The slicker life gets the more we crave rough edges, texture, maybe even some snags. Handcrafts are having their moment as our fingers ache to do something other than swipe and tap our pocket-sized neurosis generators. The handmade feel of Shouk in Drumcondra is one of its charms. Shouk is housed in a side annex to the old building that used to be St Vincent's School for the Deaf. The whole restaurant looks like it's been hewn out of OSB sheeting, wine boxes and cushions.
These handmade tables are difficult to come by. On a Saturday night they’re booked up from 7pm so we are going to have an early tea. It’s an all-day menu so the only thing that will change as afternoon turns to evening is the atmosphere in the room and the volume, given that it’s BYO.
Shouk’s menu downplays its carnivorousness. Chicken and steak are here but they’re given lower billing, hanging out in the smaller “pita bar” section of the menu. The main events are all vegetarian. Four of the five are vegan, a fact I notice only after I’ve eaten and gone home, with a lifetime’s supply of cauliflower (more of which later). There are vegetables in crates by the kitchen hatch in case you missed the vibe. Shouk is divided into two rooms, a small front one we’re in and another small but brighter room which backs on to the yard. Toilets are five flights, the guts of 36 steps up (my friend counted) in the old school building.
All of this keeps the costs down so you can be full for little more than takeaway prices. And so we begin with a generous bowl of falafel, slightly flattened rounds of herby pulse paste fried to soft nuggets. Lots of places serve falafel with hummus, which is a bit like serving cheese with a side of cream, given that chickpeas are the the base ingredient for both. Here they come with a tahini yoghurt which is a better match, the nuttiness of sesame paste with the sharp tang of yoghurt. There’s a well-judged aubergine and pepper salad that hasn’t been afraid to let the aubergine go leathery and a bit chewy, which is a good thing.
The mains, if you can call them that (given that there are lots of forkfuls swapped and bowls shared) are a two out of three hit. Shakshuka eggs come in the pan, sunny yellow eggs encased in a sauce cooked down from the sweetness of onions, garlic, peppers and tomatoes into a meatier essence, with just the right spicing. The mezze platter brings all the Middle Eastern and north African staples together in small bowls. There’s a creamy hummus topped with good olive oil, more of those nutty falafel and the aubergine salad. A carrot salad stands out from the general warmth and hum of Moroccan and middle eastern flavours, spiced with what tastes like a rice vinegar and chilli, spikier than its partner dishes.
The whole roast cauliflower is where I meet my downfall. It’s a whole large human head sized cauliflower. It’s been roasted, but not for long enough so instead of a soft slice there’s some sawing required to cut down through it. It’s topped with an uninspiring mix of watery cherry tomatoes, tahini sauce and parsley. As a side dish it might have worked (with a bit more cooking and punchier accompaniments) but as dinner it’s where the universe gets its own back on me for preaching about the joy of vegetables at every opportunity. It’s simply too much cauliflower for one person. I take half home in a box, but it takes a couple of days before I can face opening it.
One of us asks for the caramelized banana chocolate pita (think Nutella pizza only with pita bread) without the bread so gets a plate of chocolate spread with banana sliced on top. We do better with two malabis blancmanges made with coconut cream and topped with rosewater syrup. In a slick world and at these prices it’s not a surprise that a place as friendly as Shouk is such a roaring success.
Verdict: 7.5/10 Friendly feasting middle eastern style
Dinner for three with €1 corkage on a BYOB came to €59
Food provenance: None
Wheelchair access: None. Although
Music: Nice retro pop
Vegetarian options: Very good
Facilities: Don your climbing boots for all those stairs
Salt and Stove
I love a food shop that gives you ideas for dinner as opposed to the ones that sap your will to live. Rachel Flynn's low-key sign for Salt and Stove, set back from the road on Clanbrassil Street might have passed you by. But it's full of lovely things: food, much of it Irish, and coffee equipment, flowers and candles from the Informal Florist and the kinds of bits and pieces that would make for a tasty supper or a nifty gift. There are lavosh flatbreads from Mezze, a Waterford company making their flatbreads with seaweed and spelt or the more traditional za'tar. Chocolates and biscuits come from The Lismore Food Company. Coffee is by Cloud Picker and Sheridans are supplying the cheeses, olives and crackers. According to their Instagram they're rewarding organised coffee lovers a 10 per cent discount on coffees and teas if they bring their own reusable cups.
Salt and Stove, 79 Clanbrassil St, Dublin 8