Balance is an elusive beast. We seek out slices of it in our work, in our personal lives, and in our diets. Over the last decade, for some people the secret lay in a goji berry, kale and nut butter rich lifestyle evangelised by cookbook authors and social media stars, but it appears that the so-called “clean eating” movement has had its day.
Nigella Lawson wrote, in 2015, that “food is not dirty.” In a Vice article the following year, food writer Ruby Tandoh shared her personal story of how the “wellness” movement contributed to her eating disorder. Cases of orthorexia, an intense obsession with eating foods considered to be healthy, became connected to the movement, and critics pointed out the trend’s reliance on exotic and expensive ingredients, as opposed to fresh, local and seasonal.
But even the harshest critic may be able to begrudgingly acknowledge that since the trend took hold it is much easier to find genuinely healthier options in the fast food and food-on-the-go landscape, and that has its clear benefits. Nutbutter, which opened in Grand Canal Dock in late March, includes the hashtag #sexyhealthyfood on their Instagram bio. That particular hashtag makes me want to crush a ripe avocado with my bare hands in a hot rage, but they are an Irish-owned company and their interior looks delicious so my interest is piqued. The café is an offshoot of HQ Gastrobar right next door, and it was owner Paddy Hogan who hatched the plan to open this plant-based café.
Hogan enlisted the skills of Executive Chef Dave Murray last year and the pair started 2018 with a research trip to Los Angeles in January, eating around the town and picking up inspiration. “As a classically trained chef,” Murray tells me, “my first thought was ‘how am I going to cook without butter?’ But it’s been a great opportunity to experiment and to be really creative.”
The menu is writ large on the wall behind the service counter and it’s plant-based focussed but not exclusively so; there are options to add proteins including chicken, turkey, salmon, and beef, all sourced in Ireland. Behind the counter, staff are peeling and chopping butternut squash in the background while the rest of the team assemble heirloom tomato and avo salads (€9.95) and bowls of Rainbow Padthai (€12.95) to order.
It’s the jackfruit tacos (€13.95) that win me over. Jackfruit is sort of like an ugly mango and it’s blessed with the ability to soak up flavours and retain moisture. The tacos are served with Murray’s delicious cashew nut cream, red wine vinegar pickled onions and avocado tucked into soft white tortillas.
Thanks to the vision of interior decorator Jill L’Estrange of L’Estrange Designs, Nutbutter is poised and ready to be ‘grammed. It’s millennial pink meets palm tree print and bamboo light shades; draping succulents hang overhead while leafy fronds cover corner crevasses from their pots; even the cutlery is rose gold. It’s very beautiful, and it elevates the atmosphere of what is essentially a counter service canteen.
Poké, proteins bowls and peanut cacao balls could all veer perilously close to being eye-rollingly #sexyhealthyfood. For me, it is saved by exhibiting style and substance. In the kitchen, jars of fermented cabbage are on their way to becoming kimchi for the chilli, lime & tamarind rice bowl (€7.50). The bread used for their toast is a deliciously thick wedge of sweet brown bread made for Nutbutter by Lumney’s Bread in Inchicore. Their Nutella-style cacao and hazelnut spread (€3.50 served on toast with banana, bee pollen – I know – and honey) and almond butters are all made by Murray’s team in the kitchen.
Similarly to Sprout & Co, the plant-based business owned by the Kirwan brothers, the food offering at Nutbutter is best enjoyed when taken outside of the context of “clean eating.” It’s healthy food that tastes good and happens to be mostly plant-based, sometimes raw, and occasionally sprinkled in goji berries. I like Murray’s approach when he explains that he doesn’t think of plant-based food as a lifestyle choice or a restrictive diet. “We want our menu to be accessible to everyone and to add to the choice of what’s on offer elsewhere,” he says. “One night you might eat Italian at home, the next you might have a Thai-inspired meal. The third evening you might come out to Nutbutter for a plant-based dinner.” That sounds like a balance that I can get behind.
Grand Canal Dock
www.nutbutter.ie / 01-6339984 / No reservations
7.30am – 9.30pm Monday to Friday
8.30am – 9.30pm Saturday
9.30am – 8pm Sunday
Words: Aoife McElwain
Photo: Killian Broderick