The Kitchen Cafe
Galway City Museum Galway facebook.com/KitchenGalway
A couple of exclamation marks have made their way onto the menu at The Kitchen Cafe, which is housed in Galway City Museum near The Spanish Arch. There’s the attentiongrabbing Hola! Cuban Ham & Cheese Sambo (¤8.50) and under the Hot Stuff! section of the menu, there’s a Dahl of the Day! (¤9).
When I catch up the cafe’s founder, Michelle Crehan Kavanagh, over the phone after a recent visit, I understand where those exclamation marks are coming from. She is extremely warm, open and genuinely excited about working with food.
Crehan Kavanagh came to cooking late. She had been a stay-at-home Mum for most of her 30s, and it wasn’t until the year of her 40th birthday that she decided to go back to college. Though she had worked as a journalist in her 20s, her love of cooking drew her to the Total Immersion Chef Programme (TICP) in GMIT.
“When I went up for the interview for the course, I thought I’d be laughed out of it,” Crehan Kavanagh tells me. “But I told them I wouldn’t miss a day, I would work hard and I wasn’t going to mess around. They gave me a place, and the day I put on my chef’s uniform in GMIT, I knew that this was what I wanted to do.”
After college, she worked with chef Jess Murphy at Cafe and Bar 8, which was Murphy’s project in Galway before the cafe and restaurant Kai. Crehan Kavanagh worked with Murphy as a pastry chef. “She was so supportive of me as a working Mum and really encouraged me as a chef.”
Five years ago, the opportunity to take over the cafe in the City Museum of Galway came up and she opened The Kitchen. Her head chef, Gavin Gleeson, has been with her for over two years, and Crehan Kavanagh develops the menu with her staff. “We’re trying to use great Irish ingredients in an international way,” she explains. “We might use Irish heritage potatoes in a Swedish-style smoked salmon salad.”
There’s an everyday menu which never changes, and a daily specials menu that changes every day, allowing Crehan Kavanagh and her team to experiment. “We have people who come in and wait for our specials board to go up after noon. They trust us to give us something delicious, whether it’s a ramen or a Korean fried chicken sandwich.”
I have a glass of Belvoir raspberry and rose cordial (¤2.20) but I notice that there’s Hazel Mountain Hot Chocolate on offer, supplied by the beautiful Burren-based bean-to-bar chocolate factory. The soup of the day is a curried cauliflower soup, and it’s a beautiful velvetty texture (¤2 for a cup portion and ¤4.40 a bowl). For me, it could have benefited from even more spice and a kick of heat but it’s a good bowl of comforting soup.
The specials look super, and I’m tempted by the cauliflower pakora salad (¤10) served with a turmeric, sumac and lemon yogurt dressing. In the end, the Good Grain Super Salad (¤8.75) from the everyday menu grabs me. The ajvar (an aubergine and red pepper relish) and the cumin and paprika seed crisp on the menu are enough exclamations for me. For an extra ¤2, I add a portion of crispy tofu, which is fried really beautifully, maintaining tofu’s virtuous, silky qualities but enhancing its personality with a crispy edge.
What makes the salad super special are the delicious cumin and paprika seed crisps, thin crackers made up of a collection of seeds. The whole salad, complete with quinoa and a subtle, crunchy slaw, is immensely enjoyable.
What really makes my visit, however, is the staff. They’re really warm, knowledgeable and efficient. “I’m so lucky,” says Crehan Kavanagh, when I tell her. “I believe if you treat your staff well, that transfers to the customers.” Even without the effusive exclamation marks, it’s clear that this is a happy kitchen.