Any cafe,restaurant, bistro, pub, hole in the wall that serves mint tea made with fresh mint is alright by me. Its a small thing I know but it says “we care” louder and clearer than any amount of barista gymnastics can. And when said establishment has a great big jar of mint sitting on the counter top it almost makes my heart skip with joy.
Lunchonette in the deaths of the National College of Art and Design on Dublin,s Tomas street is one such place. Its an oasis of cool hidden away from a street not know for its sartorial elegance but more so for its old fashioned stalls selling cheap washing up liquid and lighters.
When the college lost its cafe about 18 months ago former student Jennie Moran stepped in offering a sort of soup kitchen to students. It operated on just Wednesdays to begin with but has since expanded to breakfast and lunch 5 days a week. Dinner is only for special occasions at the moment and so I was delighted to be invited to dinner there last Friday night as reward for a hard days workshopping. A full and exciting day spent with an international and local group keen to work on ideas in relation to urbanising bees. Fascinating stuff. Conversations and connections spilled out of the new college campus in Grangegorman and into a blustery and wet night. We trailed our way across the city and the dividing river pointing out bits and bobs of interest and history along the way to the visitors.
Ravenously hungry and high on utopian ideals we made the last leg of the journey through the archway into the art college and down the stairs into the basement. Jennie greets us all warmly and encourages us too take our seats, at an extremely long refectory style table, before our soup goes cold. Starvation thwarts formality as we all scramble for the nearest free space and grab sourdough rolls from the piled high wooden bowls dotted around the table. In front of each of us is one of those utilitarian enamelled metal bowls, you know the white and blue ones that service prisons, girl guides and family picnics alike. Into each one has been labeled a generous portion of kelly green kale and potato soup. Deliciously warm and nourishing. A menu is spied and 8 courses including soup made out. Its a one menu fits all with no decisions to be made all courses vegetable based with one fish dish.BRING IT ON.
Soup bowls and plates are quickly swept away by a team of delightfully friendly wait staff. Large plates offering a barley and blue cheese risotto placed on top of pieces of buttery roast leek. Grains retain bite and texture and give contrast to creamy allium base. Exceptional. Group sighs and exclamations concur. Conversation dropped over soup is picking up again and a sort of group consciousness of delight reigns.
Sweet potato wedges topped with sharp yoghurt and pomegranate. Mountains of them quickly reduced to molehills and beyond. Enough said.
Spears of chicory topped with hazelnut gremolata. Baked to perfection. One of those deceptively simple dishes behind which lurks careful timing and flavour balancing. Bullseye. Someone mentions killing a close relative for the recipe before retuning to the feasting.
Whole salt baked Salmon with lemon and caper butter. Now if you are going to bake something do yourself and the object of your baking a favour and bake it whole encased in salt with an egg wash. You will never go back. I however pass on this course as I can t bare the thought of farmed salmon and I know in my heart and sole that farming the noble salmon of knowledge is a mortal sin. But fear thee not I did not go hungry in the name of animal liberation instead I scoffed remaining portions of chicory. Yum.
So 5 down and 3 desserts to go. Pears baked with chocolate served with shortbread, plum pancakes and hunks of chocolate brownie all come down the line and bowls heaped with greek yoghurt are generously left between every 4 diners. A triumphant ending.
Well not quite ending. We break up into groups to discuss further plans for the morning and are revived by draughts of mint tea made with, you guessed right, fresh mint.