'People want value – scones are flying out, I do them differently every day," says chef Vivienne Johnston, one half of the duo behind the delightful Mellow Fig Cafe on George's Avenue, Blackrock, Co Dublin.
Her business partner Janine Breslin agrees. They have created a lovely home away from home feel here with colourful oilcloths on the tables, multicoloured chairs, chandeliers, and an all-in-all welcoming atmosphere.
Vivienne trained in DIT Cathal Brugha Street before taking off around the world to work. Back in Ireland, Vivienne was working as a pastry chef in the 'recently departed' Alexis in Dun Laoghaire, where she met Janine, who was front of house, and they decided to set up their own venture. Now open 15 months, the cafe has been very successful. "We are already working six to seven days a week as it is, but we would eventually like to open a couple of nights," says Vivienne.
The food is fresh and wholesome, and it's a good place if you lean towards vegetarian influences. From 8am to 11am, and all day Saturday and Sunday, breakfasts are the thing. Whether yours is the big breakfast or granola with natural yogurt and fruits, it is all there. My favourite is the Eggs Royale, poached eggs, smoked salmon, English muffin and Hollandaise sauce. The veggie breakfast flies out, according to Vivienne. This has lentils, tomato, mushroom, and high-fibre toast. Lunchtime sees a selection of dishes from natural smoked haddock, chickpea and chorizo casserole, to Moroccan spiced chicken fillet on pitta with spicy slaw. Vivienne also bakes cool cakes, cupcakes, and of course, their eponymous mellow fig bars.
Mellow Fig Cafe (01) 210-8927
• Even before 'horsegate', people were more aware of buying and eating wholesome local and seasonal produce. This demand for good value eateries providing interesting wholesome food has given rise to all sorts of quirky and innovative cafes and bistros.
Moore Street was always a place associated with food but more of the traditional Dublin market stall variety. However, in the past few years, it has become a totally cosmopolitan street. Here in a tiny room at 11 Moore Street, sisters Karolina Butt and Sabina Kaczmarek , along with their mother Marcelina, set up their Chill Out Break Cafe three months ago. They produce Polish food from their 'Kuchnia Polska' with lunch from €6.99, freshly cooked by Marcelina.
It would be very easy to walk past their narrow doorway, but once you go through it is a really pretty room. Sabina carried up a procession of traditional Polish dishes such as Pierogi which are are gorgeous little dumplings with a variety of fillings like potato, onion and cottage cheese, and cabbage and mushroom – delicious and at €5 for 12 pieces, a steal!
Karolina says they printed their leaflet in Polish only, not realising that they were going to get so many eager Irish customers. "I am very happy we have so many Irish people coming in, we knew that we would have Polish people, but we wanted to introduce our cooking to others."
Up on the blackboard you will see dishes such as Drobiowe, chicken wrapped in spinach with mozzarella, and Ryba, fish in breadcrumbs, for €6.99 including vegetables. Karkowka is a pork neck dish which is proving very popular with Irish people. Cooked in a delicious sauce in the oven, it is their signature dish. They also do great goulash soup, and a traditional slightly sweet beetroot soup with root vegetables and beans, a meal in itself. They are open until 8pm if you fancy a wholesome, great value early dinner.
Chill Out Break Cafe
• A few doors away, at 18-19 Moore Street, you are transported right into the middle of Paris in the eponymous Paris Bakery, a traditional French boulangerie and cafe, owned by master patissier and boulanger, Yannick G Forel.
Forel is from Montpelier and came here to work at the Brooklodge Hotel in Wicklow before becoming the maitre patissier in Fallon & Byrne.
You will think you are in heaven when you see all the amazing breads, from the aptly named giant Anaconda bread, which you buy in tranches, to corn and rye breads. Breakfast is served from 8am until noon and the prices are great. You can have the Full Irish at €6.50 with Cumberland sausage, back bacon, black and white pudding, tomato, poached egg and French toast.
I had Eggs Benedict with a twist for €5.50, double poached eggs served on ox tongue, on delicious bread with Hollandaise sauce. I even saw people photographing a stack of pancakes and crispy bacon with maple syrup. They have great sandwiches on demi-baguette, ciabatta or focaccia to take out, starting at €4.80 or eat in at €5.80.
Lunch dishes include Salade Nicoise, deep fried French Brie, and French onion soup. You can also have more substantial classic dishes such as Blanquette of Lamb for €11.50. Plus there are the cakes, patisseries, macaroons, tarts, chocolate eclairs... The Paris Bakery is open from 8am until 8pm Monday to Wednesday, 9pm Thursday to Saturday, and Sunday 10am-8pm.
Paris Bakery (01) 8044112 www.parisbakery.ie
• If you are a regular to Drury Street car park, you might have spotted a Franco Slavic coffee and pastry bar which serves delicious sweet and tasty pastries as well as its own micro-roasted coffee.
It is called Sasha House Petite and is the enterprise of Nataliya Svyrydenko, who is originally from Ukraine but has been in Ireland for 15 years. The pastries are made by Franco Slavic pastry chefs and you will drool at their little glasses of tiramisu, their cranberry cake and their delicious Sacher cake.
Sasha House Petite (01) 672-9570 www.shpetite.ie
• Farmer Brown's Market & Eatery at 25A Bath Avenue is another colourful spot that is proving very popular with the punters. This is a daytime restaurant, and describes its food as 'Irish Soul Food', and doing dinner from Wednesday to Sunday.
You can BYO with corkage at €5 per person, but it also has wine at €22 per bottle. We were there for brunch on a Saturday, and had great big club sandwiches for €9. For dinner, there's pork rib chop with butternut squash, potato Dauphinoise, caramelised Calvados apples and sauteed spinach at €15, or slow cooked braised lamb shank Moroccan style with cous cous, roasted vegetables and roasted red pepper pesto at €17.
Farmer Brown's Market & Eatery (01) 6602326
• Tucked away at 31 Trees Road, Mount Merrion, Co Dublin, is The Merrion Tree Bistro, a lovely long chic spot doing breakfast from 8am Monday to Friday and lunch from 12.15 until 3pm.
There is a wealth of experience behind The Merrion Tree, for it is the brainchild of Eileen Bergin who founded the Butler's Pantry in Blackrock. This has been supplying delicious homestyle take-out foods to the denizens of South County Dublin and beyond, and has expanded now to eight shops from Greystones to Donnybrook, Bray to Clontarf.
Whilst still the second biggest shareholder in the Butler's Pantry, Eileen has stepped back from the day-to-day running of it, and opened The Merrion Tree with her sister, Anna Sweeney. You can kick off your day here with delicious porridge with cream, honey or brown Barbados sugar and berries, or maybe a toasted bagel with cream cheese and bacon.
At lunchtime they do lovely salads such as bacon, avocado and Feta cheese at €10.50, or chicken liver pate terrine with onion jam and sourdough toast at €8.95. They also do a delicious afternoon tea at €12.50 per person with all the goodies.
However, the real secret is that on Thursday and Friday nights you can have 'Supper for a Tenner'. You get a main course and a dessert at this great price. It kicks off at 5pm and last orders are at 8pm and dishes might include pepperpot beef, Italian chicken, omelettes, followed perhaps by creme brulee or sticky toffee pudding.
The Merrion Tree Bistro (01) 2121927