Stumbling in from the rain, two faces meet us behind the counter. When I see Manor St, I think of pop-ups and a ramshackling mishmash of the passing trade in Dublin. Now it is Beo: the new all-vegan, organic restaurant located just past the Glimmer Man and the Belfry, prompted the expedition to Stoneybatter on a Thursday night.
The first noticeable thing was the vivid white light – certainly more dazzling than expected for the evening dining experience. The restaurant is long and we walked past the counter to the end, where the washed grey walls rise into shelves of pickled and fermented food jars. The tables are divided into two communal ones and a row of smaller ones to the right along a bench.
We took care to speak quietly because of the size of the restaurant, aware that everyone could hear everyone else. The menu is divided into six headings with allergen labels: starter, boards, salads, mains, sides and dessert, each with two or three choices underneath. We raised our eyebrows at the idea of a vegan cheese board (€17), but got distracted by the citrus cabbage, mixed greens and orange spice cream salad (€13) and the seared celeriac, black rice noodles, pepper cream, kimchi, rocket main (€16). Both feeling melancholy from the dark drizzle outside, we were determined to shake it off with something warm. But the only warm thing on the menu was soup and bread (€6), so it seemed the decision was made for us.
There aren’t a lot of people that get excited about fermented foods, but I must confess, I do. Yet this was no heady mixture for a sit-down dinner. It was strangely cold under the LED lights as we waited for our meal, which arrived after a little longer than expected, with one after the other on platters carrying a deep bowl and two half slices of pink crusted bread.
We asked for butter and started to eat before it arrived. Stirring the soup revealed a very light texture and we tasted it with caution, spooning from the sides. The flavour was rather confusing, with slices of hard carrot floating inside and, on further inspection, too lightly seasoned. We asked for salt to compensate.
The butter being to neither of our tastes, we asked the waiter, ever patient, for some olive oil. There was none. It seemed the kitchen only cooked with rapeseed oil. Yet our bread could not be eaten on its own – a little too dry and dense to swallow – so we resolved on dipping it into the soup, seeking flavour where we could find it.
We examined the menu, seeking something else, and order spiced and candied nuts (€4) to help perk up our senses (other side options included kale chips, which were popular on the night, and a bread selection). We liked the taste but were dazed by the size for the price we were going to pay, equalling a bowl the size of a thumb touching the tip of an index finger, and not very deep.
We asked for water at the end when the soup did not satisfy us, and became grainy towards the bottom. Our table was being taken by a reservation so we had to leave as we finished up. Paying our bill, we observed the simplistic preparation of food by the other member of staff. Beside the till were the various sweet things that would tempt you. But while the cakes had the virtue of looking lovely, we left gladly not having eaten any.
We walked wistfully past closing restaurants and wondered if we might have had a better experience somewhere else. The food was not bad, but did not stir the emotion ones would like, even at a vegan organic restaurant. Are the pared back days of veganism not over? Good food should not suffer by false attempts of a fad. The experience reminded me of plastic-free health food stores that only sell things people do not need at too high prices. The concept is pure and promising, the execution just does not live up to it. So if Beo wants to flourish outside of feeding organic vegans, an overhaul may be necessary soon.