Wednesday 18 July 2018

Restaurant Review - Urbanity: 'If I ate like this everyday, I'd probably live to be 100'

Urbanity, The Glass House, 11 Coke Lane, Smithfield, Dublin 7. (01) 874-7288

Urbanity. Photo: Damien Eagers
Urbanity. Photo: Damien Eagers

Katy McGuinness

I know that it's tantamount to heresy to admit this, and I risk consigning myself to the dinosaur category, but I can't be doing with all the nonsense that surrounds coffee these days. There, I said it. Should I leave now?

It's not that I don't like coffee, because I do. It's not that I can't tell the difference between good and bad, because I can. And it's not that I practise some class of reverse snobbery, and claim to prefer the insipid brown liquid that passes for coffee in some of the international chains operating in Ireland (I'm looking at you, Starbucks), because I don't.

I just can't stand all the pompous talk that surrounds the simple act of buying and drinking a cup of coffee.

I happen to live around the corner from one of the very trendiest of Irish coffee shops (lucky me! it probably adds at least another €50k to the value of my house). But it takes a huge marshalling of wits to set foot across its threshold, because the staff are so up themselves that they give the impression that they are sneering at anyone who - not sharing their encyclopaedic knowledge - dares to ask for a recommendation, or a simple explanation in lay-person's language about how one option differs from another.

At home, I buy in bulk, 20 packets at a time, from a small family artisan roaster, Davenport Coffee Company in Co Leitrim (davenportcoffee.com). Their Red Rooster Bantam's Brew (strength 4) recreates the classic Mocha-Java, the world's oldest coffee blend; the flavour is deep and rich. (That's what it says on the packet and it's enough information for me - I just like the taste. But for the coffee nerds out there, the beans are 100pc premium arabica from Sumatra and Ethiopia, and are both fairly and directly traded - it's coffee with conscience and you can read more about it on the website.)

My experiences at the coffee shop near my house have engendered an antipathy in me towards other establishments that I fear may operate on similar lines, and so exploring the growing coffee culture of the city is not an activity to which I've devoted much time. For shame.

So, when I received an e-mail a couple of weeks ago from a chap called Jason from Urbanity Coffee, a coffee roastery and café in Smithfield, telling me about his operation, it wasn't the coffee angle that most interested me. He attached the current menus, and they made me hungry.

I did try to go for dinner, because the information that Rachel Lynch, formerly of Brother Hubbard, is now the head chef at Urbanity was enough to tell me that Jason and his co-owners take their food seriously. But nobody was answering the phone when we rang to book, just one of those intensely annoying messages saying that the voicemail is only checked once a day at 4pm; it was 5pm and we'd been hoping to go that evening.

So instead we went for breakfast, one weekday mid-morning. The welcome was friendly, and we braced ourselves for the coffee spiel. It never happened. One americano, one flat white, both perfectly pleasant without stopping us in our tracks. What a relief. We could concentrate on the food.

(On the topic of Urbanity's coffee, Jason's email said: Our green coffee beans are single origin and supplied by Nordic Approach in Oslo. The beans are direct trade, which means they are bought directly from the farmers who get a fair price for their beans and maintain high standards. Our roasting process allows for the full flavour of the bean to develop, demonstrating clarity and complexity in each cup. We believe that by taking control of the roasting process we can deliver a consistently excellent cup of coffee.)

The breakfast offering includes porridge and granola, a couple of egg and sandwich options, a breakfast bowl featuring macerated mango and dehydrated kiwi powder and a souped-up version of avo toast. The scrambled organic eggs with chives are served with wilted spinach on a chunky slice of Tartine sourdough (great bread, I use it at home); we added a couple of slices of bacon. The eggs were a tad on the dry side, but horses for courses - plenty of people like them that way.

"Wasabi spiced roast mung bean & avocado, water chestnuts, soy & garlic pesto, toasted sesame brittle, organic fried egg, sourdough toast" sounds like some ridiculous millenial cliché but tasted terrific, full of texture and flavour and all manner of goodness. (I particularly like the crunch of the sesame brittle). It's the kind of food that makes me think that if I ate like this every day I'd probably live to be a hundred.

Urbanity is big on provenance, for which it gets a thumbs up from me - I like to know where the ingredients come from. The menu says that the meat is local and free-range wherever possible, and - unlike plenty of other restaurants I could name - I'm inclined to believe Jason.

So, Urbanity. Go if you like your coffee, stay if you like your food. The baked goods looked mighty fine, but you don't get to live to a hundred if you eat too many of those, so we passed. Breakfast for two cost €26, which we rounded up to €30 for good and pleasant service.

THE RATING

8/10 food

8/10 ambience

8/10 value for money

24/30

ON A BUDGET

Organic porridge with toasted nuts and seeds, Medjool dates and citrus honey is €6.

ON A BLOW OUT

Dinner might consist of starters of steamed artichoke and toasted focaccia with spreads and dips, followed by braised short ribs with garlic, kale, celeriac purée and chervil oil with something sweet to finish, and would cost around €60 for two before drinks.

THE HIGH POINT

Despite roasting its own coffee, Urbanity doesn't bore on about it.

THE LOW POINT

We'd have liked someone to tell us about the coffee.

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