NGL, as the young ones say, I absolutely hate this time of year. Most New Year’s resolutions fail, so I do myself a favour and skip the task of setting specific and meaningful goals. But as most of us will be watching the coppers, if not the scales, I thought that a lean budget and a restaurant that ticks the trying-to-live-better boxes, without the porridge and hair shirt, would be a nice start to the year.
I had been in a few months ago to chat with Mamay (Yagerenesh Tadesse), the chef in Gursha, Ireland’s only Ethiopian restaurant, for a piece I was writing on world food. I was fascinated with the injera flat bread she makes each day. I tasted it just as it was cooked, as it came off the hotplate where it had been poured in a circle, much as you’d make a pancake.
But it’s quite different. It’s made from a teff flour batter that has been slowly fermented. It is slightly spongy, slightly tangy, and very delicious. Teff is a superhero in the grain world, an ancient grass seed, native to Ethiopia, that has the ability to grow vigorously in high heat, is gluten free, and is packed full of calcium, iron and protein. It is so blue-sky-thinking good for you, you’d think a committee of marketing boffins had made it up.
Dinner in Gursha is a supper club, but this is more about how you book than anything else. Tickets, €28.50 per person, are bought in advance, and there’s no problem moving your booking time to a later slot if you wish.
Gursha is the creation of Mel Roddy, an Ethiopian who grew up in Ireland. On a family trip to Ethiopia in 2018, he was sitting in a cool restaurant, with jazz music playing, and realised that we didn’t have anything quite like it in Dublin. After running a pop-up in 2019, he found a permanent premises just over a year ago, the former home of Wood Fired Café on Poolbeg Street. There was little that needed to be done beyond removing the pizza oven to make room for a kitchen.
It is a comfortable, congenial space, with the sort of murmur of chatter that emanates from happy groups – a family, pals catching up, a couple on a date, and two dudes who we later see in Mulligan’s pub next door. They apparently get quite a lot of trade from here.
It’s a fixed menu and everything comes on a big stainless steel platter to be shared between two. You’ll be asked if you would like cutlery, by all means say yes if you want to, but we rolled up our sleeves and attacked the platter in the traditional way. Much like naan or pitta bread, injera is used to pick up your food.
The plate is a palette of Naples yellow, burnt umber, purple madder, and flashes of green spinach beside cubes of slow cooked lamb. Pearl white beads of home-made ricotta sit in two mounds, on hand in case you need to cool the spice level down, but it seems just right.
The meat is only a small part of the dish; most of the food here is vegetarian or vegan. We tear off pieces of injera, picking up lentils in a yellow sauce in one bite, in a brown sauce with another, the notes of fenugreek, cardamom and clove coming through from the berbere spice blend; all washed down with a €26 bottle of Gran Cerdo Tempranillo. Carrots, beetroot, and cucumber are unearthed as we eat our way around the plate. There is so much variety that it’s easy to clear. If you have room for more of anything, they’ll bring it. This is Ethiopian generosity – Gursha means “I feed you”.
Dessert is simple, either a refreshing lemon sorbet that has shown impressive restraint on the sugar front, or a chocolate brownie with ice cream, laced with a sweet caramel sauce. And of course, an Ethiopian coffee.
Gursha is the place to go to suit everyone’s resolutions, or lack of them, whether that is to be healthier or to see more of your friends. It is the sort of food that you become immersed in. Maybe it’s the act of eating it with your hands, or maybe it’s because there’s no waiting around for the next course to follow. It’s all there, right in front of you. Delicious, a big hug on a plate.
Dinner for two with a bottle of wine was €83.
THE VERDICT A truly great way to eat healthy food
Music: African, background and unobtrusive
Food provenance: Vernon’s Catering
Vegetarian options: This is a vegetarian and vegan paradise, the platters can be served without animal products
Wheelchair access: Accessible, with accessible toilet