Ink, Dún Laoghaire: Library cafe is bursting with fresh ideas

Review: dlr Lexicon deserves an above average cafe and it’s got one in Ink Cafe

   

Ink Cafe

I don’t have a contented toddler to strap into a high chair as a table placeholder in Ink, like the person nearby has done. My jacket will have to do. It’s a lone lunch. My roster of reliable dining companions has come over all busy so there is no one to share the gas of dining in a library. No literary puns across the sourdough or ignoring each another with noses in books. Companionless in south Dublin. You’d nearly send a shout out to Ryan Tubridy to see if he’s free.

Ink is in the ground floor of the heart-lifting project that is Dún Laoghaire- Rathdown Library. It has the feel of an art gallery space, soaring timber panels from the ceiling miles overhead to create tables for two, some larger tables with wood and steel chairs and a high bench for shared lunching.

The chicken is served with Irish leaves, house-made burrata, burnt onion and Dukkha which sounds delicious

There’s a new set of ideas being written here. Ink is the work of Conor Spacey’s Food Space, a contact catering company which was set up with sustainable goals from the start. In February, Spacey was among a group of chefs who cooked a menu for 600 guests in Rome based on the Eat Lancet global diet, with its vegetable heavy recommendations and minimal meat. Ink is Food Space’s first public operation.

Menus are clipped to sheets of cardboard made, we’re told, from the packaging boxes for food deliveries. You grab one and order at the bar. Their “zero waste programme” means no single-use plastics including plastic packaging and cling film in the kitchen. My towel on the lilo move of jacket on chair is needed to save a seat; even though it’s early, Ink is already busy.

It’s a surprisingly meat-heavy menu. The description “Irish chicken” is not tempting me to order one of the “bowl” dishes. The chicken is served with Irish leaves, house-made burrata, burnt onion and Dukkha which sounds delicious. Great that it’s Irish, but until the words free range and organic are also listed I’ll pass.

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Instead, it’s the soup and a fish finger butty. Am I certain I need both? the server asks. “The soup is very filling.” This seems the opposite of upselling but if they’re concerned about food waste, it makes sense to talk the eyes-bigger-than-their-belly customers out of over-ordering. I’m not sure a bowl of soup cuts it as a test of a cafe, so I insist on my mammoth order, heading back to my table with a glass of basil kombucha and a wooden spoon with my order number on it.

Syrup sweet

The kombucha has a lovely basil flavour but is syrup sweet compared with most iterations of this. A bit more time fermenting would have taken it down to a sourer notch but maybe that’s deliberate. As an entry-level introduction, it’s pitched for sweeter kicks.

The soup when it arrives after a bit of a wait is a spoon-standingly hearty blend of potato, green vegetables and fresh pea-shoots which taste so much of summer they’re managing not to wilt on the heat of the soup. It’s got the proper homemade flavour of a from-scratch stock. Everything is served in beautiful glazed bowls, and cutlery with napkins made from composted coffee cup fibre are in a large tin on the table, alongside a lovely wild flower mix of thistles.

There’s a triangle of butter sliced from the block and served in a small chocolate brown bowl to go on the excellent sourdough toast triangles. At €4.95 this is brilliant value and worth a round of applause for a proper food offering in a public building.

I love the house ketchup on the €13.50 fish finger butty and the fish is good but the breading on the fish fingers (more randomly shaped than that sounds) has been oversalted. Irish gem lettuce is nice too and it’s served on bread that’s described as batch but isn’t as rubbery as that sounds.

I wander up for dessert and chose a slice of orange and cranberry cake with a handful of crumble type mixture on top. It’s fine but dry, needing some cream or yoghurt or a syrupy finish post-bake.

dlr Lexicon deserves an above average cafe and it’s got one in Ink Cafe. I think they’ll iron out the wrinkles and persuade people into dining differently, not by preaching but by being delicious.

Lunch for one with coffee and cake came to €27.75

  • Verdict: A good start with the promise of great things to come
  • Food Provenance: Plenty on the Insta but very little on menus. 
  • Vegetarian options: Surprisingly slim
  • Wheelchair access: Yes
  • Facilities: Nice
  • Music: Nice
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