A selection of the best cafes, restaurants and dining spots around the country
Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, Dublin 2 counterculturedublin.com € I’m perched at the bar of Counter Culture in Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, knocking back a shot of matcha, banana and coconut milk, spiked with chia seeds.
Opened earlier this year by Pamela Flood and her husband Ronan Ryan, the pair followed the lead of places such as Protein Bar in Washington to bring health food with substance to Dublin city. Rather than just being a juice bar, they wanted to provide another outlet to enable Dubs to indulge in clean, healthy eating for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Counter Culture is on the top floor of the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, the city centre-party pad built in the 1700s for Richard Wingfield, the 3rd Viscount of Powerscourt. Much like their downstairs neighbours The Pepper Pot, Counter Culture has located itself on what is essentially a balcony. Though they have the luxury of a wider space than The Pepper Pot, they’re still working out of a long and narrow space. They’ve made good use of this space by building high tables into the bannisters, which look right out into what would have been the courtyard of this Georgian townhouse, now an indoor shopping market for Irish design.
It’s while taking in these views that I spend time over the home-smoked salmon salad, accompanied by pickled cabbage, grapes and feta (¤13). I get some housemade brown bread, crunchy with seeds, to go with it. It’s a substantial lunch that doesn’t leave me feeling loaded or lethargic. The smoked salmon has an unusual texture and flavour, thanks to the home smoking, and stands out from your average lunchtime smoked salmon.
For brunch, you could go for the five-egg omlette or baked avocado with goat’s cheese. Or there’s the juice menu, which includes the matcha and banana number I mentioned earlier, known as The Activate (¤5). What I like about Counter Culture is that they haven’t taken the joy out of eating in their bid to promote clean eating. The food is colourful and vibrant, with enough choice to get even the most suspicious diner to come around to a healthier lunchtime.
Brunch and lunch are served from 10am to 12pm Monday to Friday and all day Saturday and Sunday. You can eat overlooking the historic building’s former courtyard, or get the food to go and sit out on the Townhouse’s front steps facing South William Street.
Berlin Café & Bierhaus
Clarendon Street, Dublin 2 facebook.com/homeofthebear € On the corner of Coppinger Row and Clarendon Street in Dublin sits a cafe space that pays homage to the creative city to whom Ireland has lost many an Irish artist; Berlin.
I was distrustful when I first saw the Berlin sign in the summer of 2014, when it first opened. Much like an inauthentic Italian restaurant called “Rome” or “Napoli”, it feels like a disingenuous marketing tool, an attempt to shift a few coffees through the association of a vibey city. I also bristle at the idea that we have to bring a bit of Berlin to Dublin to make it cool. I wasn’t expecting to like it, so when I find myself being comforted within its walls by a bowl of warm soup on a cold day, I’m pleasantly surprised by the space and how it’s being used.
Chairs and sofas line the street outside of the cafe, which curls around the corner of the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre. Inside, the highceilinged space is filled with long, communal wooden benches for punters and a long, wooden counter for the baristas.
When I visit, the soup of the day (¤5.50) is a hearty tomato soup served with toasted sourdough bread. Other options include a daily hotpot (¤8) and a salad plate of four salads, which can include bulgar wheat and shredded pickled cabbage, for ¤7.50. Paninis (still popular in Berlin?) include old favourites such as mozzarella and tomato. It’s an unambitious menu but it’s done well. The coffee is brewed with care and often comes adorned with a bear through the medium of latte art. There are pretzels on the coffee bar, and next to them are cakes by Paleo Man Foods, an excellent gluten- and dairy-free dessert company that also supplies Kaph around the corner on Drury Street.
Where this Dublin café captures some of Berlin’s cultural spirit best is the multi-purpose use of this space. It’s a daytime café that doubles up as a venue and DJ space for small, regular gigs, and the room is well suited for it. Monday nights offer Dublin’s buskers the chance to sing with a roof over their heads and for you to discover new talent (you’ve been warned). Recently, a Cabaret Quiz Show was held on a Tuesday evening. Saturday nights are given over to Disko Tapes from 6pm till late, where just a few weeks ago Olan O’Brien from All City Records was a guest DJ. Beers are available too; last month a Brat & Bier special was on offer to celebrate Oktoberfest.
So it turns out Berlin isn’t here to make a statement about Dublin; instead it’s trying to celebrate a slice of Berlin’s multipurpose bar culture on a Dublin corner. AMcE
Green Bench Café
18 Montague Street, Dublin 8 greenbenchcafe.com € On my most recent visit to The Green Bench Café, alarmist headlines about carcinogenic bacon were being strewn across the Internet, hovering around our breakfast routines threatening to destroy all that we hold dear, namely, bacon. Though I know that moderation is key, the hysteria must have seeped under my skin; I was affected enough to order a vegetarian breakfast sandwich from the smiling chef prepping avocados for lunchtime.
The Green Bench Café, which recently celebrated its third birthday, is next door to Credo Pizza on Montague St, the lane that links Harcourt Street and Wexford St. This is a compact café; there’s some
standing space by the window looking out onto Montague St but mostly the business here is takeaway.
Sourdough from Tartine Bakery toasted on the grill is the vessel for my vegetarian breakfast sandwich, which is comprised of plump slices of grilled halloumi, a sweet mushy tomato, homemade relish and a handful of rocket, topped off with an expertly fried egg. Having rocket or other salad greens in a toasted sandwich is one of my pet hates – it’s so gross when salad greens become slimy and warm – but somehow that smiling chef has gotten it right here. The rocket has certainly met heat but it hasn’t been dehydrated or destroyed, and it’s the first time I haven’t had to shake my fists to the sky because of greens in a toasted sandwich. Overall, it’s a sterling sandwich. Bravo.
Breakfast starts early at 7.45am and runs till 11am, and the lunch menu takes over at noon. The menu changes regularly but you can expect sandwiches such as BBQ free-range chicken (¤6.50) and spiced beef with curry mayo and celeriac remoulade (¤5.50). As winter takes hold, there are vegan soups (¤4) and meaty hotpots (¤6.50) on offer alongside daily changing salads.
The barista is speedy, furiously foaming the milk while banging the portafilter to empty it of used coffee grounds. It’s fun to watch. She’s watchful and is listening to everything; she knows that I’ve ordered the breakfast sandwich from the chef. Her regulars come in and she says things like “The usual?” and “How did that big meeting go for you guys?”. Her coffee is bitter, but in a good way; the coffee’s flavour cuts clearly through creamy milk.
Apart from the bread, everything is made in this small but well-utilised space. A selection of traybakes are lined up temptingly near the checkout, all wrapped and ready to go; banana and walnut bread and chocolate and hazelnut cookies are ¤1.50 a pop.
The doughnuts (¤2.50) are made in-house. They are fat and filled with a variety of delicious goo. Having bought myself some time by not ordering the bacon and sausage breakfast sandwich, I treat myself to a caramel-filled doughnut that is covered in sticky icing sugar. Because, that’s how health works, right? AMcE
Thru the Green
Thru the Green Dundrum Road, Windy Arbour Dublin 14 thruthegreencoffeeco.com € Boxpark in London is a shopping centre made entirely out of reused shipping containers. It opened in Shoreditch (of course) in 2011. This sustainable architecture movement hasn’t exactly taken over our capital’s streets, but there is one café that’s brought the idea to Dublin.
Thru the Green is a refitted shipping container parked on an unassuming section of tarmac on Dundrum Road. It’s about a 10 minutes walk from the Dundrum LUAS stop, heading back towards Milltown or a 5 minute walk from the Windy Arbour LUAS stop. The people behind this project are Kiz, from Australia, and Jonny, from Dublin. Both wanted to be a part of the developing coffee culture in Dublin. They took inspiration from the Drive Thru coffee shops in Australia, found an old shipping container, painted it white and opened its shutters. You can drive through in your car or peddle through on your bike. You can even walk up by foot and order at the hatch. They also have a few stools outside if you want to take advantage of a sunny day and sit outside sipping coffee.
These guys are serious about their coffee. They use Dublin roaster’s Roasted Brown beans and froth organic milk for their milky brews. They make one of my favourite coffees in Dublin. Their coffees treat the beans as champions, preserving their flavour in their brews and topping up strong shots with creamy milk.
But it’s not just about coffee. These folks care about food, too, and they bring in some of their favourite producers to help them feed the masses, artisanal drive- thru style. A cinnamon scroll and a coffee is ¤4 for a morning treat. Their salad combinations include courgette and carrot, and quinoa and beetroot. Their sandwiches come on thick slices of farmhouse white bread, with simple but well-balanced fillings such as thick slices of real ham and crunchy greens.
It’s great to see such a clever use of space tucked away in leafy suburbia. Thru the Green have been open since January of this year. I think it’s time we saw other shipping container spaces popping up, permanently, around the city. AMcE
7 Strand Road, Bray Co Wicklow 01-5381000 , boxburger.ie ¤ Overlooking the Bray Promenade, just a few minutes from the Dart station, Box Burger draws you in with the nostalgic exterior of the 160-year-old Railway Building that houses it. It’s the newest venture from Conor and Nicola Duggan, who also own Platform Pizza right next door.
The starter portion of nachos coming out of the open kitchen pass look enormous, so we go straight for what we came here for – burgers. At Box Burger, they’re following this year’s trend of sweet, more manageable buns and a more restrained approach to toppings. There are 14 burgers to choose from, including two vegetarian and one vegan option.
My Mexican Burger (¤10.50), served with a complimentary Frozen Margarita, is a juicy, handmade beef patty slathered in a chipotle mayo, with just the right amount of guacamole and slices of red chili packing real heat squeezed into the brioche bun. The Seitan vegan burger (¤8.50) impresses in flavour and texture. This is not just a token burger placed on the menu to placate the occasional vegan; it’s clear that the same amount of thought and care has gone into this burger as has gone into its meat peers.
Sides are usually around ¤4.50 but if you add them to your burger order they come in at ¤3. Our sweet potatoes are on point, and the corn on the cob is pleasantly smothered in a subtly spiced butter.
Desserts are straightforward American diner fare. A chocolate fudge cake (¤6) is firm yet not too dense. I climb the mountain of 12 mini donuts (¤6), coated with cinnamon sugar and with a pot of Mr Whippy style ice-cream alongside, and marvel at my strength of character in finishing a dessert that could happily feed two. Our bill, which also includes a strawberry lemonade (¤1.75) and a Diet Coke (¤2.50) comes to ¤40.75.
What I’m not fond of at BoxBurger is the over-bearing red lighting. Combined with the playlist (featuring Huarache Lights and Can’t Do Without You), I get the distinct feeling of being in a club. But no one’s dancing on the Sunday we visit, except for a five-year-old out with mum and dad. The trappings of the casual dining restaurant are all here: Falcon enamel plates, chipboard walls giving way to the exposed original feature brick, open-plan kitchen, quirky bathrooms and ample plug sockets for phone charging.
Among all this potentially distracting style, do the burgers bring the substance? Indeed they do. And because of that, I can give the calculated chipboard look the blind eye.
Ronan Ryan and Pamela Flood of Counter Culture