Review: 'Groundstate's brunch would raise the living from the dead'
48-50 James' St, Ushers, Dublin 8, groundstated8.com
It's not easy to please all of the people, all of the time, but a new-ish café on a stretch of James' Street - a food wasteland for too long - seems to be doing just that.
I first heard about Groundstate from someone who works at St James's Hospital, where the food options open to staff are by all accounts as depressing as they are for patients, a situation that's not unique to SJH. Hospital food is yet another national disgrace - how does anyone recover from illness eating the kind of meals served up to patients? My informer told me that her quality of life had been improved immeasurably by the arrival of Groundstate, with its great coffee, and particularly by its dahl, her saviour during the winter months.
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We drop by to check out Groundstate for ourselves one Sunday morning and find a room full of happy people tucking in to heaped plates of great-looking food. There's a ubiquity to the brunch offering in many restaurants, but Groundstate is doing things a little differently, with ne'er a pre-poached egg to be seen. Praise be.
The kitchen team is in plain sight, for one thing, cooking as the orders come in. Although the wait for our food is too long, there's no real cause for complaint when the reason is apparent. Plus, the delay is handled with charm by the staff, who are universally quite lovely.
I don't recall seeing croque madame on a menu in Ireland since I last visited Chez Max, which is a pity as it's a classic for good reason. At Groundstate she comes dripping in provenance, comprising 'Bread Nation malt sourdough, Gubbeen hot smoked ham, Dijon mustard and a Wicklow Ban cheese bechamel, topped with a crispy fried egg, garnished with pickled onions and a side of our house kimchi'.
If ever there was a menu descriptor that better summed up the state of affairs in Dublin café society in the spring of 2019 then I don't know what that could be. Except perhaps the vegetarian version of the same dish, featuring a "tarragon medley of roasted mushrooms". (I'll forgive the use of the word medley just this once.)
A dish that reads so well has to disappoint, ever so slightly, on the plate and that is the case here - the pressure on the kitchen means that madame hasn't quite achieved that optimal tipping point of crisp/gooey, an alchemy which would have taken a few minutes longer, and the egg could have done with hitting a hotter pan to attain the desired state of lacy-ness, but the flavours are spot-on. The mushroom version would make a vegetarian very content indeed.
Even though the three of us are in the whole of our health, with not even a smidgeon of a hangover between us, we order La Resaca, a combination of fried egg, salsa verde, red blackened salsa, refried beans, paprika roast potato and wilted greens topped with cashew butter and more of those pickled red onions. Phew. For good measure, we throw in a side of chorizo. This is a bowl designed to raise the living from the dead, and there's a felicitous harmony to the way that the elements of the dish complement one another that's both invigorating and properly tasty.
Brunch for three, with coffees, juice and a couple of King of Kefir's great water kefirs costs €59.50.
I'm back a few days later for the Tarka Dahl, a comforting bowl of Keralan-influenced, coconut-flavoured lentils with tomatoes, cabbage and peppers, gently spiced, that's a bargain of a lunch at €9. And then a friend tells me that she's been dreaming of a life-changing BKT (€8.50) - a sandwich of bacon (not just any old bacon), house-fermented caraway kraut, tomato and fennel jam, leaves from McNally's Family Farm and roasted garlic aioli - ever since she encountered it a couple of weeks ago. The bacon comes from Higgins in Sutton, and it's the best bacon in the world, made by Rick Higgins from free-range pork and sliced thick. So I'll be going back for one of those.
ON A BUDGET
Toast and spreads - organic sourdough from Bread Nation with jam, Irish honey and lemon curd - costs €4.
ON A BLOW OUT
At weekends, two people having croque madames and mocha coffee would run up a bill of €33.20 before service.
THE HIGH POINT
Finally somewhere to get decent food near St James's Hospital.
THE LOW POINT
There are too many hard surfaces.