we are definitely in the right place, because The Happy Pears are over on the other side of the room, wearing shorts and drinking kombucha but - thankfully - not doing handstands or stripping off for a sunrise swim. They're here to check out Eoin Cluskey's new organic Bread 41 Café, which opened a couple of weeks ago under the railway bridge on Pearse Street, opposite the site of Trinity's new business school, currently under construction.
Bread 41 is the first retail/café operation under the Bread Nation umbrella, for which carpenter-turned-baker Cluskey has big plans. I reckon if he opens up in Greystones, he'll give the lads a serious run for their money.
Since the 1960s, the majority of bread sold in Ireland has been manufactured using the Chorleywood Bread Process (CBP), developed to make bread quicker and longer-lasting. While traditional sourdough requires only three ingredients - flour, water and salt - the CBP uses 30-odd, including L-ascorbic acid (E300), chlorine dioxide gas, L-cysteine hydrochloride (E920) (which may be derived from animal hair and feathers, nice!), soya flour, emulsifiers, and preservatives such as calcium propionate.
Whatever one's views on food intolerances, there is a school of thought that says it is not the gluten in bread that people have trouble digesting, but all these other substances. And because there is no regulation of the term 'sourdough', it means that much of the 'sourdough' bread that you buy in the supermarket (and in some bakeries masquerading as the real deal) may be CBP bread with an added sprinkle of sourdough powder. Some who suffer from IBS and other digestive issues find that when they eat slow-fermented, 'real' bread as opposed to bread made using the CBP, their problems disappear. Cluskey's view is that time has a big part to play - a typical supermarket loaf is made in a couple of hours, while his takes between 19 and 22 hours; the slow fermentation means that it's gut-friendly too, encouraging all those good bacteria. (You can find a baker near you baking bread the old-fashioned way at realbreadireland.org.)
Bread 41 has only been open a few days when four of us drop in for an early lunch - sooner than I would usually review, but I want this to run during the month of Sourdough September. And, frankly, since I brought a loaf home after a tour the previous week... my family insists.
We order everything on the lunch menu - and a bit more besides.
The star of the show is a warm-from-the-oven sausage roll of porky deliciousness, the pastry flaky, buttery... just gorgeous. A prosciutto and cheese croissant is pretty damn fine also, almost shocking in its butteriness, while of the four official lunch offerings, blood pudding spread on a thick slice of toast is our favourite, the date brown sauce on the side nicely piquant, not too sweet. Sandwiches are substantial - porchetta with provolone, rocket and pickles more flavoursome (of course) than the veggie option which features whipped goat's cheese, roasted beetroot, pickled beets and carrots and a smidgeon of horseradish.
The baking method that Cluskey learned in San Francisco results in a bread with a significantly higher level of hydration than that customarily used in Ireland, meaning that the bread is meant for sandwiches on day one, and for toasting on day two. It works.
A salad is disappointing - too much grain (freekeh? farro?), organic but dull vegetables (cauliflower and butternut squash), tahini dressing. The colours are all greige and it's a lacklustre affair, with only minor texture and colour interest brought by chopped toasted hazelnuts and parsley. House-made kombucha is over-sweet, while coffee from 3Fe is good. The bill for four comes to €48.30, which is a bargain for food of this quality. Any quibbles are minor.
On a budget
Toast and butter served in the morning until 11am costs €3.50.
On a blow out
Lunch for two - black pudding on toast, topped with an egg, and flat whites - costs €26.
The bread is outstanding - you can (and should) buy it to take away from the on-site bakery - but it is the sausage rolls that feature in my dreams.
The salad was a dull, greige affair.