Paolo Tullio: Served with love
The Healthy Habits Café
Quarantine Hill, Wicklow Town. Tel: 0404 68645
It was Lara Stuart who told me about it. "There's a café in Wicklow Town," she said, "that serves raw food. It might make an interesting review for you."
It did sound interesting, and I said to Lara: "You know most of my favourite foods are raw -- sushi and sashimi, steak tartare and carpaccio, prosciutto, truffles, caviar..."
"No Paolo, you don't understand, it's raw vegetables."
"Just raw vegetables?" I asked incredulously. "No, they do lots of other things like fruit, and oh yes, nuts and, um, seeds as well."
Well, that list discards maybe 95pc of the culinary canon. On first hearing, it sounded more like philosophy than gastronomy, but I was intrigued. I knew just who to ask to come with me too, because Lainey Keogh is very into her vegetables, pulses and whole foods in general.
Not long before we were about to set off for our raw lunch, Chris de Burgh was on the phone to me and I told him of our plans. "Sounds interesting," said Chris, "I'll see you both there."
Which is what happened. We met up on Wicklow's Quays, just around the corner from Quarantine Hill, where the Healthy Habits Café can be found. We walked into a small courtyard which had a few tables set up. Directly in front of us was a shop that sold health foods and books on self-awareness, and on our right was a small café with a counter displaying the food, and a few tables.
On the day we went, the menu had wraps, four of them: a Paddy wrap, a Mexican wrap, an Italian wrap and a Danish wrap. Well, Chris was born in South America so he had the Mexican wrap, Lainey of course had the Paddy wrap, and, as for me, I had to choose between Danish and Italian. I went for the Italian.
There was a soup of the day as well, so we all elected to have soup. It was soy based and it was hot, but the vegetables in it weren't cooked. "The wraps aren't cooked either," said the nice lady who was serving us, "they're dehydrated."
We also decided on juices to go with our meal and there were quite a few to choose from: Clean Green (cucumber, celery and apple); Gingered Carrot (carrot, apple, celery and ginger); Popeye (carrot, apple celery and spinach); Zinger (apple, lime and ginger), and Spicy Dicey (carrot, apple, celery, kale, ginger and cayenne pepper). As well as those there was orange juice and a wheatgrass shot. All the juices were €2.60, as were the fruit smoothies.
With our order in place we took a table outside, where you can see right down to the boats bobbing by the quays. I was looking around me and thinking that the nice ladies who were serving us had something of a religious habit on, a sort of light-blue smock and sandals, but I thought no more about it, thinking maybe that's what health-food people wear.
The soup arrived and I have to say it was very tasty. A good mix of flavours and just a hint of mint made it refreshing, and, more importantly, good for you. I had a real sensation of doing my body some good for a change, treating it for once as more of a temple than a skip. I was also enjoying my Clean Green, which had a really refreshing taste. We all agreed there was something rather charming about this place; it was simple and unpretentious.
As our various wraps arrived, another younger woman came out of a door behind us, dressed in the same way as the other ladies we'd met. She came up to Chris and said she enjoyed his music.
As she was talking my eye fell on a sign on the gates of the courtyard, which informed me that the café and shop were run by the Servants of Love, a monastic community. We learned from the lady talking to Chris that there's a whole complex of living quarters and workshops as well the shop and café, and that they are a community of eight.
The feeling I'd had of calm and restfulness now began to make sense. This café is a labour of love and if there's one thing I know, it's that food prepared with love always tastes better.
We ate our wraps with pleasure: Chris's Mexican wrap had mung beans, marinated cucumber and onions, alfalfa, sprouted pumpkin seeds and sweet chilli sauce; Lainey's Paddy wrap had marinated cucumbers and onions, carrot and alfalfa, with a pumpkin-seed 'mayo', and my Italian wrap had sun-dried tomatoes, olives, marinated cucumber and onion, and pumpkin-seed 'mayo'.
I can't say with my hand on my heart that this was gastronomy, but it was surprisingly tasty given the limitations of the brief.
There was such a warm sensation of welcome coming from these Servants of Love that the three of us began to get quite dewy eyed about the whole thing. There I was, a confirmed and sceptical old atheist finding this lunch to be utterly charming, even though it was the sort of food I'd normally give a wide berth.
This pleasure was increased when I discovered that they do pretty good espressos, and I had one to end my meal while Chris and Lainey had a tea.
Lainey was very keen to visit the shop, so she and Chris went in to browse while I went to pay. I'm looking at the bill now and I think something must have been left out of the reckoning because I see a total of €26.55, which has to be wrong. Surely it must have been more than €30?
Chris and Lainey came out of the shop with books and herbal medicines, flushed with pleasure at finding this route to well-being.
If healthy eating is your thing, a trip for lunch (they only do lunch) in the Healthy Habits Café will please you. You'll find an oasis of calm, simple and nourishing food, plus you'll feel you're helping a community.
Value for money 8/10