Eating dramatic soup is not the same as eating soup dramatically.
I learned this at Fade Street Social, a popular Dublin restaurant, on a hopping Saturday night. Throughout the room, conversations roared like the surf in a great big seashell. We ate before 7 pm and even then every table was full, with more people lining up outside hoping for a taste.
Getting right down to business, I made a healthy choice of starter and felt a bit of dietary smugness for it. Besides the obvious nutritional benefits, this dish offered such an unusual combination of ingredients, I couldn’t resist.
“Grated cauliflower bound with a creamed cauliflower purée wrapped in smoked salmon and deep fried capers in a hot cauliflower soup.”
On many menus, including this one, there are chef words I never really know how to interpret until I’ve actually eaten the dish.
Once I ordered a chocolate dessert because it featured a “levitated raspberry”. That turned out to be a raspberry skewered on one end of a spike of spun sugar. The other end of the spike was anchored in the chocolate, thereby achieving a 4-inch levitation. Who knew? In the case of the cauliflower soup at Fade, “bound” turned out to be an important word, in a good way, though not quite involving levitation.
The wine arrived and soon so did the starters. Mine was in a large, flat-bottomed, white soup bowl but it didn’t look like cauliflower soup. I stared at the two round orange pockets of smoked salmon, nakedly stranded in the inter-tidal zone of my soup-free dish. They stared back nervously.
Then, unannounced, an opaque white stream suddenly flowed micro-niagarously from above, inundating the pool and nearly submerging the salmon. There was no splash, just a bit of a surge and the soup was complete.
The first spoonful of the liquid by itself was creamy, smooth, and pleasantly rich.
On the second dip, I added some smoked salmon. It was delicate and nearly weightless on my tongue; a satisfying intensity of flavour with next to no mass. The experience could have been over before it started, but this is where that word “bound” played its part.
I have no idea what was really going on, but in my imagination, there was something, perhaps the grated cauliflower, giving the mouthful of smoked salmon some added substance without changing the flavour. I fancied that the moment of tasting the salmon was extended by its being “bound”. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
That salmon was exquisite. But wait, there’s more.
Occasionally in later spoonfuls, I would crunch a flavourful deep-fried caper. Honestly, I can’t tell the difference between a deep-friend caper and a roasted caper, but I am rather fond of capers in general. These were fun, like black staccato pearls in a white legato sea.
The final piece of drama came from a stringy green herb I hadn’t been paying any attention to. With all the orange staring and the micro-niagarous flow, it slipped my mind to wonder about the floating foliage. If had known then what I know now, I would have been excited.
Not anything like parsley or a bay leaf or the usual green stuff found in landlubber soups, the mystery herb was integrally salty, not a thing to which salt has been added, but a thing created from salt.
This is samphire, or sea asparagus. It’s handpicked on the coast, where it grows in salt marshes and on rocks in the water.
Just because it looked stringy, I shouldn’t have been so quick to ignore the samphire. Our Dublin hosts’ eyes misted over when they talked about this little fishmongers’ weed. After one bite I understood why. I was ready to go out to Dublin Bay and forage for some myself. It tasted like swimming in the ocean.
Meanwhile back on Earth, the restaurant was in full weekend fun mode, with lots of noise and excitement. That is a lot of sensory competition but the soup was up to it. With the last bite of samphire, and my eyes closed just for a second, I was underwater with the salmon and the selkies. I can’t promise you will be too, but for your sake, I hope so.
How to eat dramatic soup?
Slowly, with a spoon, and remembering your last dance in the sea, that’s how.
How to find it
Fade Street Social is in Dublin, Ireland, at 6 Fade Street, Dublin 2. Based on what I saw, you’d better make a reservation. This is a popular spot, specializing in local food and doing it well.
Disclosure: I didn’t pay for my own dinner. I was a guest on a familiarization tour of Dublin hosted by Failte Ireland. We dined as a group of 11, ordering from the same menu as everyone else. What I had, you can have.
About “micro-niagarous”: In his poem “Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin”, Patrick Kavanagh (1904 to 1967) wrote,
“where by a lock niagarously roars / the falls”.
They’ve put up a statue of Kavanagh on a seat in that very place, by a lock on the Grand Canal. One night after all the touring and dining and socializing was done, I walked alone for some distance along the canal and ended at the statue. By way of the small bridge on top of the lock there, I crossed over the water in the calm and quiet dark. It was a perfect moment.
I wanted to acknowledge Kavanagh’s contribution to my enjoyment of Dublin by using his lovely word, “niagarously”.