Review - Honey Truffle: 'Everything is bright, fresh and appetising. It's a gem'
Honey Truffle, 45 Pearse Street, Dublin 2, (087) 986 4964
Located on a stretch of Pearse Street that's sorely in need of a decent lunch spot, Honey Truffle is the brand-new café established by former Avoca head chef Eimer Rainsford, who also runs the Pink Ginger cookery school. It opened without fanfare or PR a few weeks back - I happened to spot its smart red and grey livery out of the corner of my eye driving past one day. I wasn't sure what it was (chocolate shop? lingerie business?) but it looked worthy of further investigation.
I slip in for a late midweek lunch and am impressed by how good the presentation of the food still is, even at the end of what's obviously been a busy service. There's a counter laid out with colourful salads and sandwiches and everything is bright, fresh and appetising. Later, one of the staff explains that at the start of lunch, the display stretches the whole length of the counter and they keep on consolidating it into a smaller and smaller space until everything is gone.
Fans of Sprout - the Kirwan brothers' mini chain of salad bars that has gone from nought to five outlets in a year-and- a-half and seems unstoppable - are going to love Honey Truffle. And there are many, many fans of Sprout - just look at the queues outside the branches on Dawson Street and Mount Street as early as noon every day of the week. Another great spot for a healthy and reasonably priced lunch is Tang, at the top of Dawson Street, run by the same people as Yogism in George's Street Arcade.
Although there are sandwiches on offer (and a daily hot dish is imminent, according to the information on the wall) at Honey Truffle, it is the salad box that I opt for. The menu board explains the steps involved.
First, you choose a combination of one, two or three of the daily salads. Next, the staff will add leaves. Then you choose either a topping, dip, seeds or cheese - the options are beetroot dip, yoghurt with cumin and lemon, nam jim (Thai) dressing, orange, honey and lemon dressing, Ryefield goat's cheese, toasted pumpkin seeds, caramelised onion hummus, or roasted almonds or hazelnuts. Finally, you can add either lime and chilli- marinated Irish chicken or chickpea, potato and pea cakes 'with mint and gentle spices'.
Because I'm on my own and want to cover as much of the menu as possible, I order both the chicken and the chickpea cakes. I try to order the spicy tomato (and coconut, I think) soup as well, but I'm too late - it's sold out.
On the day of my visit, there are four salads and, perhaps because it's coming to the end of the day, the woman behind the counter gives me the option to try all of them rather than limit me to three.
There are Asian noodles with tenderstem broccoli, mangetout, chilli, lime and mango and a grain salad - made with wild rice - dressed with pomegranate and featuring goji berries, butternut squash and chickpeas. There's one with beetroot, apple and quinoa plus nectarine and red onion, and there are lightly spiced potatoes with mograbieh (giant couscous), red quinoa and roasted peppers. In my salad box, it's hard to tell where one salad ends and another begins, but I can taste elements of mint and coconut too, and there are definitely roasted tomatoes in there somewhere as well. There's a generosity to the heaping of the baby leaves, and the flavours are bold and vibrant.
What stands out about these salads is that all of the ingredients have been chopped small enough to make them easy to eat with the plastic cutlery that's supplied. It's a bugbear of mine: these huge trees of broccoli and unwieldy tranches of cabbage that appear in food that's designed to be eaten on the hoof.
A wipe-clean board on the wall lists all the suppliers. It's an authentic note - of course suppliers change from time to time, so it's good that the provenance information can change too. I feel a bit of a pain asking about the origin of the chicken: is it free-range, I wonder, before I spot the board. The staff member who is serving me goes off to check and says that the chicken is Irish but not free-range. Anyway, Manor Farm is a large and utterly reputable supplier of Irish chicken; I'm just a sucker for the feelgood factor that goes with free-range. The board also lists Gubbeen as a supplier, and the bread comes from Arun Bakery. All of this is good news.
By way of sweetness, there are chocolate brownies with raspberry and blackberry that aren't quite darkly fudgy enough for my liking, though the dusting of sharp dried raspberry is a nice contrast to the chocolate in terms of both colour and flavour. A little berry frangipane is quite exquisite, with delicately macerated raspberries and strawberries and exquisitely crisp pastry.
All told, my bill comes to €22.10, but that's because I've ordered extras to take home and share with the poor long-suffering exam students. (The savoury fennel, cheese and tomato scone is a particular hit.) If you were on your own and popping in for lunch, you could have a salad box with chicken for €9.70, which is pricing more or less on a par with that of Sprout. It's keen pricing for high-quality food that's all prepared on site. There's also filtered water on tap in the seating area, which is rather charming. Honey Truffle is a little gem.
9/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET
A soup pot served with a baby savoury scone is €4.
ON A BLOW-OUT
It's hard to spend a lot of money at Honey Truffle, but if you were to have the salad box with chilli and lime chicken, and a chocolate brownie each with a brace of americanos to go, your bill would come to €31 for two, before tip.
THE HIGH POINT
Honey Truffle is box-fresh and serving exactly the kind of food we want to eat right now - fresh, vegetable-focused and full of flavour. The staff are engaged and charming. Thumbs up.
THE LOW POINT
The soup had run out.