Peak Beard may have been and gone, but The Fumbally is still hipster-central, as much a state of mind as it is a restaurant. Last time, I spotted James Vincent McMorrow, and on this occasion it was Glen Hansard. He's now more or less clean shaven, but still the original of the Dublin variety of the species hipsterus hibernicus.
The Fumbally opened back in 2012, and has been aped by numerous wannabes across the city, none of which has quite managed to nail its distinct and insouciant personality. From the outset, the place has been a success; its relaxed vibe would make a fortune for its owners, Aisling Rogerson and Luca D'Alfonso, if they could only bottle and sell it. Three years on, its clientèle is less self-conscious, and there's not so much of the sense that this is a place in which to see and be seen, and more of the sense that this is somewhere to get an interesting, modern and nutritious lunch for not very much money.
The food has evolved over time and, while the falafels that were there at the beginning are still a mainstay of the menu (there would probably be a riot if they were taken off), there are now more complex dishes on offer every day.
A daytime-only operation, The Fumbally is open 8am-5pm during the week with a 10am start on Saturday. My lunch guests are a pair of med students on placement at nearby St James's Hospital. I get there before 12.30pm to nab a table and there's already a queue to order; the place is pretty busy.
It's a large higgledy-piggledy space with mismatched furniture and customers in keeping with the décor, if you get my drift. Although The Fumbally has a reputation for being cool, it's cool in an inclusive kind of a way. Customers are encouraged to share tables, and there are plenty of solo lunchers working on their laptops or reading as they eat.
The all-day breakfast menu includes good things such as buckwheat pancakes and scrambled eggs with Gubbeen ham, but we bypass all that in favour of the lunch menu, which has a core of permanent dishes, supplemented by a handful of daily specials detailed on a chalkboard by the cash register.
We share cauliflower and brown butter soup (the almost-docs remind me that butter has been rehabilitated, praise be), a falafel wrap, a porchetta sandwich, a salad plate, and the fish special: sea trout served on a fresh herb, fennel and kombu broth.
While the food is served café-style and is generally unpretentious, the trout is as sophisticated a dish as you would find on any fayn-dayning restaurant menu - pan-fried skin down, so the skin is good and crisp and with a garnish of wall pennywort (no, me neither) picked in Wicklow the day before. Alongside, there's sunflower tahini flavoured with confit garlic served with a hunk of toasted rustic bread.
The salads are a welcome change from your run-of-the-mill deli offering, with plenty of crunch from a fennel, apple, Wicklow sprouts and dill combination, dressed with apple cider vinegar and rapeseed oil. Puy lentils are paired with matchsticks of celeriac, toasted almonds and citrus zest, while roasted aubergine comes glazed with mushroom reduction and black garlic, and dressed with lime yoghurt and feta. The slow-cooked, tender porchetta is loosened with a caper mayonnaise and arrives on a brioche bun of subtle sweetness, anointed with a spiced apple sauce. And even without any of the accompaniments, the falafel wrap would keep a trencherman going until dinner.
The Fumbally employs six chefs and the kitchen is innovating constantly, with new dishes introduced on a regular basis. A Keralan sambar curry of sweet potato and broccoli with tomato and fenugreek, served with a soft boiled egg, raita and homemade paratha, looked pretty fine.
The Fumbally is determined to keep raising the bar in terms of the kind of food that it can deliver for a reasonable cost. There's clear ambition here in terms of the food offering, and the kitchen is working hard to replace branded ingredients with items that can be made in-house. They are already making their own yoghurt and pickles.
The chefs are encouraged to experiment in the development kitchen next door in the Fumbally Stables, which also hosts food workshops and yoga classes, away from the pressure of the restaurant itself.
Sourcing and provenance is a priority, with the menu name-checking the restaurant's suppliers with pride. Pork and eggs are free-range, organic fruit and vegetables are used as much as possible. Although there is a short wine list (three reds, three whites, one of each available by the glass), the Fumbally doesn't feel like somewhere that you'd linger over a bottle, so we eschew wine in favour of almond milk with black sesame (surprisingly good, subtly sweet), and a cold-pressed juice of pear, parsley, pineapple, spinach, cucumber and green chilli.
Katie Sanderson, the young chef behind last summer's Dillisk pop-up in Connemara, is producing a range of fermented drinks in-house and the lemon, ginger and turmeric would put a spring in the most sluggish of steps.
Puddings are of the ilk that you'd make at home if you had the time. We like the pear and berry crumble and sticky toffee cake, neither of which is over-sweet.
Lunch for three, with a side of spicy kimchi and couple of good coffees (coffee is, as you would expect, a Fumbally priority) comes to €54 before service; you could eat well here for much less.
Although the queue to order can be slow, the staff deliver food to the tables so that you don't have to hang around waiting. They're a pleasant bunch, and look as if they like working here.
VALUE FOR MONEY 10/10
ON A BUDGET
The Fumbally serves breakfast all day, so you can drop in any time for Le Levain rustic toast with butter and marmalade for €2.50. Filtered water is free.
ON A BLOWOUT
You'd be hard-pushed to spend a lot of money at The Fumbally, but if you went for soup and bread (€5) followed by the seatrout special (€12), and drank a bottle of French Terret Gris (€32) by yourself, you'd spend €47.
THE HIGH POINT
The ambience. The Fumbally feels like a happy place for both staff and customers. The food is wholesome, without being too virtuous.
THE LOW POINT
The bathrooms, though clean, are scruffy, and the queue to order can move slowly.
WHISPERS FROM THE GASTRONOMICON
The West Waterford Festival of Food takes place from April 9-12. This year's festival theme celebrates Generations of West Waterford Food Stories and will focus on local food-producing families, including the Flahavans, McGraths and Barrons. There are restaurant trails, events for children and special menus created by Paul Flynn at The Tannery in Dungarvan and by local chef Eunice Power at Dromana House. The farmers' market on Sunday is one of the biggest in the country, with over 100 stall holders scheduled to attend.