VISIT TO TILLER + GRAIN
Tiller + Grain
23 Sth Frederick Street
Phone: 087 680 8933
Irish Daily Mail
23 February 2019
If I start by talking about salads, there’s a danger that you may get the wrong impression of Dublin’s brand new Tiller + Grain, brought to you by Clair Dowling and her team. She’s back from London where, inter alia, she worked with Ottolenghi and Skye Gyngell of Petersham Nurseries and Spring fame.
And as it’s only February, you may feel that salad isn’t what you’re craving just at present; but you would be wrong, because the kind of salads served at Tiller + Grain are salads in the sense that James Joyce could string a few sentences together. They are the antithesis of the salads with which people of my generation grew up.
We are the people who remember salad cream and jars of beetroot pickled in what could have been battery acid. We can recall the flaccid lettuce leaves and Heinz sandwich spread (which, bizarrely, still survives, I’m told). We grew up believing that the yolks of hard-boiled eggs were not properly cooked unless they had a kind of grey-blue halo.
We remember Murph’s in Dublin, a restaurant that revolutionised our lives by putting stuff like egg mayonnaise and coleslaw (wildly exotic in the early 1970s) on short lengths of plank in conditions of Stygian gloom. But enough nostalgia.
Some might categorise Tiller + Grain as a café. Sure, it’s small and self-service and there’s no wine selection and coffee is important here. But if you think of flow-wrapped “muffins” in the context of the word “café”, you’re way off. Also, if you think of a café sandwich as starting with a scrape of industrial ‘spread”, you won’t recognise the ones here made with Bread Nation bread. This is a place as bright and vibrant physically as it is in terms of taste.
Tiller + Grain do hot dishes, too, of course and on the occasion of our visit I fell upon the pork and beef meatballs, big, generous and not stretched out using breadcrumbs. Meaty and dense they came in a light, properly savoury tomato sauce and fluffy, properly dry couscous that seemed to have been cooked with excellent stock.
Our other dish from the animal kingdom (there was a moreish-looking vegan stew, by the way and a lamb tagine) was cold trout, just cooked, delicate and flaky.
But the stars of this repast were the salads, and I’m aware that, for many people, the word salad will be inadequate to describe what we had.
Well, there was beetroot on a bed of silky hummus which would have made a dish in itself. And, a first for me, quinoa that was not alone edible but delicious, having been fortified with feta and pomegranate seeds. There was striking purple cauliflower florets in a yoghurt dressing and purple sprouting broccoli that had been grilled and then dressed. And – the star amongst stars – farro with preserved lemon and lots of olives.
Now farro refers to certain ancient species of wheat that, unlike other kinds, cannot be threshed. It’s cooked whole and has a nutty taste of its own and a delightfully chewy texture. Common in parts of Italy and other parts of the world, we need to see more of it here.
There was another, very striking salad, which we didn’t try but will have next time: roasted butternut squash dressed with pesto that has been enriched with boquerones, the Spanish marinated anchovies. Sounds intensely savoury to me.
We concluded our feast – this is a generous place – with a fabulously savoury and intense brownie made with not just very dark chocolate but also tahini, the sesame seed paste, and a delightful little vegan blood orange cake from Ciara Lennon’s estimable Bear Lemon bakery.
There is no shame in buying in sweet things from such an excellent source and it’s not as if the kitchen will find time hanging heavy as it produces the rest of the menu. There is a genuinely homemade, homely and caring feeling about what is produced here. It’s palpable.
With excellent coffee and mineral water, the bill came to €39.70.