Saturday 18 August 2018

Review: Veginity - 'the pineapple bulgur with sriracha salsa is standout good

VEGINITY, 101 Upper Dorset Street, Dublin 1. (083) 415 9945, veginity.com

Veginity Restaurant on Dorset Street Upper in Dublin. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Veginity Restaurant on Dorset Street Upper in Dublin. Photo: Caroline Quinn

I'm not a vegan, and have no intention of becoming one, but you'd need to have your head stuck very firmly in the sand not to be aware that veganism is one of the fastest-growing food movements of our time. Even if you are a committed omnivore, chances are that you are at least open to the possibility of reducing your consumption of meat and animal products, whether by eating smaller portions or ensuring that a few meals each week are meat-free. Cutting down can take many forms and they all help.

At least two new vegan restaurants have opened in Dublin over the past couple of months and it was a toss-up between Veginity and another establishment for this review, until a friend sent me a photo of some nachos that she'd picked up at the latter one day. The caption was one- word devastating: 'rank'. I couldn't face it, and so Veginity it was.

On the plus side, Veginity's arrival on Dorset Street will be greeted with joy not just by vegans but by people working in the locale, for whom the food pickings are currently slim. Currently the restaurant only opens for dinner, from Thursday to Saturday, but if it opened for lunch and offered take-out boxes, it would do brisk business with the staff of the Mater and Temple Street hospitals in particular.

Another positive is that Veginity has a nice vibe to it; the staff are thoroughly pleasant and the shtick is well-meaning. The décor verges on spartan, undecorated save for a large mural on the back wall, but the tables and chairs are comfortable. The acoustics, however, are terrible - the four of us find it hard to hear one another over the din, and especially over the shrieking of one diner at an adjacent table.

One more good thing is that Veginity is BYOB. Most wine is not vegan thanks to the isinglass (derived from fish bladders) used in its production, but Marks & Spencer has a particularly good range of vegan wines.

Veginity started out as a food truck; the chef is Australian, Mark Senn. I haven't eaten his food before but have heard good things. My mind and palate are open.

To begin, there's a choice of two starters. Home-baked ciabatta with fermented coconut cream cheese and a mint and coriander chermoula is pleasant, the bread rather good, the sauces flavoursome, even if they are not as plentiful as one might like. To my mind this isn't really a starter, but no matter. Beetroot kibbeh - deep-fried croquettes, a dish from the Levant, typically made with bulgur, finely chopped onion and minced beef, lamb or goat - taste of nothing much, but pineapple bulgur with sriracha salsa and confit garlic aioli is standout good, and an idea that I'll try to replicate at home.

There are three main courses; a portion of each would have been plenty for the four of us to share. The best is XO king oyster mushrooms served with fermented choi sum, kimchi Chinese cabbage and marinated shimeji (more mushrooms, this time tiny by way of contrast with the whopper oysters). The oysters are thick and meaty, the greens pungent and spicy, the shimeji at once delicate and packed with umami flavour. The only complaint is that, served as it is in a bowl as opposed to a plate, the elements are hard to cut.

Sweet miso aubergine lies on a huge slice of marinated tofu, accompanied by a delicious, gingery soba noodle salad. There's a sauce made from pickled blood plums that's mouth-puckeringly piquant -in a good way - and blobs of a wasabi mayo. The aubergine is good but there's way too much of the tofu; it's texture is slimy and unappealing - we'd have preferred some crunch.

Kentucky-fried Kiev waffle comprises chicken nugget-esque shapes of soy protein with mushroom gravy, confit peppers, banana shallots and a red cabbage slaw. There are caramelised apricots in there too, all plopped on top of a waffle made of I'm not sure what. There are way - way - too many elements to this dish and it looks like a mess. I don't have strong opinions either way about vegetable matter being made to look like animal protein, although I know fake meat is controversial in vegan/vegetarian circles, but these nuggets are simply not something I would ever want to eat again. Vegans deserve better.

There are two desserts on offer: a good brûlée citron cheesecake sits on a ginger biscuit base, surrounded by torched meringue, but the chocolate dessert - a dish described as 'Dark Matter, 74pc dark chocolate brownie, Jameson's whiskey mousse, roasted coco gelato and 85pc dark choc honey comb' - is a hideous disaster, the gelato not so much roasted as burned. Did no one in the kitchen taste it?

Overall, the food is not awful - and there are some spectacularly good elements - but looking back over my notes and photos from the evening, I feel it could be so much better. In virtually every dish, there is simply too much going on.

The bill for four - four starters, four main courses, two desserts and four kombuchas (these are fantastic, our favourite was the gala melon and green apple) - came to €123 before service.

THE RATING

6/10 food

7/10 ambience

7/10 value for money

20/30

ON A BUDGET

If you just had a main course - and they are substantial - and drank tap water, dinner could cost as little as €15.50 per head. It's BYOB.

ON A BLOW-OUT

Starter, main course and dessert will cost €62 for two, with drinks and service on top.

THE HIGH POINT

It's good to see a modern vegan restaurant in a part of town that's sorely in need of more places to eat.

THE LOW POINT

Terrible acoustics made worse by a diner clearly unfamiliar with the concept of the 'indoor voice'.

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