I was watching my wife watching an unflinching documentary about the economic impossibility of living in Manhattan recently when an important question bubbled up from my depths. Is brunch still a thing? Or rather – do people still do brunch. You do hear of people doing dinner or lunch but no other meal is as done-to as brunch, it is a sub to dinner’s dom – a gastro-gimp awaiting the load of our expectations. Come to think of it, it may have been an episode of And Just Like That rather than a documentary but I had found my subject regardless – a snapshot of the state of brunch today. In Dublin. Nevertheless, what was soberly conceived as a survey of the broad spectrum of Dublin brunch became instead a couple of expeditions mounted to report from its very poles. There’s a limit to the expenses I can claim here. The following are true accounts pieced together from the remnants of my journal.
Doll Society is a kind of cocktail bar with kind of food in a space on Francis Street that was previously called Societal Collapse. I’m told it is brought to us by the people who also gifted us Jackie’s down the street – a bar designed to forever commemorate our noble failure/scrappy success at Italia ’90. Fuck Schillaci etc. Having given the Jack concept a lash the owners’ thoughts have obviously turned to the fairer sex and it’s difficult to argue with their logic. If a football theme works for the lads then surely pink will do the same for the ladies. Right? When the lady who tells me about things that social media does tells me of an impending Bottomless Beyoncé Brunch happening there the die is cast and I begin to count the sleeps.
On a subsequent sodden Sunday we find ourselves seated next to the DJ booth and feeling a little sheepish. In the large L-shaped room every surface is pink or reflective or fringed with tinsel. Expense has been spared throughout. I ask for a Bloody Mary but the young woman behind the bar makes a face like I’d asked for Bovril on the rocks and shakes her head. So now I know that young folks don’t drink Bloody Marys. They don’t eat eggs at brunch either. There’s no sign of Beyoncé or anything Bey related. There’s no mention of anything bottomless at all. Some phone checking confirms that we are not here on the wrong Sunday.
As a result perhaps of our relative antiquity we are given the ‘Bites’ menu rather than the brunch one which I suspect contains references to bottomlessness. It’s about 2pm now and gaggles of girls are pouring in, live streaming as they go and pausing for selfies next to the neon piece inside the door exhorting us to Live (our) best F*cking Lives. Most are lavishly illustrated. The Bottomless brunchers all seem to be enjoying huge half-discoballs of Pornstar Martinis although at this level of ambition and performance they are probably better described as OnlyFans Martinis. We order Chicken Tenders, Chicken Wings, Arancini, Fries and the Vegan Curry because that’s why we’re here. I comment that the curry is like something that you might have been served by kindly Krishnas at a music festival back in the day but my wife is less charitable. The wings and tenders do as they do. You can skip the arancini.
By 4 (pm & margaritas) I’ve begun to understand that brunch here is not really about the food. There’s a line for the photo-booth and everyone’s having a swell time and that’s it. A couple of (rose) golden hours to smooth the weekend out. A little mindlessness before Monday. We leave to the uncomplicated sentiment of the Charli XCX banger ‘I Don’t Care (I Love it)’ and re-orient to the greyness of the real world.
I can’t imagine a huge audience crossover between Doll Society and As One. It’s likely myself and my current wife are at the centre of the Venn diagram. In contrast to the reckless carelessness of Charli XCX the folks at As One evidently care a lot. If they were to have a neon exhortation (and they would not) it might well say Live your F*ucking Life in a Way that’s best for The Planet. I’ll begin with what I don’t like about the place and that’s the placement. That’s it. If it were closer to me I’d be in every other day. On the relentlessly dull day that we schlep over to City Quay it feels like a forced march to Holyhead but as we walk in the clouds parted as if Jesus (or Gaia) was affirming the righteousness of our choice and the handsome industrial space is bathed in light. There are expanses of concrete and terrazzo softened with lots of green and growing things and comfortable banquettes.
The high-ceilinged space comes with a high-minded ethos too. The menu is informed by responsible sourcing from producers who employ sustainable practices and follow organic seasonality but your brunch doesn’t come with lectures. The unimpeachable list of suppliers in the bottom right of your menu tells you everything you need to know but if you’d like to understand why the As One approach is better for you and for the environment a visit to their website is a good place to begin.
We begin by going ‘All In’ meaning that for €32 per head you get a ‘small plate’, a brunch dish, dessert and a cocktail. For produce of this quality and cooking with such simple clarity this is sensational value. From the small plates Grilled Gambas brings a half dozen head-on prawns beautifully charred from the grill. They’ve been expertly shelled and those shells have been used to bolster an accompanying mayonnaise with a profound oceanic tang. It is one of the most straightforwardly pleasurable plates of food I’ve had for some time and perfectly encapsulates the approach of the place. We also enjoy a generous portion of peaty smoked salmon with a dollop of sharp natural yoghurt and pickled capers.
From the brunch plates the Irish Mushroom Muffin features a tangle of sauteed shitakes and oysters heaped upon house-baked bread which has been spread thickly with a portobello pesto (a duxelle to you and me). There’s a pert poached egg on top annointed with salsa verde and frills of rose-pink pickled radishes finish the dish. It’s really something. The Hash Up is just that – fried organic potatoes with chunks of good piquant chorizo, scallions and two perfectly poached eggs. Hit it up with some house hot sauce. I make a note to come back to try the Fried Fish Sandwich.
To finish there’s an Eton Mess brightened with daubs of zippy lemon curd and fragrant with elderflower cream and a moist wedge of very well made (vegan) Blueberry and Lemon Cake. Service is friendly, informed and complimented me on my shoes. There’s a sincerity to the operation that erodes cynicism. This is cooking that shakes your hand firmly and makes eye-contact. As I leave I notice a stencil on a pillar that reads ‘Progress not Perfection’. They may be selling themselves short.
Words: Conor Stevens
101 Francis Street,
13-18 City Quay,