Alan Stanford Reviews Donnelly’s of Barna
Star of The Sea
Suddenly finding myself with my first weekend off all summer, as I finally hung up Lady Bracknell’s corset at the Abbey Theatre, the thought of the West entered my mind and, like moths to a flame, Maeve and I were off to Galway to chill out and remove the wrinkles at the wonderful Radisson Hotel. Having pampered and purified ourselves in the spa and pool, thoughts of dinner arose. I chose the famous and still-unspoilt location of Donnelly’s of Barna.
Barna was once a tiny village on the way to the far West – it is now a burgeoning suburb of Galway City. But Donnelly’s Seafood Bar changes not a bit.
It remains a perfect example of the traditional Irish bar. It is full of snugs and cosy corners, mix-and-match furnishings, quaint décor and tourists. There is a restaurant area at the back, but we decided to sit in the bar to eat.
The menu is the same throughout the establishment and the bar has a nice atmosphere. Starters include crab and potato cake, smoked salmon and crab creation, ragout of mussels, crab claws in a Pernod and garlic butter sauce, and Rossaveal Prawns. The main dishes are mainly fish, although there is steak and chicken to be had. The fish list tempts you with regular offerings of mussels, sea bass, haddock mornay, plaice farci, salmon, trout, swordfish, baked cod and scallops.
The starters average €10.50 and are of a very generous portion while the main dishers, averaging €17, are fantastic value for money. The wine list is not overly imaginative but it is reasonable enough. We settled on a Chardonnay Wolf Blass.
Maeve took the crab claws to start and the baked fillet of hake with garlic and herb crust to follow. I went for the Rossaveal Prawns as my starter and the haddock mornay as my main dish. With these, a choice of salad or vegetables and baked or chipped potatoes is included. We took the baked spuds and the vegetables as well as a small side salad.
First to arrive at the table was a big jug of iced water – no pretensions here – then a basket of doorsteps-sized slabs of some of the nicest brown bread to be had that side of the Shannon.
The prawns were big and chunky and the sauce very good, if a little heavy on the vinaigrette. The crab claws – and there were many – were truly delightful and were finished off by the pair of us lapping up the remaining butter dressing with more of the bread. Rustic delight!
Both main dishes had much to recommend them. The hake, cooked perhaps just a trifle too long, was topped by a simple and well-balanced herb and garlic crust that did not impose on the fish but, rather, enhanced it. The haddock contained a huge amount of smoked fish in a rich Mornay sauce served on a pastry bed. It was perfect comfort eating, almost a fish pie. The vegetables were cooked crunchy and the big fluffy flowery baked potato served with sour cream. We were replete.
There are desserts on offer, including the ever-present tiramisu, homemade ice creams and cheeses. We simply didn’t have room for them. Settling for some coffee, we beat a satisfied retreat back to the hotel for a digestif. Our dinner for two with wine and coffee came to a very acceptable €79.05. It was well worth the pilgrimage to Galway
Style: Classic Irish seafood
The Look: Classic Irish Bar
Clientele: Local and Tourists
Cost per person: €25 – €30 (without wine)
Paolo Tulio reviews Donnelly’s of Barna
Since I was in the west of Ireland and I’m always saying that you get good seafood there, I thought I should go off in search of it. What I’ve always enjoyed about the west is that just about anywhere you choose to stop you can find well made seafood. That’s sadly not the case on the east coast, and it’s long been a puzzle to me why that’s so. It may be tempting providence, but over the last thirty years of exploring this island, I can’t think of an occasion when I’ve been unhappy with a seafood plate in the West. Even in the simplest of roadside pubs or in tiny cafés, I’ve been presented with properly cooked fish. Not only properly cooked, but more often than not, so fresh you’d have sworn that it had leapt from the sea onto the plate.
I met up with John Mooney in Galway, and since he’s in the wine business and travels around a lot in the area, he was the perfect guide for the sort of thing I was looking for. ‘What exactly are you hoping to find?’ he asked. I told him that I wanted something simple, the sort of place that a casual traveller in the area would be delighted to find, a place where good seafood was taken for granted, where it wasn’t haute cuisine and most importantly, where the prices didn’t make you eyes water. Value for money was the sort of thing I wanted. ‘I know the very place,’ he said, and we drove out of Galway on the Spiddal road.
It’s been a while since I was on this road, and I could have been forgiven for not recognising it, because it’s become amazingly built up with rather grand houses. It wasn’t long before we came to Barna. ‘We’ve arrived,’ said John. Barna is a small town by the sea, and at the traffic lights John turned down towards its little harbour. ‘There’s a good restaurant down here on the pier,’ he said, ‘but it doesn’t open for lunch. We’re going to Donnelly’s.’ After a brief look at the harbour we went back up the little lane towards the traffic lights and parked at the top of it. Donnelly’s is right on the corner, next to the lights.
We entered from the back, going through the carpark, and walked through a new extension to take a table by the window overlooking the main road. Donnelly’s is a pub, its interior is full of old enamel advertisements for cigarettes of bygone days; Wills ‘Weights’ and Players’ ‘Navy Cut’ are two that I remember. The effect of these old adverts and the bric-a-brac around the walls is to create a cosy, old-world feel. It was warm, friendly and welcoming – all things that immediately set you at your ease and make you settle in and relax.
The menu is heavily weighted towards seafood, although under the heading ‘Old Favourites’ you can find chicken and duck dishes, and there are of course, steaks. But we were here for the seafood, and there was plenty of it on offer. Apart from the dishes that you might expect to find like crab claws, smoked salmon and seafood chowder, the menu also listed more imaginative dishes – like the ragout of poached mussels with Basmati rice or the timbale of marinated crayfish.
Because he’s eaten here many times, John chose the hake Mornay to start with, one of Donnelly’s signature dishes. That’s the advantage, I suppose, of knowing the menu well. A good chowder is always a pleasure to find, so I picked that. To follow John had the hot seafood selection, which was salmon, cod and scallops in a white wine sauce. I couldn’t resist the timbale of crayfish, which came in a basil and lime mayonnaise.
Donnelly’s has a decent wine list with four pages of well-priced wines. House wines are priced at a modest €17.50 and there are plenty in the €20 – €30 range. There’s a few more expensive wines, but they’re good value because of the reasonable mark-up. For example there’s an Amarone from Bolla at €38. We decided on a light easy drinking ‘lunchtime’ wine and picked the Macon Lugny from Cholet at €22.50.
When the starters arrived I could see at once why John had picked the hake Mornay. This isn’t a complicated dish, but it was well executed and presented very nicely in its own little porcelain dish. I was well pleased with my seafood chowder, mainly because it wasn’t composed solely of salmon, which is what I often find when I order it. This one had a full mix of ingredients and consequently a full and complex taste.
The main courses were both faultless, John’s plateful was enormous – certainly no one could leave here hungry. My crayfish were light and delicate and the basil and lime mayonnaise had a pleasing tang to it, which went well with the crayfish. The last time I saw crayfish on the menu was in South Africa, so it was nice to find them offer in Ireland.
Neither of were hungry enough for desserts – trust me, the portions here are big – so we finished up with a couple of espressos, which were better than I’d have expected. The bill was just over €50. Donnelly’s may be a pub, but the food on offer is restaurant standard, and as seafood, a deal better than most on the east coast. If you find yourself motoring around Galway, a trip to Donnelly’s is worth the detour.