'Over the past few years," says my lunch date, "I've eaten many, many versions of avo toast, and I can definitively say that this is not one of the better ones."
We are in Fable + Stey, a new-ish café in Newtown Park, off Newtownpark Avenue in Blackrock, the latest in a mini-chain (although each one looks different) of cafés from the people behind Fia in Rathgar and Little Frieda's, tucked away in the unlikely location of an office park behind Lidl in nearby Deansgrange.
When I ate at Fia, the chef was the talented Keith Coleman, who has since moved on. The menu was littered with provenance buzzwords ('McNally Family', 'Gubbeen', 'Sceal') and the food sang with joy; simple, yet properly exciting.
A couple of months back, I visited Little Frieda's with the intention of reviewing and found a menu populated with some of the same buzzwords, and indeed some very similar dishes. The food was tired and unexciting, an exercise in ticking trendy boxes. Kombucha? Tick! Toastie? Tick! Cauliflower? Tick.
I decided not to bother writing about it.
At Fable + Stey, it's more of the same; the food is better executed than at Little Frieda's, but not on a par with Fia's.
The daytime menu is breakfast by another name - lots of eggs and bread - with a single lunch special. We look in vain for a salad option.
Avocado on toasted sourdough comes with salsa, house fermented hot sauce and dukkah. The bread is from Bread Nation (whose Bread 41 Café was reviewed on these pages a couple of weeks ago) and excellent, the fried egg on top is nicely cooked, but the 'salsa' isn't salsa, just a bunch of chopped tomatoes with coriander. The dish badly needs the hot sauce, which is rather good, to make it interesting.
Soup is butternut squash with coconut, there's more dukkah, a few tweezered herbs and a slick of olive oil on top. It's thick, smooth and blandly comforting. The lunch special is the best thing that we eat, although the Gubbeen toastie at an adjacent table looks as if it might be a good cold weather choice. Warm organic potatoes and nicely charred, jammy tomatillos, some garlicky yoghurt, a few peas and pea shoots, pickles and herbs, a dollop of house-made peanut rayu, all topped with a fried egg. Optional mushrooms are slow-cooked and delicious. But the plate costs €12.50 and it's not a patch in terms either of flavour, value or substance on the 'worker's lunch' special that I had in Etto on the day of Storm Ali, a plate of veal meatballs with greens on soft polenta of such utter lusciousness that I've been dreaming about it ever since. That cost €15.
Fable + Stey's counter displays an attractive array of pastries and cakes, from which we take away a cinnamon swirl from Bread Nation that feels as if it's been exposed to the air for too long, a fudgily good sea salt brownie, and a slice of gorgeous-looking almond, coconut, rose and orange cake that's genteel and lovely.
Service is smiley but verging on hapless. There's a water jug on the table that could have done with being better washed, but no water glasses. We have to get our own cutlery from a table in the corner, next to which there's a stack of grubby baby seats in need of a good wipe. My stingy serving of good rose and blueberry kombucha (€3) comes to me in a glass that's hot from the dishwasher.
Call me jaded, but I'm getting bored of this café-by-numbers kind of establishment, where every menu reads the same and every dish feels like a cover version of the real thing, i.e. The Fumbally.
There's nothing wrong with Fable + Stey, per se, and I am sure that people who live nearby are delighted finally to have somewhere to meet their pals for a chat, but there's a missed opportunity in terms of food and that's a shame.
Lunch for two, including the takeaway pastries, costs €37 before service.
ON A BUDGET
Toasted sourdough with home-made peanut butter and house berry jam is €3.50.
ON A BLOW OUT
If you have soup, the 'Organic spuds' special with avocado and mushrooms, followed by cake, will cost €49 for two, before drinks or service.
THE HIGH POINT
An area sorely in need of a neighbourhood café has got one.
THE LOW POINT
The menu is very breakfast-y.