Dublin: Natural winner

Living Dinners; Henrietta Street, Dublin 1; tel: 087-3874028; Facebook.com/livingdinners

SO MUCH of the energy, effort and imagination we invest into food — both as chefs and customers — involves cooking. But what if your meal was almost entirely raw?

That was the case at a pop-up staged by Living Dinners on Henrietta Street recently. Katie Sanderson’s menu of plant-based cuisine included no gluten, dairy, refined sugars “or anything processed”. And it proved the basis of an inspired dining experience.

Like her food, 25-year-old Sanderson oozes fun and flair — but having the creativity to conceive of a meal like this, the dynamism to execute it, and the vision to serve it in an inspired setting of shabby-chic Georgian grandeur, marks the arrival of a bright new talent on Dublin’s dining scene.

We passed through a candlelit hall, up a worn-down staircase and into a tall drawing room where sunlight streamed through sash windows onto two long tables dressed with herb boxes and candelabras. Flames crackled in fireplaces. The Fleet Foxes floated out of a stereo. Staff were dressed in black, with little green leaves painted onto their cheeks.

Opening our bottle of Pinot Grigio (it’s BYO at Living Dinners), we snacked on canapés, including black olive crackers topped with juicy slivers of courgette and tomato tapenade, dehydrated kale leaves with natural popcorn, and bright-orange shots of carrot and ginger soup — served in little glass tumblers with alfalfa and wild garlic pesto.

The colours leapt off the rough wood and plant trays and tasted as good as they looked.

Dinner proper began with a salad described as “spring on a plate”. It was snap-fresh, with a Nordic spark and lightness-of-touch to the delicate arrangement of leaves, peas and lemon ‘cream’. The second course, a lentil burger served with forest mushroom, pickled red onions, garlic cream and radish shoots, was by my reckoning the only one with a cooked element (the burger). It was beautifully presented on a simple white tile.

The next dish — a slow-dehydrated tomato with balsamic-soaked figs, micro herbs and thyme-cream “cheese” made from nuts soaked in probiotic — also looked lovely. I had doubted whether several courses of raw and cold plant-based food could be strung together into an enjoyable dinner, but halfway through, it was tasting like a springtime symphony.

Shared tables encourage interaction, so it wasn’t long before we got chatting to our neighbours. To my left was author Bernadette Bohan, a two-time cancer survivor. We discussed the health benefits of uncooked and unprocessed plants, and her contention that boiling or heating food above 40-degrees damages or kills its nutrients and enzymes.

By now, the combination of venue and food was intoxicating. Henrietta Street is one of Georgian Dublin’s most squalid cautionary tales, but this house has been stabilised with minimal intervention. It felt like we were eating on a fashion set.

I didn’t enjoy the final two courses to the same extent, however. A red pepper and ginger spring roll was sweet, pretty and delicious, but the nest of kelp noodles and courgette spaghetti accompanying it carried too much a whack of wet heaviness.

Likewise, though cacao in its raw natural state may be “one of nature’s greatest super foods”, as the menu explained, I found its bitterness dominated a chocolate ganache tart.

Overall, this was a seriously exciting meal. I prefer raw food to form elements of a meal, rather than the whole thing, but Living Dinners can only be assessed on what it sets out to do. And on that basis, it succeeds wonderfully. I loved the idea, I learned a lot, and I was smitten by the unfettered joy Sanderson invests in her unusual menus.

Pop-ups can be very hit-and-miss. But not having to ‘cook’ in the conventional sense frees this one from catering headaches, allowing Sanderson to roam amidst some fantastically atmospheric rooms. Food, venue and young customers clicked effortlessly, and a casual service staff made light work of delivering six courses to 50 or so diners.

I wasn’t the only one wondering whether this raw talent has restaurant plans.


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