Review: Assassination custard - perfectly executed
Assassination custard, 17 Kevin Street Cross, Dublin 8. (087) 997 1513
Wanted: Nanny. Mary Poppins type. Ask staff for details.
That's the sign attached to the counter of Ken Doherty and Gwen McGrath's tiny café at the junction of Kevin St and Heytesbury Street in Dublin 8. Ken and Gwen are the only staff - there wouldn't be room for any more - and sometimes, after school or crèche, their two little daughters are there too, which wouldn't be a problem (because they are charming) except for the fact that by being on the premises, by sitting at a table with their colouring pencils and paper, they are taking up two of the café's eight seats. On a busy day, that's going to mean a 25pc reduction in the number of people who get to try Assassination Custard's amazingly good food. Which is a terrible shame. So a nanny is needed, if only to stop there being riots.
Are you sick of being fleeced when you head out for lunch, bored with cardboard sandwiches from the convenience store, and those pre-packaged salads from the supermarket that look so appealing and sound so healthy and yet taste of absolutely nothing because they are so crammed with preservatives and additives that every gram of flavour has been leached from them? Are you fed up - literally - of waddling back to your desk and sinking into an afternoon food coma as yet another burrito lies like a lead weight in your stomach? If perhaps you have a hankering for some very simple, very tasty food, then consider breaking away from your usual lunchtime routine and instead paying a visit to Assassination Custard, located in what was formerly - and appropriately - The Little Café, which opened in September last year.
(The name Assassination Custard is a literary reference: James Joyce and Nora Barnacle visited Beckett in hospital in Paris after he had been stabbed near the heart by a pimp and brought him a cake that they'd made, which was later dubbed an 'assassination custard'. )
In the morning, Ken and Gwen sell good coffee from Rathmines-based roastery, Two Fifty Square, alongside home-baked cakes and pastries. And at lunchtime they dish out a menu of Italian and Middle-Eastern-inspired street food at prices that cause their customers to do a double-take. Ken's CV includes stints at Cornucopia and Café Paradiso in Cork, while Gwen worked in the kitchens of Dax and Ely.
The menu changes daily, according to what the couple pick up in the local shops around Camden Street and from McNally Farm, which supplies them with organic greens. I was there for lunch on my own a couple of months ago and had three small plates: romanesco with chili and garlic, a robust dish of super-tender lamb's heart with sage and anchovies (the menu features plenty of offal, including tripe on occasion) and some panelle (chick pea fritters), all for €12.50. This time I brought a co-eater, so that between us we could cover the entire menu.
This is what we had. First up, beetroot moutabel - a variation on the theme of beetroot hummus, with grated orange zest and caraway seeds, served with poppyseed bread. The quantity is about the same as what you would get in one of those tubs of hummus from the supermarket and it costs €3.50. Next, a pillowy-soft house-made njuda bread, with a good blob of ricotta alongside as a foil for the spicy Calabrian sausage that turned the bread orange and decadently oily, in a good finger-licking way. That costs €4. Roast cabbage tonnato is inspired - red and white cabbage cooked first in the oven and then in the pan before being drizzled with silky smooth tonnato sauce that we are used to having served with veal. ("The budget here doesn't run to veal," says Ken.) That's €4.50. Wild garlic is pan-fried and served atop a plate of house-made labneh infused with anchovies (€4) and flat kale comes with copious intense black garlic (it's mushroomy in its umami-ness) topped with grated ricotta salata (€4.50). More panelle - the hot chickpea fritters are a signature dish - (€2.50/€4.50 depending on portion size, but you should get the large one) and, finally, pork belly with grapes, two small tranches of meat infused with fennel, topped with softly cooked grapes. "Wow," says my co-eater, "he really has the flavour gift."
We bring home a piece of Italian semolina cake and a coconut biscuit rolled in chocolate but someone gets to them before I do, so I can't vouch for those. In total, our bill comes to €41.50 before service.
Assassination Custard doesn't serve dinner, but you can take over the place with friends or for a small event, bring along your own wine, and let Ken cook and play some vinyl on the record-player. I'd like to have my next birthday dinner here, but in the meantime I'll go back for lunch any time I'm in the vicinity. And so should you.
ON A BUDGET
Eating at Assassination Custard is never going to break the bank, but if you can scrape together €4.50, you can have pane panelle, a homemade bread roll filled with chickpea fritters, that's a hit with local construction workers.
ON A BLOWOUT
We ordered everything on the menu, and our bill came to €41.50. That was a lot of food.
THE HIGH POINT
Gorgeous, full-on flavours for very little money.
THE LOW POINT
They only have room for seven or eight sit-down customers at a time, so if you get your timing wrong you'll be waiting a while.
9/10 value for money
Whispers from the gastronomicon
Drummond House Garlic is Ireland's only producer of commercial heritage garlic. Peter and Marita Collier's 100-acre farm in Baltray, Co Louth, was originally a mixture of tillage, dairy and beef, but the Colliers diversified into garlic after a trip to India, and are now growing and selling 10 different varieties. The harvest of garlic scapes - the flower stalks of hardneck garlic plants that are only available for 2-3 weeks every year - will begin at the end of the month. This seasonal delicacy is used in the same way as wild garlic leaves, in pestos and salads, and can also be deep fried. drummondhousegarlic.com