On North Strand, Ethiopian Food Finally Finds a Home in Dublin

Last September, Mel Roddy had a decision to make.

He’d worked in KBC Bank for four years. “I was kind of sick of it,” says Roddy, sporting gymwear, a black stud in his right ear and short hair, cropped at the sides.

So he quit, went on a family holiday to Ethiopia, and flew back with an idea that had been circling around his family for years, solidified.

He wanted to bring Ethiopian food to Dublin.

Roddy and his family had long talked about opening up some kind of Ethiopian restaurant in Dublin. “It’s been in our minds for the past four years,” says Roddy.

He and his two sisters, Elsa and Susie, were adopted from Ethiopia and grew up in Bayside. Throughout his life, the family have made regular trips to Ethiopia, he says.

“Anytime we go away to European cities, there are always Ethiopian restaurants,” says Roddy, talking above the din of the Westwood Gym in Clontarf.

Why aren’t there any in Dublin? he asks. “In London, there is about 30 and then in Leeds and Manchester there is loads as well,” he says.

Roddy decided, after seeking advice from friends, family and others that have pursued food businesses, to start a supper club.

The Concept

Originally, Roddy played around the idea of an Ethiopian food stall.

But that wouldn’t really work, he says. “Ethiopian food is very communal and you’d have to be sitting down to get the full experience.”

He wanted whatever he opened to be close to authentic, he says. It’s one of the reasons he decided to call the supper club Gursha.

The word, Roddy says, means friendship. It’s also the name of a tradition in Ethiopian dining, where a member of a group strips off a piece of injera, a type of pancake, and feeds another member of the group.

That’s the vibe he wanted. A stall wasn’t going to cut it.

A couple of his friends then pointed him in the direction of supper clubs, “pop-up” restaurants held in a non-restaurant setting.

“I went to Nick Reynolds’ [Jamaican pop-up] with the family,” says Roddy. He was impressed with the atmosphere, the quality of food. Reynolds gave him some tips.

The next challenge, though, was finding a place to do it in.

“I called into loads of different coffee shops in Capel Street, Drumcondra, Fairview and then I chose Cloud Cafe on North Strand,” says Roddy. “It’s a really good venue with nice staff. It ticked the boxes.”

The Menu

There’s only going to be seven dishes on the menu: a combination of meat and vegetarian dishes, says Roddy.

“Usually, it’ll be a maximum of four for a communal plate,” says Roddy. Or people can go for their own plate if they so wish.

The base of the meal, as is traditional, will be injera. “This is like a large sourdough pancake,” says Roddy, “made from the smallest grain in the world, which is teff.”

This is grown in East Africa, says Roddy, Eritrea and Ethiopia.

“It’s considered a superfood now so Holland & Barrett have started importing it now from Ethiopia. It’s gluten free as well,” says Roddy.

For years, teff wasn’t exported due to trade restrictions, says Roddy. That’s changed.

Mel Roddy. Photo by Sean Finnan.

“The main dish is doro wat,” says Roddy. “That’s the national dish.” It’s a spicy chicken stew, slow-cooked for hours with berbere, a spice mixture containing chili peppers, garlic, ginger and a host of others.

The meal will finish with a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. “The beans are roasted right in front of you and then they will be cooked up in a jebunah,” says Roddy. That’s an Ethiopian coffee pot.

One of his chefs worked as a chef in the Ethiopian embassy, says Roddy. Another cooks for big Ethiopian gatherings that happen in Ireland, “like the Ethiopian new year and other big celebrations”.

“My sister likes to cook a lot and she’ll look after the dessert a lot of the time,” says Roddy.

They had a trial run a few weeks back. It went well, Roddy says. There were even a few unexpected guests: including a food critic – a friend of the owner of Cloud Cafe.

Roddy shakes his head. “I was like, ‘Oh no.’”

“I sat with them and described the dishes. Straight away she says the food is amazing, it has amazing flavours and she really enjoyed it,” says Roddy. “We got proper good feedback.”

Last year in Addis Ababa, Roddy visited a restaurant called Mama’s Kitchen – open every day with live Ethiopian jazz music.

Something like that, he says, is his ambition.

Gursha opens every Friday and Saturday evening at Cloud Cafe on the North Strand Road, from 9 August. Booking essential.

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Sean Finnan: Sean Finnan is a reporter for Dublin Inquirer. He covers the north side of the city. You can reach him at sfinnan@dublininquirer.com.

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