Helen Cunningham is one of the great Dublin food pioneers. Long before she turned the Phoenix Café into one of the best places in the city to eat, she ran one of the early Temple Bar restaurants, Blazes, before that zone became colonised by mega-pubs. Moving out to Phoenix Park gave her a great destination address, and not just for eating in this lovely space, because you can also take-away a picnic and explore the park, and you can also join one of their yoga classes, before settling down with some delicious things to eat and drink.
If you were searching for a single adjective to describe Helen’s cooking, then tactile seems to be the best word for this artfully unfussy cooking. Everything the kitchen turns out is precisely rendered and plated, yet the food always gets straight to the flavour point. The cooking incarnates the flavours and textures of the ingredients, and culinary technique is used with restraint: no one if the Phoenix Café ever shows off, no matter what they are making.
Professionals would also describe the cooking as clean, meaning that the dishes taste of themselves, whether you have chosen a filo parcel with celeriac, mushroom, feta and spinach, or a perfectly executed salad of cauliflower, fennel and spinach with a lemon dressing. The sympathy of the chosen ingredients, and the satisfying way they work together, shows a cook who trusts to her instincts, and takes the care to ensure every aesthetic detail is as good as it can be. Lovely food, lovely place.
Photo Credit: Phoenix Cafe