Contributor Aoife Carrigy heads to Dublin's Portobello district to check out new arrival, the family-run Alma café.
They had us all at the name. Well, the family story behind the name and the gorgeous Insta images of their bijou place and big-hearted plates.
Eight months ago, Alma popped up on Instagram to announce that they were working on a “small menu to bring an Argentinean twist… [to] great Irish products”. They explained that, besides meaning ‘soul’ in Spanish, ‘ALMA’ is an acronym for the four sisters at the heart of this family affair, where they work alongside parents (and owners) Alejandro and Lucrecia Parisi who followed their daughters to Ireland. Each of the girls plays an important role: manager (Anabella), website and logo design (Macarena) and front of house and social media (Luciana and Agustina).
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All day breakfast
“Moving over from Argentina and living in Dublin for a few years has taught us so much about food,” that early post explained, referring to the sisters’ collective experience working in cafes like Foodie in the IFSC, where they discovered the draw of the all-day breakfast. “Although Ireland is a small country it is on such an incredibly growing culinary journey… and we can’t wait to be a part of it!” By the time Alma’s doors opened in mid-January, there was a whole lotta Insta love coming right back at them.
Of course, a sweet story and slick pics are nothing if you can’t deliver on the plate. Their website lists Tartine Organic Bakery, Gubbeen, Wall & Keogh and Two Fifty Square Coffee amongst other suppliers, confirming that these folk mean business. The menu hinges on breakfast-brunch morphing into lunch and has Two Pups and The Fumbally all over it, which is no surprise given that Alma’s Brazilian chef Thiago Marques used to work in the latter. All-day items include homemade chocolate granola with lemon curd and dark chocolate shavings, and those dulce de leche buttermilk pancakes with orange zest, mint and candied almonds and a brandy and orange mascarpone. They bake sweet treats in-house, or pimp up bought-in croissants with extra chocolate, pistachio or dried raspberries.
Small but considered
Schooled by the hype about lengthy queues – they seat just 20 inside, including a central shared table, and 10 outside – we go for an early midweek lunch and, not long after noon, squeeze into the last high stool (space is truly tight).
The teensy room used to house the Aladdin’s Cave-like Nelly’s cafe and food store (now Drumcondra-based, serving inspired sandwiches like Ortiz tuna on brown soda with pickled chillies and lemon aioli). Alma couldn’t feel more different: it’s a cafe for our Insta-Age if ever there was one. Clean neutral colours draw in daylight and allow details to shine, from the Georgian ceiling rose to statement pendant lampshades. Greenery tumbles from high shelves, where book spines read like a manifesto (Argentina Food; Posh Eggs; Ottolenghi Simple). It’s all very considered, made human by the charming family at its heart. It doesn’t take long for the legendary queue to form, or for Alejandro to appear with bites of complimentary cake to keep spirits up.
Water garnished with rosemary and lemon are soon joined by our order of rosemary lemonade (€3.50), which conjures images of herby syrup and fresh lemons, but underwhelmingly transpires to be watered down from a branded bottle with a rosemary garnish.
Happily, the food delivers on its promise. The Loaded Batata (€12) features sweet potato grilled whole until spoon-soft and fruit-sweet and smeared with a sexy Argentine sausage ragu (if a little too demurely). There are green peas and spiced nuts, fresh leaves and herbs, a lovely limey sour cream and more Tartine sourdough. It’s sunshine-soaked comfort food and we devour it.
Choripan Argento (€11, plus €2.75 avocado add-on) is classic Argentinean streetfood: chorizo and chimichurri (a tangy herb salsa) wrapped in bread, though Alma’s version is an open sandwich. Juicy sausages, caramelised onions, smashed avocado and a fried free-range egg jostle for position atop a raft-like slice of Tartine’s organic sourdough. They are surrounded by a sea of flavours, with alioli (garlic mayonnaise), salsa criolla (red pepper, tomato and herbs) and sriracha (hot tangy sauce) bustling in on the chimichurri action.
Coffee and cake
Confident plating means it looks a picture, even if some of that busy flavour gets lost as background noise, and those fresh Argentinean chorizo from The Irish Gaucho (aka Tommy Kelly who was born and bred in Buenos Aires) are delicious, their aromatic herbs, spices, garlic and wine marrying influences from Spain, Italy and France.
We make space to sample a very decent flat white (€3.20) and a somewhat dry homemade polenta cake with almond, blueberry and coconut (€4). The latter tastes better at home that afternoon when I finish its leftovers (boxed up on Alejandro’s suggestion) with yoghurt, slivers of fruit and grated nutmeg.
There’s some room for improvement on the food, reigning certain elements back to let key flavours sing, or layering others up for contrast. But I love the place. I love its spirit, style and sunny cheer. And I love its authentic mash-up of Argentinean and Irish food cultures, and the palpable delight of this charming team in their part in that culinary journey. It’s great to have them onboard.
We paid €41.95 before a tip for lunch for two including lemonade, cake and coffee.
12 South Circular Road, Portobello, Dublin 8, D08 XTN5
Alma.ie | Email: [email protected]
Images: Fernanda Pinto Godoy
Author: Aoife Carrigy
Aoife’s first proper work experience (if you don’t count a formative stint as the milkman’s assistant) was a TY placement as commis chef in The Wishbone in Glasthule, where she caught the restaurant bug. From her teens and through her 20s she worked front-of-house in restaurants around Dublin and beyond, before a freelance gig as restaurant columnist for the Dublin Event Guide and then Totally Dublin turned into a five-year full-time editorial stint in FOOD&WINE Magazine. She has been freelance since 2010 and keeps herself busy co-writing and editing cookbooks as well as writing on food, drinks and travel. Aoife is WSET-trained and is currently researching a Masters on ‘Cultural Representations of the Irish Pub’ at TU Dublin.
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