Tartare Café & Wine Bar
56 Lower Dominick Street
Phone: 091 567 803

The Irish Daily Mail
25 August 2018

I like JP McMahon. In the pantheon of Irish food he occupies a unique place, not just as chef patron of Aniar, one of the two Galway restaurants with a Michelin star, but as the founder and, more importantly, the energy and the vision, behind Food on the Edge. This annual gathering has put Ireland firmly on the world’s gastronomic map.

Aniar’s recent dishes have titles as intriguing and bare as “cep, cheese, gizzard” “carrot, elderflower” and “pollock, sea herbs”, all of which look wonderful and, indeed, intriguing. I’ve yet to eat at Aniar for the simple reason that I need to be in the mood for this kind of cooking and, naturally, I need to be in Galway at the time. So far, the circumstances have not coincided.

I was, however, in the mood for Tartare, JP’s little informal café, of which I had heard much. The lunch menu is short (things get more elaborate in the evenings when Tartare becomes a wine bar) and suits my kind of mid-day appetite with its small plates, boards and snacks. The sight of sherry on display suited me too, and a small glass of fino was the perfect aperitif.

I liked the simplicity and provenance of the Irish charcuterie board, served with seaweed crackers, salty and earthy and delivering a refreshing crunch as a foil to the glorious fattiness of the various forms of salame and a fine, rough pork terrine. Some slices of pickled cucumber delivered the requisite sharpness. At €14.50, it might be considered a little lacking in generosity but there was no doubting the quality.

I liked the sound of “chicken schnitzel, beetroot slaw, ramsons” even though ramsons, or wild garlic, are/is well over by now. But, of course, I had forgotten that JP is both a forager and a preserver. The ramsons came in the form of little pickled seed heads sitting on a quenelle of wonderfully rich and deeply flavoured crème fraiche; at least this is what I took it to be; perhaps it was a different form of fermented cream. There was also a scattering of micro-leaves, possibly seedlings of sprouting broccoli. Oh, and there was a chicken schnitzel, very small, even for a “small plate”. But my goodness, this combination was so lovely that I ordered a second one and got a schnitzel twice the size, at least, of the first.

Now we come to the only real disappointment of my light lunch, a custard tart flavoured with the wild plant known as sweet woodruff. I am in two minds about mentioning this because, days later, when I was checking my receipts, I found that I had not been charged for either this or the exceptionally good -how often can I say that? – flat white.

Perhaps it was an oversight or it may have been a manifestation of conscience because the very small custard tart was terrible. Not terrible enough to stop me eating it, to be fair, but it didn’t match, in any way, the lovely picture conjured up by the words custard and tart.

There was roughly an equal quantity of a form of custard (lacking richness, texture and flavour beyond a general sweetness) and rather tired pastry. There it was, in the middle of a plate, not even a couple of raspberries or a dollop of cream to keep it company. And, why woodruff when the somewhat more headily scented meadowsweet is going full throttle in the hedgerows just now?

Now, this was a “snack” at €3 to be fair. But still.

Anyway, I didn’t have to pay for it but I think it needs to be mentioned as part of the experience. I also noticed, much later, that I wasn’t charged for a large bottle of mineral water, either. Perhaps they were having a bad day or practicing random acts of kindness. I don’t know.

And why didn’t I check the bill at the time? Because it came to €46.30 which seemed about right.

This amount covered the charcuterie board, two schnitzels, a small glass of sherry and a 125ml glass of lovely Spätburgunder but not the custard tart, the coffee or the mineral water.