinness and surviving on bags of crisps for dinner. But once you're inside, the room is bright and unusual and buzzing in the way a good room should be – a mixture of happy punters, free-flowing white wine and happy tourists eating after long windswept West of Ireland walks.
I can’t tell you how much I love places like this that keep the menu simple – I don’t need 1,000-word descriptions or a billboard sized menu to choose from. Just let the food do the talking, bring me bread and wine while I wait and smile at me and I’ll be happy. So will most people. Not really fucking rocket science.
Anyhow, I started with the prawns on toast. The prawns were spectacularly fresh and cooked to perfection, laced in garlic and parsley as they should be. If I’d been eating with somebody I knew better I’d have picked up the plate and licked it... but this was Business Niall, so I settled for the bread to fulfil this role.
Now I was obviously feeling fairly inspired by this point, because I opted for a main course that's usually one of my pet hates in Ireland… mussels.
It's probably because I grew up eating them in Belgium where they're a speciality, but anything I’ve been served in Ireland usually involves about 10 miserable little farts of mussels with a chef trying to cook them in some pony Thai broth to dress up their lack of flavour.
Here, though, was a huge pot of the things that were all plump, clearly cooked within about two minutes and served with a simple broth. Nothing fancy to this dish and no incredibly complicated technique – just a focus on high quality ingredients and not complicating things. Chips dunked into the broth were perfect.
It was one of those meals where I was too busy enjoying my own dishes to even care what my dining partner was eating. I did look over to see Noel eating his monkfish with smug look on his face saying “I told you it was an incredible restaurant” – but that was all I could bring myself to care about.
He was absolutely spot on with this suggestion, though. The sort of place so good you’d consider moving jobs or the family down to Galway just to be able to eat there on a regular basis.
As if the food and the night itself wasn’t special enough, we were joined by Michael the chef at closing time for a drink.
Over wine he insisted we eat fresh oysters that he shocked with one hand while waving goodbye to happy beaming customers with the other. He went on to explain that he had just finished a huge book about seafood on the West Coast of Ireland, and explained how he gets the fish every day – sometimes spearing it himself – and oversees every plate of food that leaves the kitchen every night of the week.
The restaurant has been there for 16 years and it has his style and brilliance written over every inch of the place. Had he been working in Dublin he might have a chain of 20 places by now and be serving thai scallop dumplings.
But down here things are simpler and thank the lord for it.
Prime IRISH Albacore Tuna, delish! pic.twitter.com/jVTh0X2N4T— Michael O Meara (@OscarsGalway) August 21, 2015