“I smell, hear and taste my way around the world,” says Gav Pedley.
His partner Ais Mooney, though, sees it, he says. “When we walked in I saw a bomb site, but she saw this.”
Beast, the new vegan diner in what used to be a chipper at 41 Victoria Quay, is warm and inviting.
Outside, its neon sign illuminates an otherwise dark stretch of road, on the south side of the quays, opposite Rory O’More Bridge.
Inside, customers can sit at the L-shaped wooden counter to watch the couple’s inventive take on fast-food classics prepared about a foot and a half away. It’s a teppanyaki-esque approach to vegan cooking.
They tried to create a homely and welcoming vibe here, said Pedley. His foot taps enthusiastically against his seat as he talks.
That’s the idea behind the communal counter, he says. “I think of it as somewhere between a chef’s table and a dinner party that we host five days a week.”
Across the counter, some garlic-mayo chips bubble under the grill, and Rebecca Fisher carefully stacks a Beast burger, a jaw-popping tower of vegan fried chicken fillets and crispy vegan bacon.
The idea is not just to mirror meat as closely as possible with substitutions, but to one-up it. Pedley and Mooney are experts in what is called “meat replacement”.
“Our chicken is better than real chicken. It looks like chicken. It has the same crunchy exterior but it’s way healthier for you and no one had to die to make it,” says Pedley. “This is chicken 2.0! Why would you involve meat when it tastes this good without it?”
In taste and texture, the crunchy coating of Beast’s vegan fried chicken is just like fried chicken skin. The “meat” is akin to falafel mix, but more moist. It is filling and tasty. The garlic-cheese chips are indistinguishable from non-vegan ones.
Mooney and Pedley started out five years ago as Moodley Manor, a company that makes vegan products.
They tried to come up with things like a melty cheese, one that would behave the same as non-vegan cheeses on pizzas, and not like nut-based vegan cheeses.
Next, Pedley worked on a bacon recipe. That took him two years to perfect. They crowdfunded their effort to make it at scale, and then spent a week driving all over the country to meet their customers and deliver the product.
They graduated to food markets and festivals. The shell of a chipper where Beast now is was meant to be a production facility. But Mooney had a different vision the minute they stepped in the door.
A design enthusiast, Mooney had made the website and packaging for Moodley Manor. She’s now done the same for Beast.
Mooney comes out of the kitchen, gloves on, blender in one hand. She is midway through whipping up a batch of their garlic mayo.
“We take it as a compliment if the food ends up all over our customer’s faces,” says Pedley, as he brushes a stray bit off her cheek.
Mooney says most who put their head in the door stay to taste. Some from Guinness down the road. Some curious taxi and truck drivers.
“Of everyone who comes in not knowing we’re vegan I’d say only 1 in 10 walk out again when they realise. People have been really supportive,” she says.
Pedley laughs. Sometimes, they’ll look at the menu and have to double-check it’s vegan, he says. “It’s important that it’s impressive and exciting food. We have to make the grass greener on the other side to attract people across.’
Behind the counter, Fisher hums along with the radio as she prepares food and serves customers. She nods along to what Pedley says.
“When you’re hungover and everyone’s tucking into their fries and all you can have is hash browns … that’s tough. It’s so boring,” she says.
Fisher told Pedley recently how much she missed jambons. He made a vegan version of the Dublin delicacy. They are close in texture and taste.
“I already had a convincing egg, cheese and bacon. It was mostly about finding out which type of cheese I should use and how much,” said Pedley. He built it up bit by bit.
“This is a standalone, luxury jambon. It’s made by hand. You won’t get that at any garage deli counter. They’ve gone off like a bomb online. We can’t keep enough of them in stock,” he says.
Says Fisher: “Terrifyingly real.”
“Well if it doesn’t beat the original, what’s the point right?” says Pedley.