Going out: Have your cake, but eat healthily too in this south Dublin cafe

This small, smart cafe has the potential to go whole hog and become a full restaurant

Fri, Jan 13, 2017, 14:09

   

Fia Foods

  • Irish

Eat less, move more, American nutritionist Marion Nestle once said. So we’ve had a fast walk to the bus stop for the 46a, which will deposit us in deepest Dún Laoghaire. For vegan food. Yay. Those happy days when the caramel dime in the Quality Street counted as the healthy option (not covered in chocolate see?) are over. Hello January. Goodbye gluttony.

I haven’t broken the vegan bit to my sons. “Will there be eggs?” one of them asks. The youngest is planning a toasted cheese sandwich. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. Only we don’t get to it because the Maritime Café is in darkness. A woman in the office of the National Maritime Museum says the cafe has nothing to do with them.

All my plans for jokes about mariners and salty vegan dogs go up in a puff of green vapour from a kale smoothie. Suffering succotash, or words to that effect.

Put aside the novelty of a vegan maritime cafe, and Dún Laoghaire’s cafe scene is as thrilling as an empty selection box. In one place the waitress appears to be wearing her coat while serving sandwiches.

We settle for The Giddy Goose on George’s St Lower. They serve good coffee but we leave behind a half-eaten burnt bagel with cream cheese and an omelette so rubbery it could be used as a flotation device, all served with clumps of limp rocket covering puddles of acrid vinaigrette. My spirits are lower than Gwyneth Paltrow’s glycaemic index. The bill tops €28.

Then I remember Fia. Chef Keith Coleman opened up this small place on Rathgar Road last year. It’s not vegetarian, but they use meat sparingly with ingredients such as Iberico chorizo to jazz up their dishes. I leave my children in the care of their father and head there to salvage something from the day.

Sold out

The small, stylish place is heaving, with a window counter stool the only spot I can squeeze into. It’s their first day open after the break and there’s obviously been some pent-up demand. The special, a winter miso hotpot, is sold out. This is fried kale with balsamic braised Portobello mushrooms and herbs, all in a miso and dilisk broth, with truffled crème fraîche on Le Levain sourdough. Like Arnie, I’ll be back (for a bowl).

Fia is a smart room, painted in textbook hipster grey. Filament bulbs glow in copper cages. The only wall decorations are two beautiful line drawings: a young stag gazing out to the traffic on Rathgar Road and a shaggy-eared, long-eyelashed cow staring at the diners from the opposite wall. The furniture is dark wood and white tubular steel school-chair style. A shelf holds some cookbooks.

Can you judge a cafe by its covers? The collection here includes the Gubbeen book about Giana Ferguson’s farm and a copy of Sandor Katz’s fermentation bible, filed beside some kilner jars containing suitably murky ferments.

I wrap cold fingers around a small, smooth, handle-less cup of herbal tea. It’s a pot of their two “intelligent teas” (yes), but ignore the name and it’s lovely, a mulch of meadowsweet, fennel and camomile in the tea pot, with a refill later when I’m still there sipping.

The harissa eggs come on a handsome plate – two eggs fried crisply in butter (officially a health food now), with puddles of harissa yoghurt pooling in their dimples. There’s a scattering of herbs so fresh they shout their flavours: lovage, thyme a few shards of mint and flat leaf parsley. Underneath the eggs is a slathering of leeks, fried sweet and slumpy, with crispness restored by a bottom layer of Le Levain sourdough, toasted.

Cake cake

Afterwards, in the name of moderating my new year health kick, I order a slab of their hazelnut cake. It is what a friend would describe as “cake cake”. (She is on a mission to find cake cake in between the oily cellophane-wrapped muffins and bad rocky road.) Fia’s is a vanilla sponge with a butter cream icing. The top has been dusted with powdered hazelnuts and finished with shards of coconut. I will walk home to earn it.

Fia is already more than just a good neighbourhood cafe. It has the feeling of a place that could grow into a fully-fledged restaurant. Eat less but better is my advice. It starts when places like this take their ingredients seriously, making for truly nourishing food.

Lunch for one came to €15.75.

Fia

155b Rathgar Road, Rathgar, Dublin 6, 01-4413344

Facilities: Fine

Music: Nice, low-key songs

Food provenance: Excellent. McNally Family Farm’s vegetables, Gubbeen cheese and meat, Le Levain sourdough

Wheelchair access: Yes

Vegetarian options: Good

Verdict: 8/10. A beautiful little café