Is this restaurant for me? It’s a question they’ve been asking on Sporkful, a great American food podcast. How do restaurants send out coded signals about the kind of people they want to attract and whether a restaurant can be for everyone? Chef Amanda Cohen of New York restaurant Dirt Candy nailed the two things restaurants do to say women aren’t welcome. The first is when the waiter hands the wine list to her husband. He knows nothing about wine. So that’s not just sexist it’s also stupid. The second is when the female wait staff are dressed differently to their male counterparts, in uniforms designed to be alluring.
I thought about it in a Dublin hotel recently, for a meeting with two people, when our coffee came with a side order of assumption. A black coffee and two cappuccinos arrived with the (manlier?) cup put down in front of the man, and the frothy cups given to us ladies. Except the black coffee was mine.
Tonight is all about assumptions. There’s been a vegan eye-roll thrown in the direction of the teenager by his Dad as we head out the door for dinner. In a warehouse. Served from a vegan food truck. Someone is in full-on judgy mode. He’s pretty certain this restaurant’s not for him.
It was during an interview with Trev O’Shea, the brains behind Dublin’s Eatyard, that I decided to visit Veginity. Food trucks aren’t bothered by reviewers coming in to slate them, O’Shea said. We flock to the bricks and mortar places. So this is a restaurant that’s not for me.
Veginity is a place for people in the know. It’s probably Dublin’s most secret dining spot. There are vague instructions about dodgy-looking laneways down by the Bernard Shaw pub on South Richmond Street. We’re really not sure until the metal door gives with a horror-movie creak that the place is even open. The only sign of life is a small green neon V high up on the unmarked warehouse and the smell of food.
Inside all is good – really good, not just virtuous good – so much so that I will have been back for more by the time you read this. Even the vegan sceptic sees the light by the end of the night and has sussed out where Veginity can be found when they’re not here.
Australian chef Mark Senn is at the helm and he greets lots of his customers by name. There is a high face- to head-hair ratio. A beard and buzz cut will make you blend in nicely. But they have proper tables, cutlery and water bottles, all of which are delivered with tonight’s menu. It’s Indian food. Each week there’s a different theme. We sit beside a shelf filled with glass sweet jars full of vegan ingredients: grains, pulses and spices. There are ginger roots the size of babies’ arms and mismatched jugs of water.
And it’s delightful, even a soybean burger, and those are words I would never have imagined uttering.
Curry leaf cauliflower comes on a beautiful plate like something from a much more expensive menu. The florets have been cloaked in batter and fried and then the whole lot is sprinkled with a finely chopped tomato coconut and red onion “chutney” that’s all lightness and zing with some lime juice and fennel seeds to lift everything.
A dosa, or airy pancake made from green mung bean flour, has been cooked and folded into a perfect tent over a bowl of tofu tikka masala. That would be enough but there’s also a beetroot thoran or salad. These are squares of beet laced with spice with the proper bite that lets you know these were cooked from scratch, not the mush that comes from boiled beets slithered from a vacpac. Then there are juicy celeriac bonda: deep fried balls of flavour.
My burger (which must come from the curry chips canon of Indian food) is as good as meat apart from its texture. Senn explains that he uses a seaweed jus and caramelised vegetables to add those base notes of umami that meat eaters crave. The result is a burger that is all burger apart from a tendency to disintegrate as you munch. The skin on triple-cooked chips tastes great right down to the last one.
Dessert is a shared plate of gulab jamun. These are deep fried golf ball sized mouthfulls typically made with milk solids but here they’re puréed pumpkin drenched in rose water syrup and sitting on a puddle of date and tamarind sauce. “I’ve found the secret of good vegan food,” the newly impressed dining companion says. “Deep fry everything.”
There is that but there is plenty else going on here too. Veginity is not a preachy, joyless experience where you forget the flavour and feel the virtue. It’s far from a luxurious setting. (You have to take care to step over the tow bar of a truck when you open the door to the loo.) The luxury is all on the plate in food cooked by a chef taking care to not only make it vegan but also to make it great, for prices that are a steal. And that’s my kind of place.
Verdict: 8/10 Yes it’s vegan but if you love food you’ll love it
Dinner for two with a mango lassi (it’s BYOB) came to €41
Veginity, Richmond Place South, Dublin 2 Thursday to Saturday nights from 5pm.
Facilities: Fine but basic. Look out for the towbar
Music: Old school. A Tracy Chapman album the night we were there
Food provenance: None on the menu but ask the chef
Wheelchair access: No. No accessible toilet
Vegetarian options: welcome to veggie Nirvana