Simon’s Café (Or That Place In George’s Arcade That Smells Like Cinnamon)

 

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One of the best things about walking up George’s Street Arcade from the direction of Drury Street is the blast of sweet warm cinnamon that emanates from Simon’s café. If you don’t immediately want a cinnamon roll, you should worry about your inferior sense of smell.

I have resisted turning left into Simon’s for pretty much most of the time I have lived here. The smell of cinnamon has been enough; the idea of a gooey cinnamon roll propels me forward with a smile on my face. The truth is that I am always frightened of being disappointed by the cinnamon roll. How sad would it be to be drawn into a café by the delicious smell only to find the actual bun lacking?

I’ve had some good cinnamon rolls in my lifetime. I wasn’t really willing to risk the illusion of perfect cinnamon goodness at Simon’s. And then? I did.

I had a meeting and the suggested location was Simon’s. I arrived early determined to order a tea only. But there they were: a stack of fresh, homemade cinnamon rolls right on the counter. I defy anyone to not ask for one in that situation, let alone a six months pregnant person who has been drawn to mostly bread-based products for the length of the pregnancy.

It’s research anyway, I said. I’ll have one, I said.

Simon’s is a throw-back kind of place. It has been there forever and it feels like it. There is nothing fancy or hipster about it. Sandwiches are pre-made and wrapped in plastic and kept in the chilled case. Baked goods line the counter and there is not a gluten free or paleo option in the lot. You can get instant coffee. There is a special “tea bag” dump right on the counter in front of the till so that you can dunk and remove your bag before you head to your tables.

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The tables are communal, wooden and basic. The crowd is like a crowd at a good, local pub. It’s mostly men over forty who don’t take off their jackets, carry tiny note books, wear caps and may or may not have facial hair. The smoking seats out in front are always full. Your tea comes in a mug. The walls are lined with posters for upcoming gigs. The lighting is bad. I get the sense that many of the patrons don’t even have to order, they just get “my usual.”

And the question you’ve all continued reading this post to have answered? The cinnamon roll is fantastic. It tastes homemade, it’s not too sweet. It’s a bit crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy once you get to the centre. I told myself I didn’t need to eat all of it. My brain said, “nope. You do. Eat all of it.”

I enjoyed it with a mug of tea. My meeting partner arrived and went to order a tea as well. Came back with a tea and cinnamon roll. “How does anyone resist?” he asked. “Do you need to?” I asked back.

NO. You don’t need to resist. If you get pulled in by the smell, be confident that you are about to have a delicious cinnamon roll in a classic dublin café.

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Simon’s Café (Or That Place In George’s Arcade That Smells Like Cinnamon)

Taco Taco

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As I am sitting and writing this post, I have a half eaten piece of sourdough toast with almond butter and jam to my right and a nice cup of coffee to my left. With these flavours dancing on my tongue it is hard to write about tacos. That is not an excuse and I shall accept the challenge. I just thought I should be honest with where I am coming from.

Taco Taco is in the space the used to be called Odessa. The Odessa Club still exists upstairs, but Taco Taco now occupies the lower two floors.

The name Taco Taco immediately makes me think of a food truck on Venice Beach in LA. That’s a good thing. LA beach tacos are some of the finest in America. I didn’t have quite as high expectations for the Dublin version.

One of the reasons I was hesitant to put my expectations above “we’ll see” is because the menu is massive. It’s not just tacos. In fact, it’s not even just Mexican food. The menu includes items such as Poutine, the famous Québecois hang over cure of fries smothered in cheese curd and gravy, and Fried Chicken and Waffles, a dish hailing from America’s Deep South.

I am a fan of both Poutine and Chicken and Waffles having had the good fortune to eat both in their native lands. Having them on this menu, however, seemed like something of a food nightmare. There are lots of Mexican food establishments in Dublin, so perhaps the owners/chefs wanted to stick a few unexpected items on their menu. Like an assortment of burgers. I’m just not sure that was the right way to go.

Needless to say, C and I did not order the Poutine or the Chicken and Waffles or a burger. We stuck to Tacos. Because if Taco Taco can’t do tacos right, what’s the point?

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Fish

I ordered the fish tacos (a perennial fav of mine) and C had the chicken. Both came with sweet potato fries. I am a sweet potato fries fan, and these were good, but with tacos? That was unexpected. And heavy. A bit too heavy. Dublin restaurants seem to throw sweet potato fries on menus almost as often as the avocado gets a starring role.

The tacos came as a threesome of corn tortillas (extra points! Tacos should always be on corn tortillas) heaped with veg and fish/chicken. There was coriander/cilantro, lime wedges, spicy sauce and the veg was befitting each of our individual protein choices. They were tasty, and the portion seemed fair.

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Chicken. I swear it’s in there. 

We ordered guacamole and chips because any Mexican restaurant can be and should be judged on it’s guac. This guac. was fine. It was nothing special. And there wasn’t a lot of it. But that’s a classic move and I won’t deduct points for that quantity.

C had a margarita and I was jealous. It was very tasty, and I the lime salted rim was a nice touch.

The room is dark and the music is thrumming. The staff is wearing skinny jeans and hoodies which can make them hard to distinguish from the customers. Food is served on plates that look like they’ve been rescued from a Chinese restaurant which is both amusing and totally disconcerting. It’s full of people in their late 20s to early 30s out with groups of friends or on dates. It’s not a family place, and it’s not really a place I’ll bring parents or family friends for a nice Dublin dinner. For my money, there are plenty of better options around town.

Yes, the food is good, the margarita is tasty, the guacamole is fine. But the bill came to just over forty euro per person which seems like too much for  what we got. Especially considering there was only one margarita between us and not quite enough guacamole to make us feel loved. If I am spending that kind of cash, I want to go to a place where it feels a bit more special, where the service is a bit more on point and the music isn’t quite so loud. And where the restaurant has a clearer idea of what exactly it is. Taco Taco is suffering a bit of personality failure. But if you’re feeling flush, want a classic ‘rita and some tacos, Taco Taco is your new City Centre joint.

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Taco Taco

Meet Me In The Morning! Or Afternoon!

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Meet Me in the Morning is a new café just off Camden Street. It is so new  that when I was there decaf coffee wasn’t an option. Neither was herbal tea. I was assured, however, that non-caffeine drinkers will have some options very soon. They’re still getting supplies in.

I was offered, in the most polite way possible, either of the two coffee bean options they do have, complete with a description about why they are distinct and delicious. I myself was too polite to interrupt this monologue knowing I would just order a tea.

The space is light and full of light wood and wild flowers. I loved the wood-topped tables. I want one for my own home. It’s comfortable and minimal. The food looks simple and delicious, and yes, don’t worry, there is avocado on this menu. Eggs too. We are still in Dublin, after all. Salads, soups, etc all make an appearance. All the food is local and prepared on the day.

MMITM is a very nice spot just off the main drag to sit and have a bite or sip some (caffeinated. For now) warm drinks. I’d say it will be worth popping in a few times to see how the menu changes throughout the summer. Not to mention trying all the different delicious coffee beans.

 

Meet Me In The Morning! Or Afternoon!

Dolce Sicily

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This week is Italian Week! I did not set out to do that, it’s totally subconscious. I’m reading the Elena Ferrante Neapolitan books at the moment and obviously it’s having an effect.

Dolce Sicily occupies the location once inhabited by Staple Foods, before their move to Grattan Street. Specifically, you’ll find it in Crow Bar in Temple Bar, and much of the furniture and decor is the same as when it was Staple Foods.

The issue with this space is the fact that it smells a bit like a nightclub. It’s got that “nightclub in the daytime” stench that no amount of Italian food can hide. Staple Foods had the same issue.

The majority of the menu belongs to paninis and salads. Perfect quick lunch fair. The paninis are slightly outside of the “normal” parma ham and mozzarella and include items like smoked kippers and egg, or sun-dried tomato and anchovy pesto. There are a variety of breads to choose from in case you are anti-ciabatta. However, if you are really anti-ciabatta there are other non-Italian delis and cafés to visit in Dublin, so maybe try those first?

The cake list is impressive and many of the offerings sit proudly on the bar near the coffee maker. They also sit next to the beer taps. Again, the Pistachio Nutella cake might be more appetizing if you weren’t also forced to wonder if you might like a pint of Tiger beer.

The bar vibe did not stop many people from enjoying lunch, coffees and cakes. In fact, the majority of the clientele was, in fact, Italian. That is always a good sign. The staff is also all Italian. The food is tasty. I hope that all of those big pluses keep Dolce Sicily alive despite the stale beer smell.

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Dolce Sicily

Slice of Pizza Pie! At DeFontaine’s

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Both for Me. Get Your Own. 

In New York City getting a slice of pizza is as easy as hailing a cab: stick your arm out and it happens. In Dublin, buying pizza one cheesy slice at a time is not the norm.

DeFontaine’s, on the south side of Capel Street Bridge, is a New York-style pizza joint. It even smells authentic NYC in there. There are two giant ovens that bake the pies as well as heat up the slices as they are ordered. There are a variety of toppings to choose from: the classics, cheese and pepperoni, the new classics, Hawaiian and broccoli, and a few extras, extra cheese and peppers, onions and mushrooms, as well as spinach and ricotta.

I popped in on my way to a birthday party across the river–VERY hungry–a few weeks ago. I got two giant slices. I ate them both quite happily, thank you very much, and didn’t feel ill afterwards.

The cheese slice actually did taste exactly like a New York slice (when you walk into a pizza joint in NYC and order “a slice” it will always be a classic cheese unless you ask for different). It was warm and gooey and perfect. I also ordered the spinach and ricotta because, you know, eat your greens. This too was tasty. I kept the bottle of chili oil close at hand.

The clientele was mostly single dudes. I mean, I don’t know if they are “single”, I didn’t ask them out. They were just on their own. I was on my own too, the only lady in there for most of the time I ate. Only one other girl came in, ordered, and took her slice to go.

Though it smells and looks quite like a New York pizza joint, that doesn’t make a person want to sit around and enjoy a leisurely meal there. It’s a grab ‘n’ go kind of place. But hey, that’s proper authentic too. And, if your a single lady, who knows? Maybe all of those dudes are actually single.

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Slice of Pizza Pie! At DeFontaine’s

Fabulous Fia!

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A few of my hipper (not hipSter, hipper) friends had mentioned Fia to me weeks ago. One of them knows the chef/owner. The other of them just knows things. I was cycling back from an appointment the other morning and I realized I could go exactly in the direction of Fia on my way home.

Fia is not exactly in central Dublin striking distance. I like this. It sits in a no-man’s-land on Rathgar Road between Rathmines and Rathgar. When I lived in Dublin in 2001-02 as a Trinity student, there was a shop on the corner where Fia is now. I would swing into the shop on my way up to visit friends in Rathgar and stock up on peanut M&Ms. This corner has some happy food memories for me.

Instead of peanut M&Ms, though, I treated myself to a delicious flat white and some sour dough toast with butter and homemade marmalade. It was an “elevenses” meal, as I was far too early for lunch and had already eaten my breakfast. The lunches looked great, though, as they started to parade out while I got ready to leave.

It’s a simple, small menu, but they’ve picked items that work. The Peas on toast looked especially inviting for a spring afternoon. Good eggs, great cheese and free water packed with mint and lemons: what more does any sweet café need?

The space is simple and light. The bathroom (important for pregnant women of Dublin!) is clean and spacious, and the clientele is mostly middle-aged locals. The staff are upbeat and on it, the prices are fair, and the Peas on Toast will be my next order.

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Fabulous Fia!

MOOCH!

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I had a small obsession with Pink Berry when it first landed in New York City. There was something totally addictive about the tangy, sharp taste of the frozen confection. I liked that I could add whatever toppings I wanted. During the summer of 2007 I probably frequented NYC Pink Berries once a week. Not great for the wallet.

Frozen Yogurt shops had their moment in NYC and LA about 7-9 years ago. There are now two in Dublin, and both are usually pretty busy. For a country that is never very warm, I think this is a success.

Mooch is located on Dawson Street which is ideal for catching the Trinity crowd. In fact, when I went I was certainly the only person over 30 who didn’t have a child or two in tow.

There are six frozen yogurt flavors to choose from along the back wall OR you can opt for a myriad of shakes and smoothies. The topping options are all laid out behind glass so no one can sample before they buy. There’s the usual nuts, berries, candies and chocolates. There are also a good number of sauces and compotes to add colour.

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Alligator Interior Design.

I opted for a natural flavor with sliced almonds and mixed seeds. Keeping it healthy (in so far as frozen yogurt is “healthy”). The yogurt itself tasted not dissimilar to the Pink Berry of my memory. Tangy and refreshing.

The purple/pink atmosphere of Mooch is a bit off-putting. I sat outside amid the Trinity Students trying to be as cool as they think they are. I enjoyed the pile of out of date fashion magazines to peruse as I munched my Mooch.

I don’t think my frozen yogurt obsession is re-ignited, but it s a great spot to keep hanger at bay if you are between meals.

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MOOCH!

Little Bird

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The South Circular Road between Portobello and Cork Street is really stepping up it’s café and restaurant game. It’s long been home to classic go-tos BiBi’s, Nelly’s, Sister Sadie, and Noshington. Little Bird has recently joined the happy party, located just up from Leonard’s Corner.

Little Bird’s “something different” is the fact that it is a yoga studio as well as a coffee shop. One does not have to do yoga to enjoy the café or drink a coffee to get a free handstand workshop. The two are one, but function independently. Something for everyone! But if you happen to be a coffee drinking yogi, it doesn’t get better than this.

Little Bird has a generous front garden/patio area that faces south. I suspect this will be the scene of many a brunch time rumble on warm days this summer. The other day, even in the weak spring sunshine, five people were sitting out there. I didn’t opt to sit outside, but I was thrilled to find a tiny puppy curled up under a table on a blanket next to my inside table. Yoga, puppies, and good coffee!? They know exactly what is happening in my head!

It isn’t a huge space so if you don’t like puppies, a) who are you? and b) you won’t be able to get too far away from your neighbors. It’s well designed, though, so it feels very comfortable. My favorite detail is the massive glass jugs of flavored water. One day was mint and cucumber or basil. Another day, instead of the basil was thyme and lemon. Hydration Station Taste Sensation. That’s not what it’s called, but it should be.

They serve porridge and scones and toast for breakfast. I had the porridge that arrived with a very generous amount of homemade berry compote and cinnamon on top. Super way to start my day.

I sat there long enough to watch what the early lunchers ordered from the simple, straight forward menu. Open faced sandwiches, a big salad and a soup. Lots of rocket, pesto and sundried tomato options.

The coffee is very good and there is a selection of Wall and Keogh loose leaf teas to choose from. There are also protein balls and various baked treats to keep your blood sugar up pre or post stretching.

I have yet to try a yoga class there, but I have heard the studio is lovely. Any excuse to have a cozy breakfast in a cute neighborhood sun trap, though. Not to mention discovering what new flavors they will create in their tap water!

Little Bird

Farmer Brown’s Lands in Rathmines!

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Another weekend, a new brunch spot for Rathmines locals. Farmer Brown’s has migrated up the canal from Bath Avenue Dublin 4* to make it’s home in the cursed location on Rathmines Road across from the Swan Leisure Centre. I use the word “cursed” lightly, ok? I’m not a practitioner of witchcraft, but there is something definitely unlucky about the location. Two restaurants in the past two years have tried to make it work there and nothing has stuck. Is it because it’s set back from the road and you can’t peek inside? Is it because the inside is actually tiny and not very well laid out? Is it because sometimes you walk right past and forget it’s there?

Maybe all of those reasons contribute to the fact that other restaurants have failed, but Farmer Brown’s has a good, solid reputation behind it. They also have twigged the fact that it’s a tricky location because they have gone for the hard sell by putting up HUGE signage which is hard to miss from the road. So fingers crossed the locals will swarm like moths to a giant neon sign.

I don’t think this location would be so cursed if it were not in Ireland. With it’s really lovely sun-trap front patio, it is ideal for warm weather. If it were in Portugal, or Greece, or even France in the summer, I’m sure the place would be hopping. But the fact remains that even on glorious spring days like we’ve enjoyed recently it can be too cold to sit outside. Even in a sun trap. Hence the restaurant immediately loses 50% of it’s space.

The FB’s team has made it look quite retro though, fitting it out with white and yellow tiles and little potted plants. On a sunny morning, it will be great.

We did not visit on a sunny morning, however, and my brunch dates and I crammed into a little table by the door. The place was packed, but it’s packed where there are about 15 people in there. It’s one of those eateries where you want to face a wall, not the room, so as not to see the chaos of people squeezing past each other to get to the service bar for coffees, up the stairs to the bathrooms, or past each other waiting in the queue for food. It’s cramped. That makes it not relaxed.

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The coffee is very good and the service was cheerful and pretty quick considering the cramped quarters. The brunch menu is heavy. There is a lot of bread, a lot of hollandaise, a lot of eggs. I ordered off the regular weekday breakfast menu, opting simply for eggs on toast with a side of sausage. Even that was not a casual breakfast. The bread was delicious and really buttery which I appreciated. Eggs are eggs are eggs, and the sausages were fine. I felt full when I’d finished.

C ordered the “healthy option” brunch which consisted of four slices of brown (not white sourdough like I had) toast, avocado (you simply cannot, will not, have brunch in this city without an avocado!), poached eggs, pomegranate seeds (interesting), bacon, tomato bits and rocket. It was also heavy. He was also full when he’d finished. The portions are downright American.

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I hope Farmer Brown’s Rathmines will be successful because I feel bad when places are not successful. I am just not sure how much I will be able to contribute to it’s overall success. In my older, more experienced brunching years, I don’t completely enjoy eating such heavy food packed elbow to elbow to elbow with strangers while knowing there are people waiting for my table. I don’t find the popularity relaxing. I know the stodgy brunches will appeal to many living in the area (read: the ones with hangovers on weekend mornings), and those younger and more vulnerable brunchers will surely not have the same issue with overcrowding that I do.

The prices are fair and, as I said, on a sunny day, you’ll get a tan with your eggs. What’s not to love?

Follow the giant sign and get your Rathmines brunch on.

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*The original Farmer Brown’s is still on Bath Ave in D4 if you are down that way.

Farmer Brown’s Lands in Rathmines!

Dinner at The Fumbally

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Lunch at Fumbally is an obvious weekday go to not only for me but for most of the people I know in Dublin. Plenty of people I don’t know frequent Fumbally as well. Sometimes there is an Irish celebrity of some form or other. I have never heard anyone say that they were not a fan of Fumbally.

Now Fumbally is serving dinner on Wednesday evenings from 7-9. The menu has two options: meat or vegetarian. The same dish is made two ways. I love the fact that I don’t really have to choose. I also love that I know what will be placed in front of me will more than likely be delicious.

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Main Event

This Wednesday was Korean night. The option was a huge rice bowl filled with kimchi, scallions, spicy peanuts, and either crispy tofu or pork belly. Nothing is more comforting than being handed a big bowl of steaming, spicy, sticky rice when it’s chilly outside. The whole place smelled of pickles and spice.

There were sides available as well. Various pickled vegetables, peas and more spicy peanuts and seeds, and (slightly off theme) burned butter with sourdough bread. We made the very easy choice of ordering one of each.

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I opted for the vegetarian option as we were eating late and pork belly seemed a bridge to far if I wanted a relaxed dream land adventure. I had to stop myself from eating to quickly. Luckily the food arrived all at once, which saved me from eating ALL of the burned butter and bread. It is hard to be polite around Fumbally’s homemade burned butter.

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There was nothing that arrived to our table that wasn’t a taste sensation. I sipped on the in-house turmeric, ginger and lemon kombucha and there is wine available too.

We ordered the dessert because didn’t want to be the people who left one untasted item on the menu. It’s not a big menu! Might as well try it all! So we did. We were delighted with ourselves and our incredible peanut butter mousse, chocolate soil and a dark chocolate crisp. Fluffy, nutty, rich, chocolaty goodness that no Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup could hold a flame to.

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Fumbally’s vast interior dresses up in coziness for the evening quite successfully. Lots of candles, low lighting and all the mismatched furniture make it feel like you are at a friend’s house. The service is a bit like that too: attentive but not at all fussy.

There are some fantastic places to dine in Dublin and Fumbally is certainly at the top of that list. For day or night.

Dinner at The Fumbally