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Restaurant Review - Capital Cafes

Restaurant Review - Capital Cafes

Wednesday 27 February 2019

As with other capital cities, the prohibitive rents in Dublin's prime areas, which can only be afforded by the multiples, has driven young entrepreneurs and chefs to explore alternative fringe locations. The result is a cafe society that's alive and well, with cool cafes doing great eclectic food from breakfast to brunch, with all-day menus and end-of-week dinners too.

Saturday brunch was chock-a-block when I whirled in to Alma on the South Circular Road, a new family run Argentinian cafe, where Dulce de Leche pancakes (€10) and Huevos a Caballo (€13) – steak, chimichurri, eggs, and kale, seemed popular at a communal table. Bacon wrapped Gorgonzola prunes (€3.50), along with tahini and anchovy kale (€11), chickpeas, poached eggs, plus a cuppa (€2.50), went down a treat.

Kwanghi Chan's new Bowls on Marlborough Street is inspired by the post-war Hong Kong 'cha chaan teng' tea cafes. Brunch choices included traditional congee rice porridge. Broths, side bowls and signature bowls (€2.50-€13.50) include roasted aubergine on charcoal in oyster sauce, and wok flamed prawns with Hong Kong XO sauce. I had fabulous pork and chive potstickers (€6.50) from Chan's northern Chinese grandmother’s recipe, a Macanese egg tart (€2.50) and a Coke (€1.50).

Installing a stone mill from New American Stone Mills at their organic on-site bakery, Bread Nation, on Pearse Street, allowed chef and baker Eoin Cluskey to produce sensational breads. The spacious, oh-so-cool cafe section, Bread 41, does a compact menu of mouthwatering takes on traditional dishes. It's porridge has burnt honey caramel, poached pear and toasted nuts (€4.50), while toast comes with organic whipped butter and oriel sea salt (€3.70) – for an extra €1.50, you can add nut butter. I'm addicted to their mushrooms on toast (€10.50), served on Shackelton 7 Seed toast, with polenta, thyme, ketchup, blue cheese, house pesto and topped with a fried egg. Lunchtime sees terrific sandwiches (€6.45-€8.50) like porchetta, Provolone cheese, rocket and pickles; or black pudding and date brown sauce – to which you can add an egg.

Loved-up millennials and young couples with babies were enjoying the Saturday brunch, when I was at Gertrude’s on Pearse Street, the latest offering from Colin Harmon of 3fe Coffee. Colour-blocking is the decor here – almost urban nursery school – with nice white napkins, and eclectic food from head chef Holly Dalton, including the Dirty Gertie ‘full Irish’; Tonkatsu pork sandwich; and seared lamb tartare – all €12 or under. I had duck-filled bao buns, which came with green chilli relish, scallion and teriyaki sauce (€12).

It's easy to see why Andy Joyce and Mark Quilty’s Groundstate Coffee is so popular. It's bright and airy, you can bring your pooch, and the weekend brunch menu hit the nail on the head with an eclectic croque madame, which takes you from Pearse Street to Korea, as it featured Bread Nation’s sourdough, Higgins thick cut ham, Dijon mustard, a Parmesan and Irish white cheddar bechamel, a crispy fried egg and kim chi (€12.80). Bayveen had delicious French toast (€10), rustic sourdough soaked in citrus spiked creme anglais, served with sweet labneh plus a tart fruit compote topped with fresh berries. I tried La Reseca (€12.50), which means 'for the hangover' – a big bowl of refried beans, paprika-roast potato, fried egg, salsa verde, salsa and wilted greens, topped with aioli and pickled onion.

I wrote about the chic lifestyle-store Industry on Drury Street a few years back but now they have a great little cafe doing Ottolenghi style Mediterranean salads, soup and a daily hot pot such as Persian meatballs (small €7.50/large €9.75) for the carnivores and one for vegetarians (€6.75/€8.95). Choose 2, 4 or 6 salads (€4.75/€7.75/€9.75) and add on chargrilled chicken, salmon or falafel, if you wish, at €4.25. I had falafel served with beetroot hummus and two salads, roast cauliflower with currants and tahini, and couscous. I also indulged also in a fabulous lemon, poppyseed and pistachio cakes.

On our Sundaymorning visit to Koffee + Kale, on the corner of Hill Street, near Gardiner Street, the display was full of pastries and ciabatta sambos, including Moroccan-style lemon chicken za’atar. The full Irish was €9.95, with smaller combos at €4.95. Bayveen had avocado on toast (€5.50), with chilli and lime on sourdough, while I had sweet potato rosti with smashed avocado and a petite poached egg (€6.95), with a honeycomb latte (€3.40) and a mocha (€3.95).

On the tiny old Dublin side street of Rosemount Terrace, off Manor Street, is another picture-pretty gem, the black-fronted Lilliput Stores – a deli with a cafe to the rear, which now opens on Thursday and Friday evenings for small plates and Aperol-style cocktails. The breakfast bap (€6.50), served with free-range crispy fried egg, house-made hot sauce, garlic aioli and either Higgins black pud or smoky bacon seemed to be going down a treat all round us. We had mouthfuls of pleasure by way of protein bliss balls (€2 each), with flavour combinations including cacao, goji and walnuts; and salted-caramel chocolate.

The dinky little Mooz, on Stoneybatter’s Manor Street, is an absolute treasure trove of Italian goodies from olive oils and deli fare to sweet treats, custard-stuffed doughnuts, truffles, amaretti and nougat. A Pizza Wannabe (€5.50) topped with black olives, green chilli, red peppers, porcini mushrooms was ace, and an antipasto platter (€15.95) lavished with Italian artisan cheese, charcuterie, olives, bread and dips and salad.

A plant-based restaurant on Forbes Street, near Grand Canal Dock, Nutbutter is so shiny and cool, with its swinging chairs, geometric design tables and wicker seats, that it almost squeaks. Breakfast, served from 7.30am–11.30am, includes almond butter & banana toast (€4.50), or avocado and cashew nut bowls (€8.95). This is followed up with an extensive all day menu of bowls (€6.95-€14.95) including poke bowls; warm grain bowls or various salad bowls. From 5pm–9pm they do a quartet of late plates (€12.95-€14.95) from which I had a delish Rainbow Pad Thai plate with brown rice, kale, peanuts, chicken, a coconutty sauce, spaghetti beets, cucumber, beansprouts and carrots (€12.95).

Located on the corner of Gardiner Street and Summerhill is the latest cafe sensation, One Society, which, to put it mildly, was jointed on our visit. Serving breakfast and lunch, plus pizzas and wine in the evenings, it has all the necessary decor features to keep the urban bruncher and muncher happy. Daytime dishes (€4.50-€14.90) range from organic oats with homemade pineapple, cinnamon and vanilla compote, to shakshouka baked eggs, to brisket and greens – or, indeed, Italian-style porchetta slow-roasted in their pizza oven and served on rustic or flatbread with rocket and lemon oil drizzle. Meanwhile, we departed with a fabulous fluffy American-style pancake with nutella and sliced banana (€6.90) to share.

You can't get more hipster hot than The Green Bean cafe, tucked away in a couple of sheds on Lee’s Lane in Dun Laoghaire, which also incorporates the Slaughter House vintage clothing store. There's a counter and the de rigueur mis-matched stools, and, for €5.50 (add coffee for an extra €1.50) you can chow down on chunky sambos such a BLT, tuna melt, pastrami & Swiss or the excellent falafel wrap (€7) with beetroot, hummus, spinach cucumber, chilli sauce and sun-dried tomato, which I went for. Stews, soup, smoothies, sweet bites and good coffee, all at good prices.

First Published In The Sunday Independent