30 Mallow St, Limerick wearecanteen.com ¤ I’m sitting at a counter in a small café, just off Limerick City’s main thoroughfare. The sun streams in, shining a spotlight on a wooden tray in front of me holding a plump, moist blueberry muffin (¤3.50), freshly baked in-house, and a petite flat white (¤2.80), made with Badger and Dodo coffee and served in a small 7oz cup, just as I like it.
Opened three years ago by Paul Williams, the mission of Canteen is to serve honest fast food. For lunch, there are wraps, salads and hearty meals such as the Amazing Organic Meatballs (¤9) lunch box. I choose a lunch box of a Persian Stew (¤8.50), a light vegetarian stew served with couscous. I’m glad I’ve ordered the excellent house-made dukkah (50c) as a topping, as it gives the stew a welcome personality boost. The staff really make my visit. Barista Dalton knows everything about the menu and his coffee is flawless.
Waitress Tiffany delivers attentive service. I’m impressed at how well they communicate the ethos of Canteen. A great spot for coffee and a perfect blueberry muffin, or something more substantial.
Sweet Beat Café
attachedtoit. Butplant-based alsoreflectswhatwedo.Thefact thatweusehoneyin someofour bakingandrecipesmeansweare notactuallyvegan. Ourmenuis 90per centvegan.” Forlunch, I choosetheSweetBeat3in1 (¤10.95).It’s aplate oftheir daily saladandacupoftheirdailysoup -today’sisbulgarwheatwith butterbeansandbutternut squash, alsothekey ingredientin thesoup.
Thereisa dollopofchilliand corianderhummus,andafew slicesoflightlypickledcucumbersontop. Thebreadistoasted andtopped withavocado.Instead ofcoffee, Ioptfora gingerkefir (¤3.50)whichhasadelicatefizz andjusttherightamountofspicy gingerness.
Calry Court Stephen’s St, Sligo facebook.com/misosligo ¤¤ Head Chef and owner Nae Young Jung brings out our Kimchi Jeon ( ¤7.50), a large savoury pancake, pan-fried and drawing on the flavours of kimchi, the spicy fermented cabbage that accompanies most Korean meals. It’s sticky and spicy in all the right spots. I’m beyond pleased when my Bibimbap (¤13.50 with an egg) arrives with my very own squeezy bottle of spicy sauce, laced with gochujang. The success of a bibambap – a bowl of rice and freshly shredded vegetables that can come with beef or tofu – relies on a large dose of the spicy sauce so be generous.
The optional egg on top arrives cooked with a soft yolk, instead of a raw egg that gets cooked by the sizzling hot stone bowl in my favoured incarnation of this dish. I miss the sticky crispiness that this serving technique brings to a bibambap, but it’s a gratifying dinner nonetheless.
The Japanese influence on the menu is largely designated to the sushi section, while the larger meals include Korean favourites such as beef bulgogi (¤17.50) galbi jeongsik (¤19.50), and my aforementioned bibambap.
The menu seems pretty set but they keep things interesting by changing their roll of the day every day. In April, that meant an impressive display of lobster sushi roll served in a lobster shell.
They source their fish locally from Killybegs and the silky fish in the Tuna Roll (¤10.50) is a testament to freshness.
32 O’Connell St, Sligo 071-9141575 knoxsligo.ie/ ¤¤ I head to Knox for breakfast, enjoying the reclaimed wood and over-sized light bulb aesthetic of its fittings. I soon see that Knox is not just a pretty face, but that there is real substance in their offering. Before I even get fed I’m charmed by the cheery waiter, who holds his own while singing along to tunes from Future Islands and London Grammar playing on the café’s stereo.
Patrick Sweeney and David Dunne opened Knox in May 2015, after leaving their careers in banking to follow their dream of opening a food business. Their efforts haven’t gone unnoticed, and they won Best Café in Sligo in the Connaught round of the Irish Restaurant Awards earlier this year.
The kitchen team is led by Shane Meehan and Kai Puls, and their cakes and muffins are baked by Stacy McGowan. Knox St was what O’Connell St was known pre-1920, and the original street sign hangs on the wall of the café, a present from a customer who unearthed it for Sweeney and Dunne.
The duo launched a bistrostyle evening menu in October 2015 but have since redirected their nighttime offering in the direction of tapas, which feels more in keeping with the informal style of the business. Served from 6pm to 10pm, Thursday through Saturday, the menu is economically priced and includes tapas stalwarts such as charcuterie boards (¤12) alongside inventive specials such as plates of scallops with crispy chicken skin and bites of ham hock terrine.
For breakfast, I go for a pot of crunchy house granola (¤4.50). It’s generous in size and the proportion of granola to yogurt and fruit is well judged. It’s an example of the substance behind pleasant presentation at Knox. I also indulge in the heartier option of the Sligo Breakfast Bap (¤7), which is made up of a meat patty made for Knox by Sheerin’s Butchers in Ballymoate. Also between the bap are slices of Sheerin’s bacon, which are of ample thickness and abundant flavour.
I felt the coffee could be improved. Though it’s made with Grumpy Mule beans, a UK-based roastery of good repute, I wonder if a roaster closer to home would fit in more with Knox’s food offering, but this may be my personal coffee patriotism kicking in.
Overall, I admire what Sweeney and Dunne have done. They’ve taken their experiences as customers and applied it to their own space, by sourcing good produce and bringing in culinary talent such as McGowan, whose muffins are worth writing home about..