The Neighbourhood Café That Should Be Rolled Out Across The City
Lisa Cope - 26th November 2019
What’s the story?
Fia opened in early 2016, and is probably best known as the place where chef Keith Coleman and partner Aisling McHugh (the duo behind Roots - read our once over here) first made their mark. It was set up by business men and friends Alan Wall and Derek Foley (who are also behind similar new wave Dublin cafés (Laine My Love, Little Frieda's, Fable & Stey), and who originally hired Coleman as a consultant, but he liked what they were trying to do so came on board full time.
His partner McHugh came on as front of house and pretty soon Fia was booming. Their approach of starting with the ingredients they wanted to use, like McNally Farm vegetables, Gubbeen cheeses and meats and North Wicklow eggs, and devising the dishes from there, felt fresh and unusual for a café, and soon getting a table for brunch at the weekend was a task and a half - it still is.
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What's good to eat?
At the weekend it's brunch all day, but during the week there's breakfast, brunch and lunch sections, although the options for each are pleasingly minimal. We tried all three dishes from the brunch section, which also feature at the weekend, but simple breakfast and lunch options like porridge, toasties and soup are also available midweek.
Softly scrambled North Wicklow eggs came topped with McNally Farm kale, lemon and garlic yoghurt and furikake (a Japanese seasoning made from things like dried fish, sesame seeds and seaweed), all on top of toasted Bread 41 sourdough. A lesson in simple ingredients and clever kitchen combining, with the flavour of each ingredient crystal clear - although the furikake does make things quite salty. Regardless this is about as good as eggs and greens get.
Harissa eggs consisted of two crispy fried eggs, harissa crème fraîche, paprika butter, feta and pickled onions, topped with chives and coriander and served with toasted sourdough. It's like a sexed up, flavour exploding version of the best Turkish eggs you've ever had, and if you go here for only one reason let it be the harissa eggs. Just one caveat - non-toasted sourdough would be far better for mopping up all that creamy harissa swirled with paprika butter, so we recommend asking for it freshly cut, and piling on the gorgeously smooth and salty room temperature butter.
What's the room like?
Tables are for two or four, with the best, most comfortable seats running down the middle of the room. There's also a counter facing out onto the street - prime solo dining or working lunch real estate, and there are plugs on the left side.
We also tried the chocolate buckwheat, hazelnut and honey granola, which comes with Glenilen yoghurt, 'seasonal fruit', Highbank Orchard syrup and mint, and can be easily squeezed in as a dessert (to share if you must). The granola was crispy, nutty and nicely sweetened, and we loved the combination of everything together, but we would ping them on the 'seasonal fruit', as the blueberries and large blackberries clearly weren't. Preserved apples or plums would have been a better shout for this time of year.
When should we go?
Weekends in here (featuring an all day brunch menu) get nuts, so maybe not the place to head if you have a hungry child (or adult) in tow, as queuing will most likely be involved. We visited on a weekday lunchtime and it was a totally different story, so calm and relaxed, and while it filled up it never felt anything more than mellow.
We grabbed a homemade sea salt brownie to go, which was predictably gooey, chewy and perfectly salty - if like us you think salt can almost universally improve any dessert.
What about the drinks?
The coffee at Fia has been Roasted Brown since day one and that's unlikely to change any time soon, but they do change the blend, and when we visited they were using a lovely Ethiopian. They also make changing flavours of kombucha but the current batch wasn't ready - they assure us they have it on every weekend.
And the service?
Lovely and laid back. They were on top of everything but very relaxed, in the way that makes you feed relaxed by osmosis.
The café format that focuses on seasonal ingredients first may not feel as fresh and unusual as it once did, but we're not bored of it and don't think we ever could be. There are still far too many sad cafés out there serving bland soup and barely passable paninis, and Fia makes brunch and lunch an event, a meal to plan for and get excited about. If every neighbourhood village had a Fia, somewhere that starts with the farmers and producers, letting everything else follow on from there, the city would be a far nicer place in which to exist.
155b Rathgar Road, Rathgar, Dublin 6