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Restaurant Review - Lignum

Restaurant Review - Lignum

Wednesday 23 October 2019

We had set the sat nav for Bullaun, a small village near Loughrea, Co. Galway, in search of Lignum, a new restaurant which has been firing up slowly over the past year.

As it had finally opened, I found myself, having left the M6, wending my way through a 'fields of Athenry' scenario on its first weekend. "This is lush," I said to my friend, Mary, as the houses got more palatial - we were, it transpired, driving through what is known locally as 'Loughrea 4'.

Lignum is the Latin for wood, over which everything here is cooked, and 27-year-old chef patron Danny Africano has assembled a formidable culinary team, including pastry chef Grainne Mullins, ex Ox in Belfast, and Belgian sous chef Hannes Deryckere.

Danny grew up in the restaurant business; his Italian father and Irish mother had a restaurant at Slateford House some years ago. They now have a very busy hotel in Italy. Having graduated from DIT, Africano worked around the world in places like Australia, Italy and Singapore, but his dream was to set up his own restaurant back in the grounds of Slateford.

We didn't quite know what to expect, but let me say we were absolutely blown away. This is fine dining at its very best - spacious, with meticulous service, but in a lovely relaxed, informal sense.

The building itself is stone-walled barn-style, with a high black ceiling and mighty beams overhead. As we entered, we passed a big glass-fronted air-drying meat room, which felt a bit like a Damien Hirst exhibit, with its lamb legs and as-yet-unbeheaded birds hanging in a somewhat startling fashion. Moving on, we reached the kitchen, where they delight in showing you the impressive wood-fired pits.

The French mixologist had no problem enticing us with a pink Margarita (€13) and a Chartreuse cocktail (€15) as we took in the menu, which was simply set out with three/five/seven tasting courses at €45/€65/€90 respectively; and wine pairings for the five-course and seven-course menus at €40 per person.

We chose the five-course option, which was preceded by stunning snacks, the first three of which arrived all at once. Raw seasoned shrimp in a hay-smoked bisque hit the nostrils instantly; while the hazelnut and winter chanterelle tarts on a custard, involved cheese they had made locally in Abbeyknockmoy.

The third snack was a mini-wedge of charred cabbage, with parsley hollandaise and chive flowers. Next came an individual snack of slowly charred porcini mushrooms on fermented black garlic with potato, shitake and nori tuile, finished off with grated Italian truffles, and mushroom dashi.

Beginning our five-course menu per se, we were served a fine gauze-like tuile, which was dusted with a cavolo nero and seaweed dust, and draped over a subtly flavoured tartare of lamb shoulder sitting on a zingy Swedish attika (vinegar)-based set smoked cream, with an egg-yolk jam.

Pastry chef Grainne then appeared with a variety of breads: penny-loaf-sized soda bread with chia, pumpkin and pumpkin seeds, home-made sourdough, plus two types of crackers (malt, and a lamb fat).

Our second official course was fire-roasted celeriac with cockles and lardo in a fermented jus. This was followed by a fish course of ember-cooked plaice, which was lightly smoked with juniper, and served with salty seaside-foraged herbs, finished with an XO sauce.

Our 'main' course was a 'play' on bacon and cabbage - little cubes of six-hour smoked pork, served with beetroot and cavolo nero, and a vibrant green cabbage sauce.

Grainne arrived again, with her stunning pre-dessert of apples and blackberries, with smoked apple curd, compressed apple, oat crumble, blackberries, and a consomme of fermented blackberries in honey and marjoram. We finished with a spectacular dessert of celery, carrot and brown butter financier, pictured left.

We echewed the wine pairing, and instead had a bottle of aromatic South Tyrolean Baron Di Pauli Exit Gewurtztraminer 2017 (€39), from a very well-priced list, bringing our bill with service to €220, which was superb value.

This is the most impressive and important restaurant, showcasing Irish cuisine, to have opened this year.

Their next project is to add accommodation.

Bullaun, Loughrea, Co. Galway.
Tel: (087) 330-0559

First Published In The Sunday Independent