MVP, one of Dublin's neighbourhood boozers and a much-loved watering hole in D8, is hosting Grálinn until January, an Irish tapas pop-up who are already impressing punters with their seasonal small plates.

Grálinn are serving their unique take on Irish tapas in the pub from Thursday to Saturdays. The duo behind the menu, Matteo Griscti and Dee Kelly, met while working in some of Dublin’s finest eateries, then set up Grálinn as a pop-up caterer and food truck. This winter they will create unique menus that focus on seasonality.

Scéal Bakery, McNally’s Farm, Lilliput Stores are just a few of the suppliers that grace their menu. The first weekend saw them serve hokkaido pumpkin with chestnut and miso, kaibroc with almond cream and fried green tomatoes. Not your average pub food menu! 

I was lucky enough to sit down for a chat with Dee Kelly and Matteo Griscti at Savour Kilkenny, where the two filled me in on how Grálinn was born, their hopes for the future and their food ethos.

Matteo Griscti and Dee Kelly, owners of Grálinn

Matteo Griscti and Dee Kelly, owners of Grálinn

On how Grálinn came to be...

Speaking about their background, Matteo says he has worked with food for professionally for about five years, while Dee has been working with coffee for around the same amount of time. The pair met about three years ago and then Grálinn was born.

"I used to work in Fia Café in Rathgar and the head chef asked me to cover a few shifts in Laine, My Love, which was Dee's local café. I worked there for four or five days, then Dee came in and that’s where we met. At the time, Dee was working in ThirdSpace on Aungier Street and I was helping her out with the menu. We always said we wanted a food truck, then we were browsing on DoneDeal when we saw this one and said, we’ll just go see it, but then we bought it! It was a big investment all at once, so we said we have the food truck, so let’s save up and put the money back in the truck, so it took a long time between when we bought it and we got it on the road."

Dee says that the pair had been thinking about a food truck for a while before they bought it, but that it took time to get everything right:

"When we had to come up with a name, we both wanted something Irish because that’s the story of our food. We wanted a name that showed the food and coffee is inclusive. In Irish, grá means love and linn means with us, which worked because we want everyone to enjoy this food with us.

We waited for a while after we thought of that name in case we found something better but we kept coming back to it. At first, it didn’t seem right for a food business, but then everyone loved it and it stuck!"

On the food truck's first outing..

It took the pair nearly a year to do their first event, which was then followed by successful trips to both Electric Picnic and Another Love Story. The two festivals, Dee says, were a good learning curve for her and Matteo:

"We did our first event this February for the launch of Electric Picnic. We didn’t have the food truck there and it was was total mayhem but we loved it! Then the organisers asked if we would come and do Hophouse at Electric Picnic, which gave us something to aim for. We then got in touch with people about Another Love Story, as we thought that would be a good trial run before we jumped in the deep end and we learned so much there!

It was a lovely festival and there was a real emphasis on the environmental impact of the festival. They wanted all the packaging to be compostable and recyclable and they taught everyone who attended to recycle."

This initiative proved to be a big inspiration to Grálinn, as Dee says that their initial business ethos was focused on sustainability:

"Our buzzwords are: ethical, sustainable and local. Everyone says that, but we actually want to understand how we can make these ideas interact with our business. As much as possible, we try to keep things local. They taste better and it’s better in general for everyone. We struggled a lot in places we previously worked where we were told we had to have something, like avocados, on the menu. We're so over avocados and it’s so unethical for us to use avocados, so they're not on our menu.

We have some really lovely Irish suppliers, we work with Scéal Bakery, McNally’s Farm, Lilliput Stores and more and now we would call all of these people friends. It’s so nice to be able to visit them and hear them say “we’re so proud of you, we’re rooting for you”. You don’t get that when you order online."

On their hopes for the future..

It's clear that the pair are still working on their future plans. As they're so new to the food truck business, Matteo tells me that they have a long way to go before they settle down into a permanent location:

"I think we really want to be able to travel around, so the beauty of the food truck is that we can take it with us wherever we go. Down the line, a permanent residence is something we’d think about but we’re not ready to settle down yet. With this we have the freedom to move around and change things up.

The duo have growing plans for the next year, as Dee says that they hope to expand the truck in 2019:

"We have our eyes on another truck that would be completely different to this one. For the  next year we want to focus on getting to that. We also want to see the cool producers that are all over Ireland and see how things are made, then we can try to figure out how to put them on a menu and make them accessible. I think that some of our artisan ingredients can be seen as kind of mad to people. You can see them written on a menu and it might put people off if they don’t know exactly what they are. The stuff we make is not normally the type of food you would find coming out of a food truck but so far the reception has been really good.

This year, we are really looking forward to Christmas, it will be nice to cater for friends of ours who are in the industry.

Then we'll be doing Supper Clubs from November into the New Year, as we will be in MVP till at least January. After that, we’ll be doing a few more festivals and hopefully, the second truck will be ready for May."

On the best thing about starting the business...

Matteo says that customer interaction has been the best part of the new venture:

"For me, when you work in a restaurant or normal kitchen, you don’t get that much customer interaction, whereas on the van you get to see people’s faces and hear their feedback. It’s so nice to be able to talk to customers and see that they like the food. It makes it feel worthwhile!"

For Dee, the complete control that comes with owning your own business is what she has found most enjoyable:

"I got to a real breaking point in service when I was front of house, where I was just knackered from working for a business that wasn’t my own. I couldn’t figure out how to make an impact when it wasn’t my business, my hands were tied. We’re so passionate about food so it was nice to have a blank canvas to take full creative control over."

On their dream dinner guests...

The two have similar answers to this one, although Dee would also be partial to a visit from Idris Elba! 

"We’ve been lucky that so far everyone has been so supportive. The people who come up to us after they eat to tell us that they liked it, they’re what’s held us up for so long. We’re so green at this that when people tell us the food was good, we’re really appreciative because we need to hear it at this stage. The people we’ve been feeding so far have been a dream. Some nights we’re up till 2am and then back up at 6am to get everything done and what gets us through is when we remember the people who have said they like our food. It helps us to keep the momentum going.

Matteo responds similarly, saying that he loves to cook for anyone who loves food:

"I love cooking for my friends but also anyone who appreciates food. It brings people together. Also, any time there are people who are hard done by, they are the people who need to be nourished and I want to do that. In terms of chefs, I love Jeremy Fox but I’d be terrified to cook for him!"

Grálinn will be popping up in MVP every Thursday to Saturday from 6-10pm. Keep up with Matteo and Dee on their Instagram here.