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06th Mar 2019

Behind an Inconspicuous Doorway in Drumcondra Is a Middle-Eastern Dining Gem

Sophie White

When we arrive at Shouk on a Sunday night, I’m angsting that the dining room will be empty.

This is a permanent concern when I’m out to dinner with my husband. You hit a point with a partner when you no longer find each other interesting enough to sustain conversation for an entire meal and therefore must rely on co-diners to provide entertainment and grist for the conversation-mill.

This isn’t some tragedy of love grown stale by the way, it’s just a fact, a side effect of living together for more than a decade. He woke up beside me that morning, he knows that the top I’m wearing to eat this food is the same top I wore to bed last night. We have nothing left to talk about so we need other people to talk about.

I needn’t have worried, there was no shortage of other people to watch and talk about of a Sunday in this neighbourhood restaurant, the place was hopping.

Before we found it, we stood for a few confused minutes in front of Nelly’s (a great breakfast spot btw) before noticing the door to Shouk over on the left. Nothing about this plain wooden door gave away what lay beyond.

The front space boasts bench seating and the kind of cozy nooks perfect for splitting platters of generous dips and tasting a little of everything, along with good conversation and BYOB wine. Beyond is a second room of tables and crucially the pickle counter – a concept that I want to have at every life event from now on: funerals, weddings, parties – I’m not attending if there’s no damn pickle counter.

From the legendary pickle counter we moved through to an enchanting indoor/outdoor (the roof opens in Summer) dining area strewn with coloured lights and flanked by cute little tiki bars, which is a recent addition and gives the whole place the vibe of a very cool house party in Red Hook.

The menu is an appealing array of sharing plates, various styles of hummus loaded with spiced meats, falafels, vegetarian-led main dishes and traditional stuffed pitas.

The choice was generous with plenty of familiar plates for shawarma die-hards and falafel fans but in the interest of investigative journalism, we cast our net wider to some of the more unusual dishes. From the pita selection we choose the chicken schnitzel with grilled peppers, pickled cabbage, babaganush and chimichurri. It was a compact but immensely satisfying sandwich and infinitely more civilised than the early morning soakage-kebabs most of us are somewhat more familiar with.

Our other main course was an enormous chargrilled sweet potato stuffed with moreish minced lamb and beef and drizzled with labaneh dressing. The meal is full of fresh herbs and citrus notes that perfectly lift the heady spices. Our other main course was the Shouk salad of fresh leaves, tomatoes, olives cucumber, mushrooms and radishes topped with tulum cheese – a Turkish goat’s cheese – and fried pita shards. It was crunchy, oily, dribble-down-your-chin heaven.

Among the three plates there wasn’t a single bum note, the pitas were a particular highlight, I have a deeply held antipathy for the anemic wraps served in many Dublin eateries that are purporting to be pita breads. It’s become a form of rage-cardio for me. I find I get myself geared up for a bready, oily gorgeable pita bread and instead out comes something more closely resembling a flap of dried foot skin wrapped around filling that will then invariably spill out everywhere. I’ve expended a lot of energy over the last few years raging over these crimes against bread. Thankfully Shouk are nailing their pita game and the perfect pocket of stuffed bread is both delicious and manages to deliver on its actual function of containing the filling.

On the dessert side of things we were devastated at hearing that all but one item was sold out. I consoled myself with the thought that while yes, I felt personally persecuted by this turn of events, it was a sign of a kitchen with integrity. I delivered a little personal pep talk: “They’re facing into two closed days, it’s good that they are running down their prep, Sophie! It attests to the freshness of their food.” Reasonable Me could see it but Bratty Me was still really f*cking pissed about it. We ordered the malabi, a kind of a blancmange made with coconut cream and topped with rose water syrup and caramelized pistachios which was creamy yet surprisingly refreshing. Anyone wielding rose water in a kitchen had better know what they’re doing and Shouk is up to this flavour litmus test, the pudding is oh-so delicately perfumed and served as a parting shot to my baklava-whinging, kind of a “You think you want Baklava because you’re a basic baklava bitch but we’ll show you a good time, we know what’s up”.  Well played Shouk, well played.

Shouk has been open for more then a year but expansion can rock even the most assured and established eateries, thankfully the new courtyard dining space has only enhanced the excellent experience on offer here. Shouk’s heritage is unique, owner-chef Alon Salman grew up near Tel Aviv with an Irish mother and Israeli father, the family touch is in everything here from the tables salvaged from a family pub in Waterford to the easy welcoming staff who lounge by tables taking orders. The whole scene is casual but there’s nothing slapdash about these carefully considered and executed plates.

40 Drumcondra Rd Lower, Drumcondra, Dublin
Monday & Tuesday closed
Wednesday to Saturday 12.30-9.30
Sunday 12.30-8.30

Stuffed Pitas €7- €12
Mains €7-13
Desserts €6-8
Kids menu available