There's more to this Irish city than its famous oysters. Andy Lynes follows a fabulous food trail

I swear I heard the sturdy wooden table in the wine bar above Sheridan's Cheesemongers groan as yet another plate of food was laid on it. Dozens of Galway Bay native oysters, platters of homemade charcuterie, including duck rillettes and foie gras parfait, Irish cheeses such as the earthy, rind-washed Durrus from County Cork, all accompanied by a glass or two of crisp Canella prosecco. A fine supper by anyone's standards, but at 9.30am, it made for a breakfast verging on the sybaritic.

It seemed that Eveleen and Pamela from Fabulous Food Trails, who had planned our culinary tour around Galway and Connemara, wouldn't be guiding us so much as leading us delightfully astray. The day started innocently enough, however, with a visit to the weekend market that wraps itself around St Nicholas's Church in Galway's city centre, where peat-smoked salmon and muddy carrots vied with falafel and Sicilian olives for gourmet shoppers' attention.

A 30-minute coach journey allowed a glimpse of the rugged beauty of Ireland's west coast before turning inland through open bogland to Cnoc Suain. The 17th-century hill village is now home to Dearbhaill Standun and Charlie Troy's centre for creative arts, heritage and natural history. The very definition of "peaceful idyll", here you can bone up on your Celtic mythology and spirituality or attempt to capture the haunting quality of Connemara's brittle wilderness in watercolours. We were on an even more elemental mission – how to bake the perfect loaf of soda bread.

We gathered in the thatched cottage's kitchen, with its rough white-washed walls and open fireplace, for a masterclass with Dearbhaill's mum. She made it look easy enough. Just mix white and brown flour with baking soda and salt, add some buttermilk and bring gently together to make a sticky dough. No yeast means no kneading, just some pulling and rolling to form a neat circular loaf. A cross slashed across the top "to let the fairies out", a splash of holy water to make sure of a good result (flour, she explained, used to be an expensive commodity and couldn't be wasted) and into a covered cast iron pot to be baked at the side of the fire.

Our own efforts didn't quite match the rustic perfection of that first loaf, but were, nevertheless, greedily devoured, slathered in butter and still warm from the oven. It was the perfect amuse bouche to our next meal – a sort of Irish al fresco version of Babette's Feast. On the hill behind the cottage overlooking the lake, a linen-covered table was laden with fillets of beef from County Carlow, venison salami from Gubbeen, smoked salmon from Burren and vegetables and salads bought that morning from Galway market. It was autumn. It was chilly. It was magical.

The spirit at Cnoc Suain moved me. One sip of poitin, the frighteningly strong barley-based liquor poured generously for us by Charlie, and I was moved to sit down before I fell down. It was time to make our excuses and leave while we were still able.

It's difficult to describe butcher James McGeough without falling back on cliché, but he really is a man with a twinkle in his eye – think Irish comedian Tommy Tiernan in an apron. But then he has a lot to be happy about. The air-dried, smoked Connemara lamb he makes at his shop in the charming village of Oughterard just outside of Galway city is one of Ireland's finest food products.

McGeough served an amazing 155,000 portions of it at the Ryder Cup in 2006 and has been recognised by the prestigious Bridgestone Guide for his artisan skills. By the time he's proudly shown us round his gleaming production facility and talked us through the process of salting, hanging and pressing the meat, we are more than ready to sample the goods. Similar to bresaola, the Italian wind-dried beef, it has a sweet, complex flavour and is utterly delicious.

The day's trail was over, but the eating wasn't. Eveleen and Pamela had lined up dinner at the award-winning and extremely popular Ard Bia restaurant in the city centre. This was Irish cooking with its mind significantly broadened by travel. North African chermula-spiced halibut and Moroccan lamb and quince tagine sat next to the more recognisable local flavours of a Galway Bay mussel and smoked haddock chowder.

A day of serious eating had served to whet rather than dull my appetite and I made short work of a perfectly medium rare fillet of venison served with braised red cabbage and creamy mash.

Lingering too long over desserts and coffees, we missed out on seeing some live Irish music, but the busy pubs of Quay Street were calling, nevertheless. Having set us on the road to excess, the Fabulous Food Trails ladies headed home for Dublin and left us to find the palace of wisdom, or at the very least a decent pint of stout, by ourselves.

How to get there

Andy Lynes flew to Galway with Aer Arann (00 353 1 844 7700;, which offers return flights from Luton airport from £76. He stayed at the G Hotel in Galway (00 353 91 865200;, where doubles start at €200 (£138) per night. A one-day Galway trail with Fabulous Food Trails (00 353 1 497 1245; costs from €250 (£175).

Further browsing/eating: The 53rd Galway International Oyster Festival takes place from 27 to 30 September ( For more travel ideas go to