There are few places as welcoming as Dun Laoghaire on a sunny Sunday afternoon – a stroll through People’s Park markets, ambling down the pier with a Teddy’s ice cream cone in hand – a week of content to follow is practically guaranteed. With that said, the seaside suburb has struggled to step up to the plate restaurant-wise.
All of that began to change when chef Conor Spacey’s FoodSpace, a corporate catering company well ahead of the curve, moved in and opened the pioneering INK café earlier this year. With a commitment not just to local and seasonal ingredients, but to utilising processes which will reduce food waste substantially – fermenting, cheese and butter-making, pickling and brining – in this ultra modern looking café, it is back to old school, slow techniques.
Almost jutting out into the sea with a commanding view across the water to Howth, the dlr Lexicon library is a temple of knowledge with a twist, and not just design-wise. For those of us looking to be schooled in the art of food waste reduction, we need look no further than INK. A polished and slick interior could fool you into thinking style dominates rather than substance, but the ethos of INK goes far further than the etchings on the wall.
Settling in to a table flooded with sunshine and topped with an up-cycled dill sprig centrepiece, we’re slightly too late to dive into tempting sounding breakfast dishes, bowls, butties and Firehouse Bakery toasts topped to the hilt with ‘loyal to local’ goodies, so it is straight on to lunch decisions.
Only a quick perusal of the menu (cardboard-based from kitchen deliveries) was needed for me to land firmly upon an irresistible-sounding bowl of house-made burrata, roasted chicken and burnt onion with Irish leaves(€12).
Sprinkled with nutty and toasted Dukkah, a plump ball of burrata oozed and awed, with caramelised onion petals cutting perfectly through the creamy richness. Even the leaves – crisp, vibrant and fresh – were exemplary, along with well cooked roasted Manor Farm chicken with a cheeky bit of skin left on. A bowl of greatness.
Across the table, a behemoth of an Irish beef burger(€13.50) looked likely to defeat even the burliest of men, but moreish FX Buckley beef, scented with rosemary and seasoned expertly, proved a little too tempting to leave behind.
Book-ended with a floury Walsh’s Bakehouse Waterford Blaa and piled high with pickled pink onions, house-made gherkins and lashings of FXB cured bacon, this was a two hand feast of some of Ireland’s best in a bun. Add in a bucket of (at least) twice cooked, audibly crisp chips with the fluffiest interior I’ve enjoyed in a long time, plus housemade red pepper ketchup, and you have a fast food classic done slowly, purposefully and exceptionally well.
Feeling like dessert wasn’t on the menu for us (homemade goods at the counter looked good, but the prospect of a sunny day 99 was too tempting), we were keen to sample as much as possible from the short but sweet menu.
Cue a greedy third dish of doorstep sandwich proportions – thick cut pastrami, chunky homemade sauerkraut and tangy Russian dressing on Firehouse Bakery rye made for a delectable take on a Reuben sans cheese(€8.50). Admittedly, we ended up taking most of this home to enjoy once the burger and burrata coma subsided – a gift that kept on giving with zero chance of waste.
We lingered a little longer over our drinks, content to soak up the laid back vibes before walking off our feast. ‘Now he looks like the sort of guy who’d enjoy a conversation about Kombucha’ quipped my ferment-phobe date as the heavily bearded and sandled patron in question gravitated towards a bubbling display of house-made brews at the counter.
Also listed on the menu is local brewed Kefir from one of my favourite Irish brands, King of Kefir, and although I don’t quite have the hipster credentials of our fellow diner, I could wax lyrical all day about how this fizz should be available in restaurants and bars across the capital. I slightly regret not going for my safe bet of Ginger and Chilli as the house-made Coffee Berry Kombucha I settled on wasn’t quite to my taste, but therein lies my only real (and very minor) let down of the meal.
Although sad to leave this zen zero waste haven by the sea, the pastrami to go and the knowledge that INK regularly hosts relaxed and affordable supper clubs made parting less of a sorrow – a return visit is most certainly on the cards. Our bill for three main courses and two drinks came to €40.
INK is undoubtedly making its mark on Dun Laoghaire and beyond as a chilled out and inviting spot where every aspect is considered. The best way to ensure your restaurant is zero waste? Make the food as damn good as it is in INK. This is food composed of and with care and conscience, plus it doesn’t cost the earth to enjoy it – what’s not to love?
T: (01) 214 8499
REVIEW BY DARINA COFFEY