Grow HQ Cafe: A Waterford restaurant that does great things with veg

Review: This eatery, borne of the GIY movement, needs tweaks but is on the right path

   
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Grow HQ Cafe Centre

It’s big box retail country on Waterford’s outer ring road. The Google woman has been on a loop for what feels like the last 26 roundabouts. Groundhog kilometre after groundhog kilometre, she tells us to take the second exit to remain on the ring road. But then we arrive at GIY’s Grow HQ. The name makes it sound like a militia encampment for barrow pushers and gnarly-knuckled folk who know how to pinch out the side shoots on a tomato plant. 

GIY is the Grow It Yourself movement set up by Michael Kelly when he took a hard look at a garlic bulb and wondered why it had to come all the way from China. In the depths of the recession GIYers met all over Ireland to share the experience of growing their own food. Now the grass-roots movement has a shiny new building beside one of the busiest roads in Waterford. 

We walk by a gang working dry, stony soil in raised beds between the greenhouse and the glass-fronted cafe. Their pickaxes remind my sons of Fortnite, a video game snaking through their imaginations like bindweed. They are impressed to see pickaxes in actual real life being used to turn dusty, rock-hard lumps of soil into a growing medium for plants.

The cafe is the largest part of the new wood-and-glass building that turns its back on the ring road, so effectively you can’t see or hear it. There are outdoor tables in a sunny courtyard and even a fruiting lemon tree. This tree was so confused by its southerly aspect and the stop-start weather that it was flowering and fruiting at the same time recently, headquarters manager Claire McCabe tells me later. I know how it must have felt. Still, Copper Coast lemons has a nice ring to it. 

The cafe has plenty of large, heavy, pine-topped tables and wooden chairs painted in primary colours. It couldn’t be more cheerful if it had been designed by a children’s book illustrator. There are handwritten mottos on the concrete wall between cafe and kitchen and a menu that sounds exciting. 

Each week there’s a veg hero and it’s prepared five ways. Today it’s beetroot, which should be interesting. The kids’ menu is a good compromise between sausage and chips (they’re here in more artisan form) and soup and crispy falafel. The older son has reached peak falafel (after two nights in a row at home) so he’s going with a toasted cheese sandwich. The other small person lunch will be Jane Russell sausages on a blaa, it being Waterford. 

Service couldn’t be better. There’s a knack to keeping the spirit in an all-day cafe where peaks and troughs can wear out the wait staff in the gap between busyness and boredom. It helps that outside the view is so gorgeous, a sun-soaked garden with tiered planting leading up to those raised beds and a wooden greenhouse. There’s another polytunnel elsewhere where many of the ingredients for the cafe are grown. 

Beet platter

My beet platter takes this once-pickled and jarred vegetable and does something different with it. Four of the five treatments are good. My favourite is a sausage-shaped fritter, purpler than my highest-falutin’ prose and fried nutty brown on the outside and then served with a spiced yogurt. There’s a beet gazpacho, which is halfway between hummus and soup in thickness and tastes great dunked with the Seagull Bakery sourdough crusts. I forage from my son’s plate. There’s beet slaw in a yogurt dressing with poppy seed for crunch and chioggia crisps (those candy beets with pink and white swirls), and a golden beet hummus so bright it looks like it’s been laced with turmeric. The bit that doesn’t work is a risotto, which doesn’t taste of the fennel or Knockanore cheddar that’s supposed to be in it, and is more watery that a risotto ever should be. Creaminess is to risotto as sunshine is to plants. 

We finish with a two-dessert special because, according to my sons, technically it’s illegal not to have ice cream on a day like this. This means combining a gingery nutty carrot cake with gorgeous strawberry ice cream and a rusk-like chocolate chip cookie with a terrific peanut butter ice cream. I have a beet and chocolate brownie (yes we’re going the whole beet) which makes up for its achingly healthy components – there are actual flax seeds on top – with lashings of sugar and dark dark chocolate.

It’s been a great pitstop – not cheap (thanks to the drinks and double desserts), but inspiring. My advice? Scale back the hashtag gimmick of one veg five ways and just do one luscious thing with it every day. With an idea this beautiful, less is more. 

Lunch for three with drinks and desserts came to €57.27

Verdict: A great place with enormous potential 

Music: Nice

Facilities: Great

Wheelchair access: Yes

Food provenance: Exemplary, HQ veg, Seagull Bakery sourdough 

Vegetarian options: Great