Argentinean brunch and all the dulce de leche In Portobello
What’s the story?
We first started hearing whispers about ALMA before Christmas of last year, but it was when their Instagram feed started posting pre-opening teasers that we really sat up and took notice. It was, (and still is) a thing of beauty, and inspiration for anyone wanting to attract the visually dependent Insta crowd, and the Argentinean-inspired menu looked like nothing else currently available in the city. ALMA is the definition of a family operation, with four sisters and their parents involved - the latter and one of the daughters moving here from Argentina to start the café. ALMA means soul in Spanish, but is also the initials of the four daughters' first names, and each takes a different role in the business, from manager, to server, to photography and social media management.
They opened the doors in January of this year and seemed to instantly enchant both the Portobello locals and those travelling from further afield for their weekend brunches of steak, eggs and chimichurri, dulce de leche pancakes and homemade humita. Within weeks queuing became the norm, but unusually for Dublin no one seemed to mind, and all we heard about was how lovely the staff were, and how much time they had for everyone. Sounded like our kind of place.
Where should we sit?
If the sun's shining one of the three tables outside is where you'll want to be, so get there early, or be prepared to hang around. Otherwise the counter looking out the window is ideal for solo dining, or there are high and low tables to sit at. It's a cosy space so those with buggies will struggle, particularly if it's busy.
What's good to eat?
We visited for breakfast and lunch, and there wasn't a dud plate between the two, with everything having just that bit more thought than your average café. Dulce de leche pancakes were just as good as you're imagining (check those out here, our picture went walkies), and a homemade chocolate granola bowl comes with Greek yoghurt, coconut shavings, lemon curd, dark chocolate, seasonal fruit (blood orange when we were there) and mint. We're always reticent to go for things like granola or porridge that are easily made at home, but we're very unlikely to concoct something this good.
At lunchtime we were brought a snack of crackers with savoury fennel yoghurt while we waited for food - an unexpected touch and a clever way to over-deliver.
We had to try the steak, eggs and chimchurri (from Dad Alejandro's own recipe), and it came with perfectly medium-rare, ultra juicy steak, roasted potatoes, just cooked kale and a free-range Wicklow egg. For €14.50 this is an excellent plate of food, and the best chimichurri we've found in Dublin.
We'd been Insta-eye-balling their loaded batata (whole grilled sweet potato) with Argentinean sausage ragu, lime sour cream, green peas, spiced nuts, herbs, pickled onions and organic leaves with Tartine sourdough, and we're now consumed with recreating it at home, whole also realising we have no chance. Just go here and eat this. You'll feel instantly better about life.
One of the nice things about Alma is that you'll probably want everything on the menu - boring café fare this is not - and our neighbour's Argentinean sausage sandwich has been earmarked for our next visit. You'll also want to save room for homemade cake. A lemon and poppyseed version was so pretty we felt bad eating it and ruining their work - still warm from the oven, it clearly had a lot of drizzle going through it as it wasn't in the slightest bit dry.
Banana bread came packed with macadamia nuts and drizzled in chocolate dulce de leche, and felt as good for you as delicious cake can get.
What about the drinks?
Coffee is from Two Fifty Square and they take it very seriously - the iced dulce de leche latté is something that's got to be tried at least once. Teas are from Wall & Keogh, and there's matcha, turmeric and chai lattés if that's your bag. They also put thought into their soft drinks, like homemade rosemary lemonade and passion fruit water, both of which were very refreshing on a hot day and not overly sweet.
And the service?
What we hear more than anything about Alma is how good people feel when they leave. It's hard to hire for the type of hospitality that can radiate from family businesses, whose livelihood is on the line, and the four sisters and their parents clearly prioritise making their customers feel taken care of from the minute they walk in. We heard several customers comment on it as they were leaving, and there really is a sense that they can't do enough for you.
Amongst all the debate about there being too many places to eat in the city, Alma has added something different and thoughtful to the dining scene, and is reaping the rewards with weekend queues and a very loyal clientele. The food is vibrant, the space is lovely and the staff are charming. This is one to put on the breakfast/brunch/lunch bucket list wherever you live.
12 South Circular Road, Portobello, Dublin 8 www.alma.ie