Review: Nutbutter - 'As the juices drip down our wrists, we can't believe it's vegan'
Nutbutter, Forbes Street, Grand Canal Dock, Dublin 2. (01) 633 9984, nutbutter.ie
The wacky, exuberant display of grasses and non-traditional planting that once populated Martha Schwartz's garden in Grand Canal Square outside the Bord Gáis Theatre is gone, replaced by something safe and municipal, and it feels like a metaphor for what has happened to Dublin's docklands as a whole.
Schwartz is one of the world's great landscape designers, yet apparently no one can be bothered to maintain the garden that she created for Dublin.
You'd need to be of a certain age (older, certainly, than most of the people who work in the docklands now) to remember the promises made for the area - many by the now-defunct Dublin Docklands Development Authority - back in the day, before the sky fell in and everything went pear-shaped.
The docklands were going to be a vibrant, new, modern part of the city, a sophisticated mix of commercial, residential and cultural uses. They were supposed not to repeat the mistakes of London's docklands, all cheap office buildings and no residents.
The docklands were to be a new community, and the influx of funding that would come from developers would help to revitalise the adjoining and disadvantaged neighbourhood of Ringsend/Irishtown. Nearly 20 years on, though, there is no new social housing in the area and people who grew up there have to move away once they have families of their own, the rate of educational progression to third level is but a fraction of that in neighbouring Sandymount and Ballsbridge (although Trinity's TAP programme is committed to tackling this problem), and very few of the local indigenous population are employed in the tech, legal and other businesses based there. Traditionally, employment in the area came from boat-building, glass bottle-making and the docks themselves, but these are long gone.
Granted, the Daniel Libeskind-designed Bord Gáis Theatre is a magnificent piece of architecture, but the docklands itself has no atmosphere, and there is a sense at night, when very few lights are on, that many of its swanky apartments are unoccupied. The population that does live and work here is largely homogeneous; they work long hours, they get fed in the office canteen, and when they do go out they head into the city centre, a short distance away, where they'll find a buzz that is lacking in the docklands.
Nutbutter is the latest addition to the eating options in Grand Canal Dock, offering a plant-based but not vegetarian menu that looks tantalising on its Instagram feed. That said, on our walk over to try it one evening last week, we passed by Ross Lewis' Osteria Lucio and were sorely tempted to divert in there for pasta and pizza and all manner of good Italian things. Why is that 'healthy' food looks so appealing during the day, but that come evening we want comfort? (And wine.)
I'd misunderstood that Nutbutter, which occupies the back of (but is separate from although co-owned with) HQ, offers table service at night, when there is an expanded version of the daytime menu, so we stood around being ignored and waiting to be seated, before one of the staff came over to explain that we should order at the counter and that our food would be delivered to the table.
The interior is all rattan swing chairs and tiles and greenery (there's also a good mural), with some communal tables and other smaller ones for twos and fours. It's all very LA and it turns out that the concept is one that is inspired by restaurants there. It feels like the beginning of a brand.
After the chilly enough welcome, and the palaver of having to collect our own cutlery and napkins, we are prepared to be underwhelmed by the food. But, guess what? It's terrific.
Jackfruit comes from a species of tree in the fig/mulberry/breadfruit family and is having a bit of a moment these days because it's healthy and sustainable and touted as a vegan meat replacement, likened in texture to pulled pork. In a Nutbutter 'late plate', it comes in soft flour tortillas - three of them - with cashew cream, avocado, pickled red cabbage, red wine vinegar onions, scallions and coriander. The flavours are big and bold, the textures are good and, as the juices drip down our wrists (always a good sign), we can't believe that it's vegan.
A dish described as Brisket & Puy Lentil (other animal proteins that you can add to poké and grain bowls include salmon, sashimi-grade tuna, turkey and chicken) is similarly big on flavour, the soft meat boosted by pico de gallo - a tomato-based Mexican salsa - more of that pickled red cabbage, carrot ribbons, half an avocado, scallions and a coconut and peanut sauce for elevation.
There are no desserts as such, so we pick up a few treats: 'ultimate energy balls' that taste predominantly of coconut and dried fruit and are nothing to write home about. (We bring them home and nobody wants to eat them.) With two glasses of indifferent Merlot, the bill for two comes to €44.70.
I'll go back for lunch or to take away, but not if I'm looking for an atmospheric spot for dinner.
8/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET Cacao & Hazelnut Toast with home-made nutella, banana, bee pollen and honey costs €3.50. All-day grain and salad bowls cost from €6.95.
ON A BLOW-OUT Nutbutter isn't really geared towards blow-outs, but soup, a 'late plate', a treat and a glass of wine will be €27pp.
THE HIGH POINT
Unexpectedly flavoursome food from a plant-based restaurant.
THE LOW POINT
Being left standing too long waiting for a table before anyone explained that we had to order at the counter. Other potential customers walked out because they were ignored.