Enda McEvoy is one of the quiet gentlemen of Irish food. Not for him the ranting and raving, or crashing pots and pans around. Enda goes about his business in a calm, considered manner. But don’t be fooled by his cool exterior. The humbleness of his gentle personality belies a chef with a will of iron, who really knows what he wants in his kitchen.
This Cavan born chef first came to the attention of the Irish food media at Aniar in Galway. But long before that he had worked in kitchens aound Europe, starting at aged 17 as a kitchen porter in Germany. After working in Spain and the UK, the hunger to return home began to bite. Enda returned to Galway, cooking in a couple of restaurants in the City of Tribes, before joining the launch team at Aniar as Head Chef, then earning the restaurant a Michelin star in 2012. But the dream to have his own place was still waiting to be realised. That eventually happened in 2013, when he openend Loam, with his wife Sinead.
Loam is an extension of Enda McEvoy as a chef. His intent to provide a true local food experience is stated very plainly in everything he does. He says “Our philosophy here is only to use ingredients that are from the west of Ireland.” That might sound like a cliche everyone is banging out these days. But when Enda McEvoy utters the words, he really means them. There are no spices, lemons or olive oil in his kitchen. Seasonings are sought out from ingredients which grow in the wild, which is why foraging is such a big thing for Enda and his chefs.
He doesn’t believe in importing ingredients from the four corners of the earth. What he wants to provide for his customers is a food experience that epitomises the west of Ireland at large, and Galway in particular. Tastes of wild herbs and seaweed picked from nearby shores, fresh fish and seafood hauled up from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean around Galway Bay, fine lamb from the mountains of Connemara. These are all part of the Loam experience.
In the words of the chef, “If you limit the palate of your ingredients, you force yourself to be more creative with that, you force yourself to find different flavours and different textures when creating a dish. There are different flavours out there in nature in the west of Ireland, such as elderflowers, wild garlic seeds and pickled roses, which we use in our savoury dishes. We use a lot of sea vegetables as well, which are a bit more durable. We’re constantly having to change our menu, because we have a limited amount of things we can use.”
Nothing like a challenge for this chef. He meets it head on in a menu presented simply. No fancy terminology. Each dish is described as a list of ingredients. What he does with them in the kitchen is his own particular brand of magic. Locally grown carrots may be given a billing on their own. How do you make carrots the star of the show and not have a dish that’s boring? We don’t actually know, but Enda McEvoy does. Leave him off with his imagination and the best of ingredients and it’s a joy to behold. Food here is also connected to its region in the presentation.
Textures and colours of the west of Ireland appear in the earthy tones of the plates, in natural slate and slabs of stone, and the carefully chosen ‘dressings’ which enhance each dish. Wild oats, seeds and barley , tiny sprigs of sea vegetables, foraged leaves and edible flowers, fresh moss, dried hay and straw, all these are used to superb visual effect to marry the dish with its origins.
Loam as a restaurant space is contemporary and utilitarian, its simple fuss free furnishings and table dressings only setting the scene for a goose-bump experience of fine food, from chefs you can watch at work in the open kitchen. Regular local residents like it very much. They keep coming back. Newcomers are blown away. No wonder the Michelin inspectors were impressed and awarded Loam its first star last year. Sustainability is another big agenda here, and this has been recognised with the highest award of three stars from the Sustainable Restaurants Association.
The wine list at Loam is as simply presented as the menu, with categories listing the ‘styles’ of wine in white or red choices, rather than baffling you with over-wordy descriptions. It shouldn’t fluster you, but if it does, don’t hesitate to ask the superb front of house team for help in choosing something to match your food and your mood.
Leg it to Loam as fast as you can. It’s true this chef is in the ascendency, set to rule on the Irish gastgronomic scene of Ireland for quite some time to come. But somehow we feel he is only finding his feet.The best, from one of the best, is yet to come.