Chef Dave's first thought when asked to open up a plant-based restaurant in Dublin? "It scared the shite out of me", he laughs.
He needn't have worried. The shiny new Nutbutter on Forbes St is everything you want a place to eat in Dublin to be: affordable, beautifully designed, and serving the best Irish ingredients you can put on a plate.
Set up by Paddy Hogan of HQ Gastrobar (Nutbutter is quite literally located in what was previously the back area of the bar), I called into Nutbutter to chat with group executive chef David Murray about the latest venture.
Pops of turquoise lead the way into the dreamy interior – think swinging chairs with pale pink furry cushions, geometric table designs, plants aplenty and rose gold cutlery. Oh, and a beaut mural of the swans on the canal.
Nutbutter began when Paddy approached Dave last October with the idea of setting up a plant-based restaurant, inspired by his time in LA. Dave says that he basically had to "take what was inside Paddy’s head and put it on a plate."
"When Paddy approached me with the idea for this and said we would be opening a plant-based spot and maybe be not using things such as butter and other very common things that all chefs adore and use too much of, it scared the shite out of me.
"I remember the second phone call to Paddy about setting up Nutbutter I said ‘I’m very out of my comfort zone.’ And he asked so what does that mean? And I just said yeah. It means yes, let’s do it."
A focus on Irish ingredients mixed with more exotic ones means that menu is fresh and incredibly colourful.
"From the outset," Dave says," we said the food philosophy is anything Irish we can get we’re gonna get it and buy quality. However, if there’s something we want to put onto the menu and because of our poor climate we can’t source it here, we’re gonna source it from outside the island but ensure it’s the very best possible product we can get."
While the emphasis is on plant-based food, but if you want to have some protein (they do chicken, turkey, vegan pulled pork, smoked salmon, brisket and Sashimi grade tune) you can add that on after.
Nutbutter opens from 730am-9.30pm, and brekkie options include Açaí bowls, porridge and a range of toasts
The Açaí bowls in Nutbutter use frozen blocks of Açaí berries straight from the Amazon to ensure the goodness and flavour of the Açaí is utilised to its very best – no manufactured Açaí powders here.
Toasts are made using bread from a baker in Inchicore, and include a seeded plant-based bread with toppings such as Nutbutter’s own “healthy” version of Nutella with bananas and salted seed mix or crushed avocado with red wine vinegar marinated onions and cacao nibs, as well as bee pollen and honey.
It's deli-style here, so you order at the counter from the very friendly staff and sit yourself down.
Dave tells me that Nutbutter doesn’t want to be restricted in a particular space of restaurant only offering food based on people’s dietary requirements, "we wanted to accommodate everybody.
"If people decide they they were off out at the weekends and were feeling pretty bad about their habits on Monday morning and they want something with a healthy kick but also something tasting mind-blowingly fabulous, they can pop down here. They can lose meat or fish or you can add it on."
"From my time in the States I noticed that at plant-based restaurants there would be entire families eating there or large groups of friends. They very much regard it as just another choice: Monday night I might go for pizza or French cuisine, Thursday night I’ll go for plant-based."
"We’re providing class A quality ingredients, put together by a really skilled chef. Really, really punchy flavours with bold pairing combinations."
Veg from Rush and Lusk in north Dublin plays a huge role – including kalettes, a hybrid of a brussel sprout and kale. Their signature Caesar Salad is made with burnt kale, kalettes, baby romaine, dairy-free caesar dressing with nut cheese Parmesan and those little baby kalettes are the best thing you'll eat this spring.
They're only in season for the next eight or so weeks, so do yourself a whopper favour and eat these. Eat these every week if you can. They're charred and bitter and perfect.
Four signature grain bowls, four Poke bowls and four signature salads make up the main lunch menu, with late plates available from 5-9.30pm.
The dinner plates sound amazing: Rainbow Pad Thai, Jackfruit Tacos, Brisket & Puy Lentil and a Chorizo Temphe.
“Pulled pork” tacos use Jackfruit, a meaty-fleshed plant that has become hugely popular as a meat alternative thanks to its similarities to pulled pork. It’s cooked sous vide for a couple of hours and is super tender and moist.
Dave has worked in Australia and Spain and did his first chef training in Elephant and Castle in the late 90s, working for a range of top chefs in Dublin since then.
A switch from French bistro-style cooking to the simplistic but flavoursome plates at Nutbutter has been an exciting change in his career.
Even the most basic of dishes are given the star treatment here. "We'll take an empty bowl, place a combination of ingredients inside, veg or pulses, pour the broth gently over it and add a squeeze of lime, some sesame and chili and fresh herbs thrown on top. It’s magical. It’s spicy, zesty and herby."
There's fermenting and pickling going on and a huge open display fridge is where staff pick the fruit and veg from throughout the day, right in the open
"We want our customers to see exactly what we’re doing and we’re so proud of it," Dave says.
"If we’re trying to push boundaries here at Nutbutter, and people are recognising that, they want to maybe imitate some of the dishes or put similar items on the menu then that’s an absolute massive compliment. It’s just about keeping a healthy, competitive culinary scene. "
As well as giving you a great feed, Nutbutter also does healthy(ish!) sweet treats and artisan coffee
Chocolate avocado truffles for less than 2 quid are sure to become my new go-to treat, while no-bake cereal bars, raisin and ginger nut bars and a peanut and cacao crunchy ball are also tempting.
Coffee comes from Silverskin Roasters, an an award-winning Irish owned and operated boutique coffee roasting company who ran the famed coffee kiosk in Ballsbridge.
The beans are sourced from a small family farm in El Salvador, and it's a wonderful aromatic coffee.
And best of all, the menu is reasonably priced – a phrase that's all too rare to hear in Dublin of late
Seriously, you could get lunch here for less than a fiver. That zesty broth I mentioned above? It's a mere €4.50, while grain bowls start at €7.95. Protein add-ons, usually a painful hike up of the price of your salad, start at €1 for avocado, €2.50 for chicken or turkey breast and just €3.50 for high quality sesame soy tuna.
Dave says that himself and Paddy were very mindful of this when designing the menu.
“We’re cognisant that irrespective of what area we’re in,” (the Docklands is Google territory, after all), “in modern age Ireland you need to be mindful I suppose, as a customer what you can afford to spend yourself. Can people afford to spend 15 bucks every day for lunch? I don’t think so.”
Come here for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Nutbutter is the kind of place you'll never leave if you live in the neighbourhood, and never want to if you don't.
Nutbutter is located at Forbes St, Dublin 2 and is open seven days a week from 7.30am-9.30pm.
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