Eating out: Fia, Rathgar
155b Rathgar Rd, Rathgar, Dublin 6. (01) 4413344
The elegant older woman in the queue ahead of me is a regular, she tells me. "You never know what Keith is going to have on the menu," she says. "It's always changing, and it's always good."
The Keith to whom she refers turns out to be Keith Coleman, who used to be at The Fumbally on Clanbrassil Street, which serves consistently interesting and well-priced food. The Fumbally acts as an incubator for a new generation of ingredient-driven young chefs who are up to speed with their pickling and fermenting and take a modern, joyous approach to food with plenty of cross-cultural mingling and a robust attitude to flavour.
Katie Sanderson is one of the Fumbally's notable alumni; she is always up to something creative, whether it's a pop-up with Takashi Miyazaki or yoga brunch at Fumbally Stables, or developing her addictive White Mausu peanut and chilli rayu sauce.
It's Saturday lunchtime and every table at Fia, both inside and out, is taken. Paddy Cosgrave of the Web Summit and his wife, model Faye Dinsmore, are occupying the centre table, along with their very cute and well-behaved baby.
There's a wait of about 15 minutes, so my new friend and I have plenty of time to chat. She tells me that the other Dublin café that she likes is BiBis in Portobello, and I ask her if she's tried Meet Me in the Morning which, from a quick look at the menu at Fia, shares some suppliers and a similar ethos with the Rathgar Road café.
Fia doesn't take bookings, which makes sense given the compact space, and it's currently a daytime-only operation, although I see that Keith is collaborating with Eric Heilig, a chef from the Pomeranian region of Germany who until recently worked at the Michelin-starred Heron & Grey in Blackrock, on a pop-up dinner next Monday. This is bound to be worthwhile, and an opportunity to try food that's guaranteed to be different. (You can find out if there are still places at the table available by emailing email@example.com).
In any event, the time passes quickly thanks to the chat, and the good people-watching.
The staff are smiley and good at updating us as to when a table is likely to come free. There's a nice atmosphere in Fia, and despite the busyness and the queue, none of the staff appear to be stressed out, which is not always the case in restaurants under pressure. There are three of us eating, and another hungry person at home, so we decide to share four of the brunch/lunch options between three of us, and bring a fifth away. That means that we get to try everything on the menu, which turns out to be no hardship.
First up, olive oil scrambled eggs served with McNally's organic greens (spinach and kale), lemony yoghurt and sesame salt on Le Levain sourdough toast, to which we add an optional order of Jack McCarthy's black pudding. If there's a better list of ingredients in one simple dish, I can't think what that might be, and it tastes just perfect, the eggs just right - not too wet, not too dry.
Tomatoes on toast - a combination of raw McNally's heirloom and cherry tomatoes (you'll find these at the McNally's stalls at Leopardstown, Temple Bar and Dun Laoghaire People's Park markets if you get there early, but you may have to elbow other fans out of the way) - comes with whipped Macroom buffalo ricotta with a squeeze of lemon juice and some rather delightfully mouth-puckering salted gooseberries.
And then there are crisp fried eggs with harissa crème fraiche, feta, paprika butter and dukkah (to which we add, for sheer greediness, some Gubbeen chorizo) and, finally, gorgeous fresh crab from Liscannor with pickled fennel and piles of sliced cucumber (both from McNally's again), everything served on more of that wonderful Le Levain bread.
Everything is so fresh, simple and vibrant, and so well-presented, that I'd struggle to pick one dish over another; the Gubbeen smoked ham and cheese toastie with burnt apple sauce that we bring home is another winner.
You're no one if you don't make your own fermented drinks these days, and the blackberry and shiso kombucha is utterly delicious, with ne'er a scary bacterial culture in sight. Hibiscus and mint lemonade is lovely too. Fia serves good Roasted Brown coffee - on the day of our visit it's Aroresa washed Ethiopian beans with notes (says the board) of citrus, Earl Grey and lavender - but they don't go on about it, which makes for a pleasant change, compared to some establishments.
A peanut butter brownie is luscious and decadent, with properly fudgey consistency and deep chocolate flavour, while a tall, flaky cruffin (yes, a cross between a croissant and a muffin) from Sceal Bakery, filled with vanilla-scented cream and a fruit jam/compote - is memorable.
The bill for all this deliciousness - brunch for four - comes to €78.05 before service, which is notably personable and efficient. Fia is the neighbourhood cafe that we all wish was just around the corner from where we live. Time to start house-hunting in Rathgar?
9/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET
Le Levain sourdough with Glenilen butter and either compote or peanut butter costs €3.
ON A BLOW OUT
Harissa eggs with added Gubbeen chorizo, and kombucha to drink, followed by a cruffin each (that would be a lot of cruffin for one person) and pour over coffee, would come to €49 for two.
THE HIGH POINT
Super-fresh food that's unpretentious, tasty and in-keeping with the mood of the moment. Excellent service too.
THE LOW POINT
Hunger pangs while you wait for a table.