If you’re a coffee-shop squatter, Fia might be your new favourite home away from home.
“We won’t be rushing people out,” says Aisling McHugh, one of the trio behind Rathgar’s newest café, which opened officially yesterday morning just beside the Church of the Three Patrons on Rathgar Road.
McHugh and her co-managers Keith Coleman and Jonny Northcutt have set up Fia with a vision that it will be a regular haunt for locals, the kind of place with a seasonal menu so you can always find something new, speciality coffee to lure you in, free wifi, and loads and loads of plug sockets.
Even the name, Fia, is an invitation. In the Bronze Age, some historians say, people would gather to feast around fulacht fiadh pits in the ground, which were filled with boiling water and used to cook meat.
“It is a neighbourhood place, so people are going to be meeting and socialising,” said McHugh.
It is a bright and modern addition to the neighbourhood, with plants and flowers and wooden benches and counters. The official launch was yesterday, but locals have been free to drop by for the past week to meet the staff and try a free coffee.
A couple of cups on the house won’t bankrupt them, says Coleman. The hope is that walk-ins will help to get the café up and running. Last week, the local priest stopped by to give the café a blessing.
The trio behind the café all have packed some experience.
Northcutt is the coffee man. Trained by Dublin coffee roasters and makers Roasted Brown, he’s worked in cafés that they supplied, and he will look after the beverages.
Coleman is the chef. He moved to Fia from the Fumbally in Dublin 8.
McHugh will tend to front of house. He came from Bibi’s café in Dublin 8.
“It can be hard to find places sometimes that do really good coffee and really good food,” says McHugh. “So we’re kind of trying to hit that market.”
Elaine Lynch, who lives in the neighbourhood and stopped by for lunch, said: “The area was crying out for a café.”
She gives Fia a thumbs-up not just for the food, but also for being child-friendly: there are colouring books for kids. With breakfast from €3 and lunch for up to €9, she says it’s not too pricey either.
Northcutt cautiously delivers a flat-white coffee to me, full to the brim. Normally, I need sugar with my coffee and tea, but this time there’s no need.
I order the peas on toast on the advice of Coleman and McHugh: crushed peas and sweet-onion purée on toasted sourdough, topped with pecorino cheese and a fried egg.
The scent of the cheese is strong, with a salty tang, on top of sweet onion and leafy-tasting peas. The bread is soft and moist in the middle and the crusts add crunch. When it comes to the egg, there’s a welcome black-pepper hit.
The dish is put together with care. It’s not until I start to cut through that I realise there’s actually a mini mountain of veg balanced on top of the toast, with a perfect fried egg perched at the peak. It’s filling. This dish (€8) can also come with black pudding for an extra €1.50, for those who can’t go without meat.
It’s the kind of dish that sums the place up, says Coleman, who’s always been doing some form of this dish since he did a brief stage in a London restaurant called Lyle’s.
The key is quality ingredients, he says. The pecorino, which is sheep’s cheese, is from Lilliput, and he uses it to offset the flavour of the peas. “That, with a glass of white wine is perfect,” he says.
Keeping It Simple
Fia has a wine licence, but for the moment will stick to just one red and one white. “It’s just to have the option,” says McHugh. But she promises that the two choices will be good ones.
Like the decor and the wine menu, Coleman plans to keep the food simple too. He hopes this will relieve the pressure of the high demand he hopes his food will attract.
He’ll be sticking with what’s in season for the menu.
“For me it just feels like a much more natural way to work,” says Coleman. “I would probably spend 90 percent of my time trying to find the right suppliers, as opposed to sitting down and saying, ‘I’m going to do this dish and then two weeks later I’m going to do this dish’.”
For the café’s first set of specials, he plans to use salad leaves from McNally’s Family Farm because it’s a good time for that. A leek, potato and fennel soup will combine the best of the roots available at this time of the year.
Coleman says that lots of what they offer is based on trips to local suppliers who help them refine ideas: the pecorino from Lilliput Trading, a custom-made pastrami from Higgins Butchers in Sutton Cross.
Seasonal menu changes should also encourage regulars to keep turning up. “We don’t want them to get bored,” says McHugh.
Northcutt is keeping the coffee menu simple too, with all beans supplied by Roasted Brown. It is standard coffee prices. Black coffees are €2.70. And milky coffees are €3.
“It’s going to be introducing specialty coffee to the area,” says McHugh.
Northcutt will try to persuade customers to test different varieties.
“I think it’s just about not being pretentious,” he says. “But just encouraging people to take the first few tastes differently to how they are used to it. You know, getting people off sugar and stuff like that.”
Building up the Pantry
If you can have something whenever you want, your palate becomes spoiled, says Northcutt. “I can’t wait for asparagus.”
Northcutt says he plans to build put the café’s pantry using different methods of preservation, cutting down on waste and making more ingredients available throughout the year.
Too many onions? They’ll go in the dehydrator and be dried into onion powder. Tomatoes can be sun-dried. Coleman also plans to make his own top-quality sauerkraut for an Irish-style Reuben sandwich.
They hope to make dairy products themselves too. Coleman plans to make yoghurt and later branch out into creme fraiche and sour cream. “There’s loads of little side projects that we could get involved in,” he says.
Coke is out. The café will offer homemade seasonal lemonades, like rhubarb-and-mint, and in the future will also have some kombucha, which Coleman and McHugh are already working on.
“If you’re going to do something in a certain way then it has to be across the board and you do need to be strict on that,” says Coleman. “It’s not the cheapest way to do things but at the end of the day you need to feel proud of what you’re doing.”