The night I was heading to Veginity, a vegan restaurant and café on Dorset St, was an absolute sh*tshow.
The sideways rain ensured that by the time I’d arrived on my bike I was soaked and seething. Dublin rain will do that to you. It’s not just annoyance at being wet, it’s the practically gymnastic-style cycling one must do to prevent some taxi driver manslaughtering you. I’m expending enormous mental and physical energy just to keep them from being prosecuted. Sometimes I just feel like letting them kill me but I can see that’s very much a double-edged revenge plot. Anyway suffice it to say; I didn’t really think I was in the mood for vegan. Only dairy can remedy me during times of such extreme irritation – chocolate, cheese and, crucially, butter.
While I am not a vegan or vegetarian neither am I, say, your dad, who doesn’t accept something as a meal unless there is “mate, potatoes and two veg”. I cook vegetarian meals at home but vegan has always been a shade too far for me. Butter is my spirit animal. Still, I’m excited to moonlight as a vegan for this meal.
Vegans are routinely mocked, they are probably one of the last minorities it is socially acceptable to deride and they don’t deserve it, arguably they’re doing more than any of us in the fight to save the world, so it’s nice for them to have this safe haven to retreat to when the snarky comments get to be too much.
The café is buzzing and welcoming on this rainy Friday evening. Born originally from a food truck specialising in vegan food with broad influences, the dining room is a simple, unfussy space. Owner-chef, Mark Senn changes up the menu regularly and on the night we’re there the vibe is Sri Lankan with a tasting menu and a la carte options. Tasting menus in my experience are for relaxed people who aren’t complete control freaks about their food. At my insistence, we opt for a la carte. To start we have the yellow split pea vadai with coconut chilli seeni sambol and the sweet potato and green chilli pan rolls with beet pickle.
The vadai are lightly spiced crispy dumplings served on a caramelised onion relish while the sweet potato pan rolls are like a sri lankan riff on a Chinese spring roll. Instead of rice paper, these are made by wrapping fillings in a thin savoury pancake which is then breaded and deep-fried. “You had me at breaded and deep-fried” could well be carved on my gravestone.
The pan rolls were immensely satisfying served with thinly sliced pickled beetroot. My companion and I were each holding off mentioning it but it was clear we were both thinking it, you would never notice these dishes were vegan. That is Senn’s ingenuity. He’s not trying to produce faithful, tasteless imitations of carnivorous favourites. One gets the sense that he delights in the challenge of toppling misconceptions around plant-based eating. Just a few doors down from Veginity is his chipper Vish Shop offering the same down and dirty plant-based takeaway style food that won him a cult reputation (and awards) prior to opening the doors of Veginity.
For our mains we get the hot and sour vish and tofu curry and the Veginity burger that comes with Sri Lankan spice bag chips. The burger and chips is a winner with charred pineapple, sticky onions and tamarind mayo and the chips are the stuff of chipper-enthusiasts' dreams. While the burger was definitely tasty, the curry plate was the real wow – a soaring chorus of Sri Lankan flavours.
Accompanying the curry was an elegant eggplant pickle called wambatu moju, some kale mallung which is simply coconut and kale stir-fried and brings great texture to every bite. The tomato and coconut dahl adds a comforting warmth to the plate while the turmeric, raisin and cashew rice adds some sweet notes and compliments the sour lime pickle. Senn’s vegan “fish”, vish made from cassava and seaweed provides a substantial element to the curry and personally I could have skipped the tofu altogether, the cassava scratches the meat-itch perfectly.
I’m happy to report that desserts at Veginity are given every bit as much consideration as the main event. We pick the warm date pudding with salted coconut caramel and coconut ice cream and the Sri Lankan “love cake” with pineapple and coconut salsa and rosewater and pineapple sorbet. The presentaion of both was exceptional and the tropical flavours of the love cake were the perfect refreshing conclusion to the heady flavours of the rest of the meal. However, for me the date pudding stole the show – I hate to be so basic in my proclivities but literally show me the word pudding and I am IN. The pudding in this case was a shade less pudding-like in texture and a bit more like a cake but the flavours were knock out. The caramel was rich and the ice cream was creamy and as much as it makes me sound like someone’s mam: you would never have even noticed you were eating a plant-based feast.
There is enormous imagination and inventiveness behind Veginity and Vish Shop. I’m delighted that in a few more weeks I can return to a brand new culinary adventure unfolding in this assured kitchen. In the meantime, the friendly servers sent us back out into the rain with free pastries, baked fresh each morning. The vegan cinnamon swirl was still delish the next morning as I plotted when I could get back to Veginity to sample their brunch offering.
101 Upper Dorset St
Thursday – Saturday
10am-3pm and 5pm-10pm
10am-3pm and 5pm-8pm
Early Bird: €25 for starter, mains and dessert