Imperial’s new menu is food fit for an emperor

The problem with the iconic Imperial Hotel on Galway’s Eyre Square, is that it has been there for so for long, it is too easy to pass by without noticing, but Maxim Kelly stopped in for a meal to remember.

There'll be no hunger after this fish'n'chips

There'll be no hunger after this fish'n'chips

There has been an hotel on the site now occupied by the Imperial Hotel since the era of the Napoleonic empire. It was Bonaparte himself who quipped “an army marches on its stomach,” and if he had had the services of the Imperial’s head chef Ben Duncan, then Old Boney’s legions might still be trotting along nicely today.

“Yep. We are feeders here,” says Ben. “There are too many stories of people coming out of restaurants hungry after paying top price for beautifully presented but meagre portions. I want our customers leaving impressed and satisfied.”

Well the Advertiser sat down with a vegetarian pal, JR, to sample the Imperial fayre, and not only did some of Ben’s portions defeat us, it was an overwhelming victory for the chef’s deft handling of fresh ingredients and light-touch cooking. The 1810 Restaurant evening menu choices were unsurprising fish, meat and poultry options, but with main-course prices all below €22 (except a 10oz striploin for €30 ), and including all the trimmings, the wallet will get a very nice surprise indeed.

For starters, the Advertiser tried sundried tomato polenta cake (€9.50 ), infused with red peppers, stunningly pink balsamic red onion salad, and an earthy, roasted pepper hummus. Although listed as an entrée, this portion would definitely suffice for a light lunch. The home-made, gluten-free polenta was light and crumbly, and the sweetly pickled onions zinged.

JR went for a caramelised goats cheese starter (€9.50 ) after interrogating the menu. Her thick, palm-sized disc of cheese had been honey glazed before toasting. It was served on a bed of fresh mixed leaves, speckled with candied walnuts, hints of beetroot, trimmed mandarin and an orange blossom dressing. The gentle citrus tang complemented the savoury cheese perfectly without any cloyingness, and the sweetened nuts and honey glaze brought fun to the plate. Portion size was spot-on, as too much cheese before an evening dinner can be overwhelming.

As a vegetarian in the west of Ireland, JR’s complaint is that many eateries offer just a limp vegetable curry which she could probably make a better go of in her own kitchen, while her carnivorous family enjoy a wide choice of dishes in restaurants often too complex for simple, home cooking. She remarked she struggled with the Imperial’s selection, as she’s not used to a wide choice of flesh-free options on a Galway city menu.

The happy veggie ordered the ‘Mean Green’ burger option (€17.50 ) for main course, after ruminating between a wild mushroom strudel served with butternut squash filo pastry, or cabbage and carrot spring rolls offered with hoisin and Korean dipping sauce. Her substantial avocado and spinach patty came with a wasabi aioli, fresh tomato, crisp lettuce, really good chips and a side salad. The burger was topped with a scrumptiously fresh seeded bun, and slightly too salty vegan cheese. The wasabi fired a fine kick, just as it should.

The Advertiser enjoyed a remarkably fresh piece of lightly battered fish-of-the-day with more of those lovely, smokey, skin-on fries, tartar sauce, side salad, and a really clever portion of pea puree which Ben admitted he cooked in bacon fat. Yum. For €19 this was a knock-out fish’n’chips, and even though the piece of fish was huge – almost hanging over the plate – the light batter made it delectable, washed down with a generously poured glass of chilled Sauvingnon blanc.

Solely in the interest of accurate journalism, the Advertiser also requested a taste of Ben’s braised 9oz beef featherblade (€22 ), as this dish has been praised by other reviewers. Melt-in-the-mouth slow-cooked hearty goodness with champ and gluten-free Yorkshire pud, to be wetted with a pan jus reduction. We’ll be back again for more of that...

Besides a selection of icecream served with toffee sauce and flaked almonds, the Imperial quite sensibly offers only four desserts; all made in-house, and all for just €8. So we did the sensible thing, and ordered all of them.

The chocolate lava pudding was – we were informed – prepared by a sous chef in training. It was perfect: airy and light cake filled with gooey, choccy gloop. The double chocolate brownie was thick and rich with a berry coulis, while the cream topping the Eton mess was a touch too sweet, and overpowered the fruit beneath. The berry semi-freddo, however, was a quixotic masterpiece: rich yet floaty, made from coconut-flavoured soy milk and chick peas, so fine for vegans. Served with toasted crumble, tuille biscuit shards and a strawberry compote, this was as good as any top-level restaurant, and at a fraction of the price.

The Imperial runs a popular carvery lunch, and cooks breakfast for non-residents daily. Management have plans to open a winebar on the site of Zappi’s Restaurant where the Imperial backs on to Eglinton Street, and is offering fully-catered private function space in the first-floor Imperial Room which overlooks Eyre Square.

The 1810 Restaurant will ultimately get an upgrade too, and if the new evening menu is the yardstick, expect excellent, city-centre fine dining at a very reasonable price.


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