I’m looking at an impeccably presented plate of caramelised skallops perched atop mini potato cakes, velvety soft on the inside and crisp on the outside. These little towers of tastiness form a circle around a round of black pudding, accompanied by pickled tips of romanesco broccoli, smears of beurre blanc and a sprinkle of caviar. Sounds like a decent take on the classic scallop and black pudding trope, right? It is but what makes this dish even more interesting is that it’s completely vegan.
At Sova Vegan Butcher vegan restaurateur Barto Sova leads a team of vegan enthusiasts that welcome eaters of all dispositions into the doors of their restaurant just off Camden Street. Back in June of 2015, I visited Sova’s first incarnation of this project when he had a pop-up restaurant in The Mart in Rathmines. The pop-up’s most charming asset was Sova himself and I left on board with his concept but a little underwhelmed by the food.
Sova has taken the lessons learned from the pop-up and applied them to his permanent home on Pleasants Street, a smart spot with a minimalist yet warm interior. He gently commands the front of house, with twinkly eyes and the look of a vegan lumberjack, while his chefs dish out vegan creativity from the kitchen.
The aforementioned skallops (€6.50) are the fat stalks of oyster mushrooms, trimmed to emulate the shape of a scallop and singed on its edges for that caramelised effect. The caviar is made from kelp, there is no butter in the buerre blanc and the black pudding is made of seiten, a wheat protein, black rice and spices. The pudding beautifully looks the part, and it tastes like a mild version of the traditional blood pudding sausage.
It’s December when I visit, so Christmas dinner is on the menu. A plate of “turky” roulade (€15.90) is thick slices of seiten stuffed with cranberry and sage stuffing, coated with a glossy rosemary gravy. Brussels sprouts are halved and singed, and sat upon a sweet parsnip purée. A large potato fondant brings the carbs to the party. It’s lovely, and it’s a reminder of how the vegetables at Christmas time don’t just play a supporting role. Imagine Christmas dinner without a crispy roasted spud?
A main dish of potato and cauliflower pancakes (€14.90) lacks the finesse and creative flair of the other dishes. There are too many pancakes on the plate. They look good stacked up and covered in crispy green leaves but there is too much food on the plate. There is not enough of a variety of flavours or textures, and a deliciously smokey mushroom and saffron sauce doesn’t quite manage to salvage it.
Otherwise, there are no missteps. A comforting gluten-free seaweed chowder with pan-fried samphire (€5.50) leaves a warm impression for starters. Desserts are a poached pear tatin (€) made with dairy-free shortcrust pastry and a jar of tasty cashew nut cheesecake (€5) topped with a sticky date syrup. It’s BYOB but we opt instead for a freshly prepared juice from their menu. Mine’s a sweet and luminously green juice made from spinach, avocado, banana, maple syrup and almond milk (€5). Our bill comes to €59.80.
“We have plans to open a vegan butcher shop in the corner of the restaurant,” Sova fills us in over our meal. “We want to sell the meatless meat and dairy-free dairy products that we’re using on our menu, like our black pudding.”
They’re open for lunch and dinner throughout the week, and for brunch on the weekends. Sova tells us about the experiments that the kitchen have undergone to recreate the traditional Irish breakfast. They’ve nailed black pudding, and they’re pleased with their meat-free sausage. Creating a vegan egg has proven to be a tricky task. The egg white can be shaped from tofu but attempts to make the egg yolk with mango paste resulted in an overly sweet brekkie. They’re still working on the yolk, and no doubt they’ll crack it in the coming months.
Sova Vegan Butcher
51 Pleasants Street, Dublin 2
Words: Aoife McElwain
Photos: Killian Broderick