Gastro: Double Take – Space Jaru and Fayrouz

Posted March 21, 2023 in Restaurant Reviews

DDF apr-may-24 – Desktop

Following on from last month’s cover story detailing the timeless appeal of Francis Street and its colourful antiquarians I thought it might be nice to look at reasons to be cheerful for two more of the Liberties’ storied streets. The neighbourhood that I’ve called home (and other things) for almost two decades is not without its difficulties so it’s always a shot in the arm to have some positive stories to share. It’s also good to try new things apparently. The news that Michelin-starred Variety Jones is moving into bigger digs next door is to be welcomed as is the suggestion that the existing space will be priced less enthusiastically. Even so, the truth is that both places will be comfortably beyond the means of most residents, even the aspirational blow-ins that used to be called gentrifiers. What the area is hungry for is places that you can use, places that will feed you well on a Tuesday night for a price that you can live with. Meath Street is truly blessed with an abundance of betting offices and beauty parlours – you could get dolled up in The Glamour Pit while waiting for your horse to come in, in the equestrian sense. However, when it comes to places to eat dinner it’s slim pickings. Fusco’s is rarely a bad idea and I’ve heard good things too about the pizza at the back of Lucky’s (!) and the toasted sandwiches in All My Friends but the arrival of Space Jaru is one of the best things to happen to this time-worn market street for a while.

The bare-bones space was previously home to a café called Tasty 8 that I never had the pleasure of patronising but I’m pretty sure that this is an upgrade. It is a Korean cafeteria remixing some of the greatest hits of that cuisine for jukebox money. Owner operator Gunmoo Kim from Daejeon, South Korea, has been quietly, but tirelessly, flying the flag for his native cuisine since pitching up here in 2010. I met him way back when he was shipping the Jaru concept around farmers markets and recall being struck by his obvious zeal. It has translated into a successful business selling prepared foods and meal kits but this is his first restaurant proper. On an initial lunchtime visit the place is packed with folks who know a bargain when they see it. €13 buys you either a fried chicken sandwich with house-made condiments (and a fistful of decent fries) or you could choose from a selection of ‘Korean BBQ Bowls’. Anyone with a passing knowledge of Korean food will recognise Beef Bulgogi and Chicken Dakalbi. For those without that we’re talking about marinaded and roasted/stir fried proteins thinly sliced and served over excellent purple or kimchi rice, both of which are delicious. House made sauces and banchans (sides) are provided and bring the bowls to life. Don’t sleep on those chicken sandwiches either, they’re as good as any you’ll find in town.

Things get more interesting at dinner with the addition of a list of ‘Small Plates’. Order some Tteokbokki – bouncy fingers of rice cake honking with gochujang heat that starts as a suggestion and builds in insistence. Kimchi Jjigae is the dish that I will return to – it’s a deeply restorative braise of pork rib and tofu in a profoundly savoury liquor that seems to bring the comforts of the Korean kitchen together in an instant. Service is well meaning and only occasionally baffled. There are some interesting wines that you might want to drink, rather than the critter-labelled bottles that often blight the lists of Korean spots here. We went native and sluiced our food down with copious belts of off-dry Soju. I heartily recommend that you do the same. There are pantry provisions in the corner and even totes cute merch bags if you get carried away.

If Meath Street feels like an unlikely bet for a dinner destination then Cork Street significantly ups the ante. It is a stretch so profoundly dismal as to be almost improved by the arrival of some (more) joyless blocks of student accommodation. Lidl’s opening felt like Mardi Gras. I often wonder whether there’s a similarly bet down thoroughfare in Cork City called Dublin Street? I hope so. Tat for tat. But green shoots will continue to push through the greyest dilapidation. It doesn’t serve dinner (yet) but around here Urban Plant Life is much more than a garden centre for suburban transplants, it genuinely feels like the sovereign territory of some other, more hopeful place. My wife spends enough time there to merit citizenship or at the least credibly claim asylum.

If you really want to feel transported though, Fayrouz is a Lebanese-leaning neighbourhood restaurant that will take you away from it all. The welcome is warm and the flavours and fragrances of the Levant are abundantly present. When you enter past the gentle piddle of the water feature, the room reveals itself as a refuge. There’s Middle Eastern detailing and a decidedly relaxed, discreet, feel. I imagine that it would be a perfect spot for one of those intimate sotto voce arguments with the one you live with. Or you could get straight to an order of Arayess Lahme, crisped triangles of baked pitta stuffed with gently spiced lamb mince. Gently capitulating roast aubergine, again with lamb but laced with a subtle tomato sauce and finished with feta and parsley also works well. From a lengthy menu we also enjoyed a generous bowl of Kasbeh, a long grained rice dish that eats like a gently scented pilaf topped with some slow cooked, yes, you got it, lamb. Best of all was a plate of Sumac chicken, singing with the tart smack of that spice and balanced with a criss-cross of sweet pomegranate molasses. The menu covers an awful lot of territory and I’m sure there’s a lot of pleasure to be had in traversing it. There is no alcohol served but it wouldn’t kill you to take a night off, would it?

Space Jaru,
67/68 Meath Street.

117 Cork Street,
The Liberties.

Words: Conor Stevens
Photos: Killian Broderick


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