Vegetarian Eating in Dublin
by Aoife Carrigy ©
From the 'READERS DIGEST', The Dublin Event Guide, 6-19 February 2002, page 6
The author exerts full copyright over this piece of work. Contact the author c/o The Dublin Event Guide, Eustace St., Dublin 2 (www.eventguide.com)
People love to ask vegetarians why they don't eat meat, a fair enough question for one who can't imagine life without the pleasure of a thick juicy steak. The problem with being asked the same question over and over is that you quickly bore yourself with the answer, so it’s good to have a bit of variety. I have two answers, and they are both true (though with a little imagination you could have endless fun with this one). I either blame it on Czech restaurants or the Hare Krishnas. The truth is the latter saved me from the former (something I'll never forget them for), the cool of their café providing daily refuge from scorching hot sun and stringy grey meat. The clincher was that at 60p for as much as you could eat, that left one's stomach and purse well-lined for the evening ahead. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
The fact is that there are many reasons for not eating meat, from health issues to personal politics to just not feeling like it today, and many different ways to not eat it, that go far beyond the crusty confines of a nut loaf. The choice of vegetarian restaurants in Dublin is beginning to reflect this, although there's still room for improvement. (We have nothing to match Cork's Café Paradiso, for example, where serious foodie Denis Cotter has proven to us that you can have a whole lot of fun with a few innocent vegetables. If you can't make it to Cork, then check out their cookbook of the same name for some mouth-watering inspiration.)
So, what does Dublin have to offer in the way of all things vegetable?
For years, the cornerstone of vegetarian eating in this city has been the well-named Cornucopia, which has offered vegetarians that much craved combination: variety and quality. Choose at the counter from six different dishes, each one accommodating different dietary needs (gluten-, yeast-, or wheat-free, vegan). All mains (e.g. quiches, stroganoff, curry, lasagne) cost between €7 and €8 and are served with a choice of two salads. The salads alone are worth the trip. Reassuring staples such as their garlic potatoes with roasted hazelnuts (I can never resist it!) sit alongside more surprising ideas such as beetroot and pineapple with lemon and ginger, and with ten salads to choose from (€1.80 for one, €3 for two), you should find something to hit the spot. The desserts here prove the point that sweet needn't be sickly (look out for their great fruit crumble with yoghurt). Their juice menu has some nice suggestions: kiwi and melon, or pineapple and carrot (€2.55). All the above is served from 12pm to 8pm, but if you are hungry before the midday hour, their breakfast menu looks most promising. How does €4.95 for an omelette of the day, with carmelised red onions and fresh herbs, oven roast tomatoes, vegetarian sausage, toast and tea or coffee sound? Not bad?! We'll be back!
Govinda's* on Aungier Street is run by Dublin's Hare Krishnas in the same low-key, high-standard style as their overseas counterparts: no proselytising here, just good nutritious eating. This bright comfortable café serves its fare canteen style: peruse the food counter for its daily specials (Govinda's Special will be veg. and rice with an eastern slant, while the dish of the day is something more typically western, maybe lasagne or moussaka or shepherd's pie) or choose from menu regulars such as veggie burger or pizza. All mains are €7.55 and come with salad or subji. If you're not so hungry, there's a good selection of starters and snacks: soup, corn on the cob (regrettably under-featured on menus today!), spring rolls, samosas, baked potatoes and salads, all for €2 - €3. And if all that's sounding just too healthy for you, you can top it off with cakes and shakes: I'd particularly recommend their pineapple upside-down cake! Open from midday to 9pm, Monday to Saturday, they also do take-away; a handy one to remember for those evenings when you just can't face the supermarket!
Both the above are great spots if you want to fill the belly and be off. If you'd prefer to take your time, maybe sit over a glass of wine with your meal, check out Juice on South Great Georges Street: the city's only all-vegetarian restaurant (as opposed to self-service cafés). The room is bright and airy, its glass front facing onto George's St. making it a prime spot for checking out passing traffic (and I don't mean the cars). After years of reading menus whose vegetarian option is an uninspired afterthought grudgingly tacked on, Juice's menu is a delight. Dinner offers a choice of eight main courses (€12 - €16), ranging from Thai curry to Cannelloni to Juiceburger and Chips. All sound great, but my favourite is the Mushroom Wellington, described as marinated tofu, mushrooms and courgette, wrapped in puff pastry, and served with a red onion gravy, mashed sweet potato and purple broccoli. I think it's the gravy and mash that gets me! Starters (€3.75 - €6.30) similarly draw on many cuisines; with Mediterranean regulars like tabouleh and stuffed vine leaves offered alongside the rather more oriental miso broth and nori maki. Dinner is served 7 days with an early bird menu kicking off the evening. The daytime menu is a cross-over of lunch and brunch served from 12 – 4.30pm, if you're just out of bed try the scrambled tofu with mushrooms, or blini and eggs with rocket and parmesan, or a pitta pocket with choice of filling (I like the sound of mushroom, walnut and rosemary pate) if you're rushing back to work. The menu changes at weekends to suit a more leisurely pace with brunch favourites like heuvos rancheros getting a look-in. When it comes to beverages, the eponymous juice takes centre stage, but the organic wines deserve a bit of the limelight too, if only because it's the only vegetarian place in town with a wine list!
If you're prepared to travel a little for your grub, jump on the Dart and head to the edge of Wicklow. Escape** (unfortunately, Escape has closed down since this article was written – ed.) is Bray's best-kept secret; Tom O'Connor has been running this local vegetarian bistro for almost ten years now. It's easy to see why locals might like to keep this to themselves; tucked away across the street from the vast, anonymous Barracuda, Escape is an intimate, welcoming get-away. The wooden interior and barrage of craft-works give it an old-world cottage kind of feel. The menu changes daily, keeping regulars happy, with eight mains to choose from (€13.90). I went for the Wellington Roll again, their version being sautéed red onions, cashew nuts, carrots and chives in a sage and onion stuffing rolled in flaky pastry with a red wine and juniper sauce. Great stuff on a cold January night with a nice glass of red! There's no wine list here either, but you're welcome to bring a bottle with you. Dinner is served from the early hour of 4pm through to 10.30pm (8.30pm on a Sunday) and an early bird menu is available for €16.44 up until 7pm. Lunch is available on Saturdays and Sundays from 12.30pm when main courses (€11.35) such as pine-nut and parsnip sausages with mash and a mustard and brandy sauce might be just the ticket after a walk up Bray Head, or go for one of the lighter 'snacks' (€5 - €9): pizza and salads, or broccoli and potato pie. They have another premises nearby that serves weekday lunches, maybe call them for details.
Back in the city centre, we find ourselves running aground in our search for eating venues dedicated to vegetarian food. Blazing Salads*** of the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre were, in the glory days, the leader of the pack in bringing excellent macrobiotic cooking to this city, but attention seems to have shifted of late to their relatively new Deli and Bakery on Drury St. (opp. Georges St. Arcade), which is great news if you're looking for splendid salads, tarts and TV dinners. Their snacks are spot on; their samosas (€2.05) with yoghurt mint dip are to me what a big mac is to others, the source of instant gratification. Sandwiches range from falafel (€3.35) to focaccia (€3.60), or try a tart (€4.45), pizza slice (€2.25) or spring roll (€2.05). They also do frozen dinners (burgers and various curries), which are great to have in reserve, and it's a good place to pick up pre-cooked tofu slices to supplement a homemade supper.
While you're in the neighbourhood, pop round the corner to the Hemp Store, 167 Capel Street, Dublin 1, where you'll find a surprising range of hemp foodstuffs for sale. Hemp oil contains all the essential fatty acids we need, something hard to get but essential to the digestive and immune systems. The oil has a light nutty flavour and is recommended in a salad dressing (heating it would transform the beneficial fatty acids into harmful trans-fats). It is also a great source of Gamma-Linoleic-Acid, used in the treatments of skin problems, and usually taken in the costly form of Evening Primrose Oil capsules. Bottles of help oil cost €9 for 250ml, and a teaspoon a day will provide the above benefits. Also for sale here are the popular Swiss chocolate with help seeds, hemp burger mix, bread mix, flour and pasta (they've got some funky clothes too!).
Finally, more and more mainstream restaurants are starting to take their veggie punter a little more seriously. The 101 on Talbot St. is to be commended for its thoughtful and well-informed approach to vegetarian cooking. This cheap and cheerful spot changes its menu daily, but there are always at least two choices. The night we visited, we tried both; the aubergine and couscous with sautéed courgette and an orange and carrot sauce was perfectly cooked, and the herb boxty with blue cheese, sweet potato mash and fennel found the balance of a hearty wintry dish without being stodgy. Head chef of Moe's on Baggot St, Ian Connelly, came from the 101 via the rather more upmarket Peacock Alley, but he didn't forget his manners along the way, and the Moe's menu policy is similarly considerate of vegetarian needs. Three other spots merit mention for individual dishes. Dunne and Cresenci of Sth. Frederick St. have the best veg. antipasto ever for about €5 (Italian bean salad, artichokes, cheeses, olives and bruchetta), and Yamamori on Sth. Great Georges St. do a kick-ass sunomono (Japanese salad of broccoli, wakame and cucumber with a rice wine vinegar and sesame dressings). Not a limp lettuce leaf in eight!
Post script (added by the Vegetarian Society of Ireland)
* Govinda’s now has a second vegetarian cafe on Middle Abbey Street. They also offer a catering and delivery service
*** Blazing Salads is now located solely on Drury Street, Dublin 2. They also offer a catering service.
Another vegetarian restaurant – Café Fresh - has opened where the old Blazing Salads restaurant was once situated (2nd Floor, Powerscourt Townhouse Centre). Their aim is to bring a new energy to the vegetarian cuisine in Dublin by offering a healthy, nutritious and appealing meatless option while ensuring that the food looks and tastes deliciously mouth-watering.
Café Fresh offers hot dishes, salads, a wide range of sandwiches and juices. They use a lot of organic produce and cater for special diets. As they say on their website: “You have only to visit us once and you will be convinced.”
A browse through their website http://www.cafe-fresh.com/ shows that Café Fresh is keen to promote vegetarian food. You can access regularly updated information on their menus, you can send them your comments and your recommendations through their message board, and read about their Catering Service as well as their regular cookery classes.
Other info on Café Fresh:
Cafe Fresh has been recommended by the Bridgestone Food Guide 2003 & 2004
Member of the Vegetarian Society of Ireland
Member of the Vegetarian Society of United KingdomMember of The Slow Food Movement