For some, the mark of a true food lover is one who is happy to sharpen their knife when the innards are ripped from a carcass, lashed on a pan and served on a plate. Tripe, brains, kidneys and trotters. A Fergus Henderson nose to tail feast, the ultimate honking catnip for gourmands.
I have tried them all — tripe inadvertently when I ordered “callos” at a food stall in Barcelona’s La Boqueria food market and andouillette on my honeymoon (we’re still married) — but I am usually happy to limit my repertoire to the less stinky bits, even if it means a plunge down the saucisson-waving pecking order.
Assassination Custard is a tiny restaurant which neatly divides the world into people who eat offal and people who eat vegetables, and puts them in the one room with an amazing array of small plates. They are the kind of dishes that are now ubiquitous in natural wine bars, except they have been doing this since 2015, at a fraction of the price and with no natty wine list. If you want a drop, it’s BYOB, otherwise it is tap water, which is brought to the table in a bottle with two squat glasses.
There’s a handwritten menu, penned in red on two sides of a white sandwich bag. “Lunch”. It’s underlined, perhaps because they never serve dinner, or more likely because the owners, Gwen McGrath and Ken Doherty, are so happy to be back open. A restaurant with just two tables, one seating four, the other three, was of course going to be one of the last places to remerge from the upheaval.
There’s no tripe today, instead there is Broughgammon Farm veal liver, and pork cheeks and jowls; other days it may be goat’s kidneys. If any of this is an animal part too far, everything else on the menu, with the exception of mussels, is vegetarian, cooked with the skill of someone who spent time in Cork’s Paradiso and Cornucopia.
A plate of spiced gherkins (€4), cut lengthways and dabbled with bright orange carrot kimchi is a spine-tingling start, all crunch, acidity and heat, with a well-tempered hum of garlic. Giardiniera (€4), pickled peppers, carrots and cauliflower from Jenny McNally’s organic farm are piled on to soft homemade focaccia, followed by gently smoked Roaring Water Bay mussels (€7) sitting on a glossy slick of aioli on a pillowy brioche bun.
Among the limited kit Doherty has in his compact kitchen is a small deep-fat fryer which he puts to excellent use, making the most spectacular Sichuan potatoes (€6) — golden, fried cubes which have been dusted with crispy onions, Sichuan pepper and a liberal sprinkling of sea salt. He would do a roaring trade if he sold these alone.
Pappa al pomodoro (€6), the cucina povera Tuscan soup that combines tomatoes with dried bread, tastes remarkably good. This is because Doherty has waited till the end of the summer for McNally’s tomatoes to reach a ripeness close to those grown in a Mediterranean climate. On another plate, cherry tomatoes with homemade labneh (€5), are a magnificent burst of sweet pickled acidity, lifted further with pickled onion and a dusting of lemon zest and bottarga.
And the plates keep coming. Crushed fava beans are served with cicoria (€6), bitter chicory leaves which are cooked in olive oil and garlic to a rich sweetness. Caponata (€5.50), the Sicilian aubergine speciality, has celery, peppers and onions, sprinkled with pine nuts. And as we swoon over palate-cleanser slices of water melon with fermented lime and chat masala (€5), despite going for smaller portions of some of the dishes, I realise we have somehow missed out on ordering the liver. But with a dish of confit pig’s cheek and jowls with chickpeas (€8) on the way, there is no more room as we devour the fatty bits of pork in a creamy, savoury sauce.
Dessert is light and summery — an ice cream sandwich of raspberry ripple in a brioche bun (€5), and strawberry and almond cake with rose cream (€4).
Eating in Assassination Custard is an absolute joy. There are global influences, in particular Italian, that bring focus to the dishes and a relentless search for the best quality seasonal ingredients cooked with confident restraint. But what sets it apart, aside from the incomprehensibly low prices, is the skilled spontaneity and uninhibited love that runs right through its DNA. Doors open at midday from Tuesday to Friday, so get there early if you want a seat.
Lunch for two was €65.50.
Music Pillow Sisters, Marvin Gaye and eclectic mix
Food provenance Broughgammon Farm, McNally’s Farm, Roaring Water Bay mussels
Vegetarian options The majority of the dishes are vegetarian and can be adapted for vegans
Wheelchair access Accessible, with no accessible toilet