Review: This is the best cafe food I’ve eaten in Ireland
Queues will form outside this new Dublin eatery. It will be worth the wait
- Camden Block, Islandbridge, Clancy Quay, Dublin 8
This place was so quiet before I arrived my friend felt almost awkward about swallowing. Her gulp sounded too loud in the hush. They haven’t turned on the music yet. She’s in her coat waiting in this stark white room with its mix of minimalist ply tables and school chairs. Someone called Carlos has been busy with his protractor on the chair next to mine. His name looks like it’s been there a while. I wonder where Carlos is now.
Storyboard feels like a box-fresh place because it is, but we won’t have it all to ourselves for long. When we’ve finished our ramble through the breakfast, all-day and lunch dishes, the tables are almost all taken. By the time you read this, I reckon the hushed and empty stage will be a distant memory, like the three-hour nap a baby used to take before they hit toddlerhood. Because this is the best cafe food I’ve eaten in Ireland. Queues will form. And it will be worth the wait.
Laura Caulwell is the chef behind Storyboard. She cooked in the Fumbally on Clanbrassil Street. I ate her Mexican food there the last time I got to one of their Wednesday suppers. She left the mothership in June to set up her own place here on the nearly-northside bit of the South Circular Road at Islandbridge. The stretch of traffic-heavy road with its gorgeous London Plane trees feels like a slightly different city, one where they’ve figured out urban living just a bit better.
The address is Clancy Quay, a mix of new blocks and apartments in refurbished buildings on what was the site of Clancy Barracks. None of the apartments are for sale. It’s a large-scale rental-only district.
What more could a monster developer want than a kitchen talent like Caulwell and her team to anchor down a new idea for Dublin. If you put miso butter on it they will come. Storyboard has a daughter-of-Fumbally feel, a similar idea on a smaller scale of a new glass-box ground-floor space without the junkshop furniture. There’s a grey painted concrete floor and exposed ceiling ducting. It could have been a Spar but all hail the kale it isn’t. This is a chef with her own ideas about what is delicious.
There’s so much food fun to be had in this short handwritten A5 menu, a mix of familiar sounding crowd-pleasers with twists that spin them onto another level. I get the impression that several versions of each plate were made and at each tasting another layer of flavour was added until it was right. So there’s black rice porridge with date caramel, crystallised ginger and toasted coconut: intrigue and the promise of pleasure. I want to eat everything on the list, more than once.
That black porridge is not so much a food hug as a full body food spooning. Blacker than squid ink risotto, it’s creamier than porridge, with a sweet nutty warmth coming from both the rice and, I’m guessing, some coconut milk. There are toasted shards of coconut on top along with that fudgey date caramel and shreds of soft crystallised ginger adding a spicy pop to everything. Cubes of mango and a fleshy raspberry finish it off. They call it porridge. I call it beluga-grade rice pudding.
We are showing no regard for Caulwell’s gorgeous plating, dots of house-fermented hot sauce with smaller dots of yoghurt and black sesame seeds around eggs on toast. As soon as the plate hits the table, we swipe through those touches to carve up everything so we each get half. First up are that simple combination of great eggs and great toast, free-range ones from Wicklow and Le Levain sourdough. That hot sauce is pleasure enough but then we come to the reason I’m going to become part of the furniture here: miso-buttered greens. Take one Japanese staple add the world’s best butter, apply lovingly to lightly steamed kale, sprinkle with sesame seeds and there you have it: greens made epic.
There’s a sausage sandwich on the same great toast, free-range pork sausages sliced down the middle so they sit flat and this doesn’t turn into a messy spill. Fingal Ferguson’s smoked Gubbeen on one side and a caraway mayonnaise on the other nuzzle it all together. There’s a salad of leaves that taste like they were picked just a few hours earlier and a house kraut of organic McNally Farm red cabbage, fermented to a candy-cane pink, zinging and alive with flavour.
We drink fermented ginger ale and round off with excellent coffee. Storyboard feels like a story that’s going to get bigger and better. It’s breakfast, brunch and lunch only at the moment. But hopefully Caulwell will start suppers soon. Cooking this good deserves a crowd and a lit-up room full of happy eaters on a winter’s night. A soulless city premises just got itself some serious food soul. See you in the queue.
Storyboard: Camden Block, Islandbridge, Clancy Quay, Dublin 8
Verdict: 9/10 – a ridiculously high rating for ridiculously delicious cooking
Food provenance: good. McNally Family Farm and Gubbeen the two main names
Wheelchair access: yes
Vegetarian options: tight but excellent
Brunch/lunch for two with coffee and ginger ale came to €36