Sunday 25 February 2018

Sandwiches, but not as we know them

Edel Coffey

Brother Hubbard

153 Capel Street, Dublin 1

Tel: 01 4411112

HHHHI

Sandwiches, but not as we know them

I'm a lunchy-brunchy kind of gal. I'll eat eggs Benedict at any time of the day or night; if there's a sandwich on a menu, I'll order it. Salads and soups are where I'm at. So when I heard about Dublin's newest lunch café, Brother Hubbard, I was on the phone faster than you can say bellini... but they don't take reservations. The man I spoke to had the kind of patient, attentive tone that I've only ever encountered in people who run meditation courses. He gave me the inside track on how to get a table without queuing -- turn up before 12.10.

Brother Hubbard occupies the ground floor of what used to be Wolfe's Bistro on Capel Street. I've roped a friend into coming with me and, duly warned of the café's popularity, we arrive promptly at 12.

Only two of the nine tables are occupied. The walls are a lovely serene grey, and a low bar in the large front window allows those eating alone to watch passersby.

Brother Hubbard feels very much like a cool independent London or New York café, and comparisons have already been made to Ottolenghi and Soho's Milkbar.

We take a seat and 10 minutes later I'm doing my smug dance inside, as there's a queue out the door.

My smug dance is quickly concluded as our waitress, a younger version of Lisa Hannigan, seats us and tells us the kitchen isn't quite ready for lunch yet, but she will let us know as soon as it is. In fairness, they do state on their menu that lunch is available each day 'from about 12.15'. I chide myself that my constant internal refrain of " ... but I want it now" is an unhealthy hangover from the kind of excess that ruined this country.

Our waitress returns a few minutes later to let us know she hasn't forgotten about us and takes our orders.

The menu is middle-eastern with the odd Irish touch (a ham and cheddar sandwich looks ridiculously quaint amongst the artichokes and tabbouleh).

I've decided to go for the special (€9.50); roast aubergine with garlic and yoghurt sauce, parsley, pomegranate and dukkah with sourdough and 'our spread', which seems to be a delicious sumac-flavoured humus.

This comes with two of the three available salads -- I take crunchy cucumber with mild red chilli, sprinkled with toasted black and white sesame seeds and a sweet vinegar dressing, and a pearl barley and bulghur tabbouleh with toasted seeds and a lemony dressing.

I am beside myself with joy when this arrives. It is the freshest, most vibrant salad I have seen in a Dublin café in forever and it is dressed with some glittering pomegranate seeds.

My friend wants the chicken sandwich, but they don't have it, nor do they have the orange and lemon barley water. But we don't really mind, as this only suggests that everything is freshly made from scratch and so supplies are finite.

She orders the pea and mint soup, elevated by some harissa oil into something truly superior, and the baked ham and Irish cheddar sandwich (one of four offerings) with Marta's summer 'slaw, a juicy pink salad of cabbage, celery, beetroot, carrot and fennel -- refreshing and delicious (€11.90 for the three).

Strangely, nobody is hurried or rushed and yet the queue at the door is dealt with as people are seated every few minutes.

At one point, we are asked if would we mind sharing our little table and the atmosphere of cress seeds goes to my head as I say: "Sure, why not?" Especially if it is that group of handsome men queuing by the door. As it turns out, we don't have to share in the end. Despite the charmingly unhurried service we are in and out of the place within the hour.

The devil is in the detail at Brother Hubbard from the note on their menu that says 'advise us of your allergies/intolerances' (should I mention my intolerance of hippies?) to their strict 'no-shuffle' music policy, where they play four albums a day to 'honour' the music.

Small touches are what make the difference to a café like this -- homemade scones, two a penny in Dublin's café culture, are upgraded by being served with orange blossom butter.

Brother Hubbard want to create more than the latest place to get your coffee. They are building a community here -- customers are asked to 'curate' music for a day or give their opinion on matters.

The café has recently opened its terrace area and they made a decision, in conjunction with their customers, to make this area smoke-free because it is a dining area that doesn't have the best ventilation, because of its edible garden (the tables are adorned with cress) and because customers with children sometimes sit here. This is a brave, altruistic and forward-thinking decision that I can't imagine any smoker objecting to very strenuously.

It would certainly be nice to see Brother Hubbard expand -- I can imagine a deli section with salads laid out on giant gleaming platters for the busy masses to take away.

We had both heard wondrous things about the chocolate brownie, so it could only really be a disappointment with that kind of anticipation -- it was very moist but too crumbly.

With a latte to go, the total cost came to €27.70, which felt like excellent value for such fresh, individual food.

Brother Hubbard is cool without being obnoxious or trendy. It is trying to do something genuinely different and there's real business sense behind it as well.

Blazing Salads is the only place I can think of with a similar ethos but the food in Brother Hubbard's tasted so much more exciting. They are offering something entirely desirable and yet not catered for in Dublin.

As we're leaving, fully sated and glowing, I'm pleased to see a queue of people continues to build outside. Long may it last. I for one will be back, as this place sells the most glorious salads and cared-for sandwiches in town, not to mention the smiles and good vibes, a really scarce commodity in today's market.

TYPICAL DISH: Middle-eastern salad

RECOMMENDED: The special of the day

THE DAMAGE: €27.70 for two courses, two juices, a latte and a brownie

ON THE STEREO: Soothing sounds and not an iPod shuffle in sight

AT THE TABLE: Everyone from barristers to hipsters, to middle-aged women to workmates

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