A se­lec­tion of the best cafes, res­tau­rants and din­ing spots around the coun­try

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - SEVEN DAYS | EATING OUT -

DUBLIN

Counter Cul­ture

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.

Aoife McEl­wain

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

WICK­LOW

Box Burger

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.

AMcE

Ro­nan Ryan and Pamela Flood of Counter Cul­ture

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