Food done well is as much of an art form as literature. The two made a happy marriage at Kai Café and Restaurant, Galway on Tuesday April 21st, as it hosted a Literary Supper on the opening night of the city’s Cuirt International Festival of Literature.
Chef Jess Murphy was on a high after picking up the Best Chef and Best Restaurant Gongs at the Restaurant Association of Ireland Connaught Awards the night before. She had her work cut out with no fewer than seven courses for the sold-out event.
Each was to be accompanied by a relevant reading. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck inspired the prosecco with frozen grapes. Bubbles never fail to get people happy and they were smiling as they were presented with the oysters, pickled mussels and silver darlings called Wuthering Heights. The oysters were native. They’re more expensive, of course, but that ozone flavour is like none other. All they needed was ice and lemon, and that’s all they got.
The pickled oysters were smoky and punchy but my favourite was the Scandi-inspired silver darlings. Herrings can take strong flavours like the dill, vinegar and mustard that dressed them but none shouted louder than the other. Particularly poignant was an audio recording of the late, great Seamus Heaney reading a poem about oysters as we ate.
There was another audio recording, this time by Sharon Maxwell to accompany another simple, stunning seafood plate. A Connemara crab shell stuffed with leaves, white meat and a retro Marie rose sauce was devoured by one and all. This chef knows not to muck about too much with ingredients as good as these, but you can often find an errant bit of shell in dressed crab – not so here.
One woman at my table was allergic to shellfish, so she was served three perfect asparagus spears followed by a quinoa and goats’ cheese cake dressed with a fiery Romesco-type sauce. Both were far above standard veggie fare.
The Walter Macken pie was a Cornish-inspired star gazer with a majestic whole lobster sticking out of the buttery flaky pastry. Inside was a mixture of monkfish, smoked haddock, pollock, boiled eggs and white wine sauce. Not a single bite was left on the plates.
An excerpt from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was read by the Festival Director Dani as we tried dill’s dinner – a paper cup of bloody mary granita. Savoury ice is not my thing but it did pack a punch.
There were gasps of delight as what I christened the Heston Blumenthal course arrived. Treasure Island sweets consisted of striped bags of the most amazing toffee popcorn I have ever tasted. It was proper butterscotch. The toffee had been allowed to go as far as possible before it burned. That’s skill. When you see grown-ups giggling like children you know you have nailed it. The chocolate fudge (made with bean to bar good stuff) was a major sugar hit and the iced biscuits with a perfect Cuirt logo were impeccable. Gail Porter, take a bow.
There was one more course to go; this time it was a Jane Austen picnic. An astro-turf green parsley cake appeared topped with thick cream, strawberries and edible flowers. It was a picture and actually tasted more of mint than parsley.
By that stage, everyone was in fine fettle. That’s always the sign of a good meal. It puts everyone in a good mood. Kai is an easy, casual place to eat. It’s all mismatched bits of wood on the walls, hotchpotch décor and lots of enamel dishes. It’s impossible to feel stressed here. Jess, David and the rest of the team do all the worrying for you. All you have to do is eat their amazing food, in this case, edified by the works of great writers. Bravo!
For more information on Kai Café on Sea Road in Galway, visit their website.