One hip sister... Sister Sadie
46 Harrington Street, Dublin 8. (01) 441 6596
Now that Dublin has come into its own in terms of the food culture of the city, your chances of walking in to any number of restaurants in the city and getting a decent meal are far higher than they were a decade ago. Of course, there are still scores of mediocre restaurants, and plenty of average food, but the bar has been raised to such an extent that to encounter a properly bad meal is a rare occurrence. Not that we had a bad meal at Sister Sadie; quite the contrary. But the fact that such an excellent café exists in the city, and that we take its existence almost for granted, is a sign of how far we've come.
Sister Sadie describes itself as the little southside sister of Brother Hubbard, located on an unprepossessing stretch of Capel Street, close to the charming Camerino bakery and the original Musashi, where the sushi is good and well priced. Brother Hubbard is a bastion of great food and excellent coffee in a part of town where that has not always been easy to come by. No wonder it's always busy.
Sister Sadie is a daytime-only operation located on Harrington Street, almost opposite the old Garda Club and just around the corner from the top of Camden Street. On a sunny day you can sit outside at tables on an astro-turf terrace and watch the traffic. It's not, in fairness, the most scenic of spots.
Inside there's a deli counter for take-out and a second room with simple wooden tables and chairs and seating for about 30. It's not somewhere to linger over a long lunch. The menu is short and simple, littered with ingredients such as dukkah and za'atar and sumac and pomegranate molasses that trigger a little frisson of excitement, and a confidence that lunch is going to be interesting. We are not disappointed.
The pulled pork sandwich at Brother Hubbard was awarded the accolade of Best Sandwich in Dublin by McKenna's Guides, so we have to order it. There's an awful lot of pulled pork around these days, and some think that a moratorium should be declared, but there's no evidence that the lunching public are sick of it yet.
The menu is not exaggerating when it declares this to be 'very substantial'. There's a mountain of well-flavoured meat, subtly spiced with lemon and fennel seed, a great, mustardy celeriac remoulade, beetroot, and baby spinach leaves. A portion of leaves with tomato and toasted seeds in a pomegranate molasses dressing sits alongside, and underneath it all is a slice of griddled sour-dough. For good measure, we go for an optional fried egg on top at a cost of €1. A pulled pork sandwich is never going to qualify as health food, but Sister Sadie's version is about as close as it's going to get, with enough vegetables to assuage at least some of the guilt. The menu doesn't say anything about where the pork comes from, which is a pity.
The salad special is another substantial appetite-busting plate; it manages to be positively virtuous while at the same time satisfying the need for big flavours. There's roast pepper stuffed with pea, spinach and mint and St Tola goats' cheese, all sprinkled with dukkah (an Egyptian mix of seeds, nuts and herbs) and sitting on top of a bed of red and white quinoa with leaves and herbs in a lemony dressing. Quinoa gets a bad rap sometimes but, cooked properly so that it retains a little bite, it's hard to beat in terms of a protein that's filling and doesn't come from an animal. We add a side of chorizo, one of those magic ingredients that improves everything with which it comes into contact, and it elevates the whole dish.
The salad comes with a slice of sour-dough and a small ramekin of home-made hummus, while a small cup of roast sweet potato soup is flavoured with black garlic and sumac and topped with a dollop of lemon-flavoured yoghurt. These are sophisticated combinations, and there's a sense of generosity to the food, not only in terms of the portion sizes but also of the thought that goes into it. Any café can produce a sweet potato soup and put it on the lunch menu, but I can't think of another that would involve so many elements and still only charge €2.95. It's evidence of a kitchen ethos committed to going the extra mile and rejecting the easy option.
The Sister Sadie menu includes various sandwiches: the regular beef, chicken and ham options and some more unusual choices, including roast butternut squash with feta and smoked salmon with lemon, caper and dill crème fraîche. Brunch dishes are available all week, rather than just at the weekends, and eschew the standard eggs Benedict and Full Irish in favour of the more interesting Turkish Eggs Menemen and Shakshuka-style baked eggs, which I plan on trying on my next visit.
We finish up with one of Sister Sadie's famous scrolls, an epic version of the Scandinavian cinnamon roll involving walnuts and plenty of butter and sugar and other good things. It's as fine as we have been told, and we pick up another couple to bring home.
Our bill comes to €33.55 before service, including one soft drink (a raspberry, apple and rose combination that's a tad sweet) but no tea or coffee.
Apparently we're not allowed to use the word 'hipster' any more (it's so 2014), so instead I'll just say that Sister Sadie is a hip café that serves great food and you should go there.
On a budget
Any hot drink plus a scone or scroll is €4 until 11am.
On a blowout
Sister Sadie isn't really a blowout kind of a place, but Brother Hubbard's Turkish Eggs Menemen with sides of pulled pork and salad, followed by a raspberry chocolate brownie and a mocha coffee would set you back €23.50.
The high point
The scrolls - cinnamon and walnut buns - have acquired legendary status for good reason. They are incredibly good.
The low point
We'd have liked some more information about provenance - the menu is vague.
9/10 value for money
Whispers from the gastronomicon
Log on to eventbrite.ie and nab one of the last tickets for tomorrow night's €10,000 Curry for Nepal, being held in Smock Alley, Dublin. There are 100 places available, priced at €100 each. Chef Kevin O'Toole of Chameleon will cook Indonesian food, Shamzuri Hanifa of The Cottage in Carrick Shannon, Malaysian, and Shiva Gautam of Monty's of Kathmandu, Nepalese. Wines are included and desserts have been sponsored by Queen of Tarts. Raffle prizes include dinner for two and an overnight stay at Neven Maguire's MacNean House and dinner at James St South in Belfast