Food: Twin towers... at the Happy Pear
Happy Pear, Main Street, Greystones, Co Wicklow, (01) 287-3655
A few years ago, my niece, let's call her Sarah, heard a ring at the door one day when she was at home studying for exams. On the doorstep was a handsome chap, with a box of fruit and veg in his arms, a welcome distraction from her books. He was calling door-to-door, he said, hoping to sign up customers for a new weekly delivery of organic fruit and vegetables. Now, truth be told, Sarah wasn't terribly interested in the fruit and veg side of things, being, in those days, more of a 'sweet and sour chicken with a side order of chips' kind of a girl. She was, however, quite taken by the prospect of a weekly visit from this fine specimen of Irish manhood, and even more so when she realised that there were two of him. For Sarah has a sister, let's call her Jane, for whom she is always on the lookout, especially when it comes to a fine thing. And the fine thing appeared to have a twin.
So Sarah called her mum at work and reminded her that she was always going on about Sarah and Jane not eating enough fruit and vegetables, and wouldn't a box delivery make perfect sense and sure they'd all be much the better for it, especially seeing as how it was organic. Deal done. Sarah signed on the dotted line.
You've probably guessed where this story is going. Sadly for Sarah and Jane, that was the last they ever saw of the good-looking delivery team. The organic box arrived on time every week, and was filled with all sorts of good things. But it was never delivered by the guys who had appeared on that first day, and for some reason the girls lost interest. After a while they allowed the delivery to lapse.
Fast forward to 2015 and the twins behind that box delivery scheme - you've guessed it, Stephen and David Flynn, aka The Happy Pear - are everywhere. Their hippy dippy little shop and café in Greystones is a scene, with all the beautiful people from the Wicklow seaside town hanging out in the sunshine (the sun always shines in Greystones) in their yoga gear of a morning. The brothers' addictively delicious basil and sun-dried tomato pestos (middle-class ketchup?) are to be found in fridges the length and breadth of the country, and their granola is on the shelves in SuperValu. Last year they published a cookbook with Penguin, and it was a huge hit. You probably got a copy for Christmas. They are masters of the feel-good factor, giving away free porridge and encouraging random acts of kindness such as suspended coffees, where customers buy a coffee forward for someone else, or take one if they need it.
The Flynns have spoken about how they came to clean living after years of eating and drinking all the wrong things, and now they are the picture of health, Instagramming frankly exhausting photos of themselves in their togs cavorting in the sea very early in the morning, and their unspeakably adorable children gorging on seasonal fruit with cherry juice running down their cute chins.
Their café recently started to open at night for dinner and I thought it would be a good time to re-visit as I hadn't eaten there in several years, although my family has, in the intervening time, consumed its collective bodyweight of the aforementioned pestos.
We start with a taster board featuring the sun-dried tomato pesto, a coriander pesto and a roasted carrot hummus with some grilled vegetables and crudités. There are no complaints, it's all good. The aubergine and local cheddar frittata with sourdough bread is tasty enough, and Greek dakos - a Greek version of bruschetta featuring grated tomatoes, feta, oregano and black olive tapenade on crusty bread - is full of punchy flavours.
For mains, I opt for the Japanese food bowl, which turns out to be the best of the five dishes that we try. It's a flavour-packed concoction of arame, samphire, carrot salad, pak choi and tempeh in tamari and ginger with red sauerkraut on the side. It's the kind of plate that I'd like to think of myself preparing at home, but I know I never will. A sweet potato falafel is crusted with sesame seeds and topped with a red pepper relish and mojo sauce, that Canary Islands' trademark. It's old-school, hearty vegetarian fare.
A grilled vegetable salad - aubergines, peppers, courgettes and asparagus -comes with haloumi and a lemon yoghurt dressing, and pad thai is a competent but unexciting iteration of the dish. A quinoa crusted burger is stodgy, laden with whole butter beans. We try a few desserts from an offering that is entirely vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free and conclude that desserts - ice cream in particular - are generally better when they include those ingredients. If you have to eat that way for medical reasons, then in descending order I would rank the desserts as follows: affogato, apple and rhubarb crumble, raw banoffee, Juan's homemade ice cream (which is sugar-free too).
At a time when the move towards a more vegetable-based cuisine - pioneered by international chefs such as Alain Passard in Paris - is producing some truly exciting vegetarian food, I had hoped for something more innovative at The Happy Pear. I was in the minority though, as my dining companions, particularly the teenagers, said that they had really enjoyed the meal. For me, it's the kind of food that I'd happily eat at home when I'm being virtuous, or out at lunchtime, but not what I want to have in a restaurant for dinner. It just doesn't feel like a treat. The bill for five came to €128.70 before service and without wine or other drinks.
On a budget
The portions are generous, so a main course of Summer White Lasagne should fill you up for €14.50.
On a blowout
A portion of Superfood Salad to start, with Spanish Roasted Vegetable Paella, a side of dips (tomato pesto, coriander pesto, roasted carrot hummus), and Green Tea Crême Brulée would set you back €26.95, before wine.
The high point
Terrific staff who seem genuinely happy that you're there, and a relaxed vibe. Plenty of choice for vegetarians and those on restricted diets.
The low point
The food is just too virtuous.
6/10 value for money
Whispers from the Gastronomicon
Next Saturday, July 11, the Countess of Mountcharles, a keen organic farmer and eco-tourism guide, will lead the first Slane Food Circle Gourmet Electric Bike Tour from Rock Farm in Slane. The 25km-route takes in visits to several Boyne Valley farms and food producers, including Shlavanstown Organic Farm, Boyne Valley Blue Cheese, Des Crinion Organic Farm and Cockagee Cider. The tour includes lunch, incorporating ingredients from these producers and other members of the Slane Food Circle and runs from 11am to 6pm. The cost is €65. rockfarmslane.ie