Are faraway hills greener?

Eoghan Conway reviews the vegan and vegetarian dining institution that is Glas

I’ve always been somewhat of a carnivore. Vegetables were reserved as a side dish, the supporting acts to the main feast. If I was to condense my culinary caveats down to two words, they would be carveries and cream. My draw to Chatham Street would be Neary’s pub or as a byroad to head to Bambino, Metro Cafe, or some other institution that can give me greasy gratification. My menu decisions usually revolve around chicken or beef, never chickpeas or beetroots. That said, I’m not averse to vegetables – well, not totally averse.

My relationship with vegetarianism and veganism is like that of many I feel. Veganuary, maybe I should give that a try, my red meat consumption probably isn’t helping anyone. Sure I can just get my iron from spinach. Should, could and would. Conditionalities, and my love of butter for that matter, always stopped me from making the change. Despite this, to celebrate World Vegan Day, I sent a tokenistic message to my vegan cousin, “Dinner in Glas?” For those who don’t know, Glas is considered to be the cream of the crop when it comes to vegan and vegetarian dining in Dublin. A slight oxymoron of a sentence, I know. After a swift affirmative response, I had a partner-in-dine acquired and a table booked. But did it meat my expectations? 

The three-course set dinner menu costs €49 excluding sides. Sides are an additional €6. It’s somewhat reasonably priced, I feel, for a Michelin guide-recommended restaurant. The drinks menu at Glas is an extensive one: cocktails, cognacs and cabernet sauvignon, they have it all. A cheaper three-course early bird is also available, providing serious value for a locally sourced, sustainable and seasonal spread. Yet I was there for dinner, sides included, no half measures. 

“I don’t know what it was about this Manhattan meets Monaghan garden centre vibe, it shouldn’t really have worked, but it kind of does. Sort of.”

Glas is unapologetic when it comes to its decor. Fake candles and false ferns in a place that prioritises produce are an interesting choice. Posters displaying leaves, shrubbery and foliage greet you as you enter. One thing is for certain: this is no steakhouse. A gaudy, boho-chic petal-patterned wallpaper decorates the back wall. This is contrasted by a slick underlit black marble bar top, one manned by a collared mixologist. The toilets are home to a selection of Edward Hopper prints — the Nighthawks of New York at odds with the diners of Dublin. I don’t know what it was about this Manhattan meets Monaghan garden centre vibe, it shouldn’t really have worked, but it kind of does. Sort of. 

My first course was a Beetroot Tartare, one presented in a nouvelle cuisine manner. This was served with a chilled celeriac dashi, a fried seaweed fritter, and a ginger aioli. The earthy and bitter notes of the beetroot were cut pleasantly by the fiery aioli. The umami-packed dashi provided good soakage for the fritter. The fritter itself added a much-appreciated crunch to the plate, diced beetroot can only do so much. My dining buddy remarked, “Damn, tastes like a spring roll”. Can’t argue with him there. Overall, my starter was very pleasant. Conflicting textures and tastes was the main takeaway.  

Within minutes our mains arrived. I had opted for the BBQ celeriac. This was served on a bed of sauerkraut with two smoked potato dumplings on each side and a dressing of mustard “caviar.” It was apparent from the get-go that the celeriac was a clear imitation of a steak. If imitation is the greatest form of flattery, this statement, when applied here, does neither fillet steak nor celeriac justice. My main had a distinct and saporous flavour. One I presume imparted using a marinade to give more flavour to the chunky pieces of celeriac before it was seared, giving it this faux meat-esque crust. The mild smoky flavour was ever so slightly overpowered by the acidity of the pickled cabbage and the popping grains of mustard. The potato dumplings added a nice bit of substance to the main course, yet fell victim to the sharp juices of the sauerkraut. If the intention was smoked potato dumplings, the end result was ones that were sour and saturated. Side dishes of patatas bravas, tossed in a paprika salt and served with saffron aioli, as well as sautéed chard with smoked almonds, were hard to fault. 

My dessert was a multi-faceted plate consisting of poached quince, a coffee crémeux, a ginger sablé and a chestnut caramel bonbon. It was clear that each element, when tasted alone, had been thoughtfully constructed. Rich quince, bittersweet crémeux, crumbly sablé and a textured bonbon. However, when tried together, the dish was elevated. Each element played its part to deliver a showstopping performance. We knock back the rest of our screw top pinot noir and bounce. 

I think Glas is a bit like that vegan mate after a heavy night out of drinking as they sit in a McDonald’s. Looking on as their mates devour chicken nuggets, unsure of where their priorities lie. Should Glas stay true to its literal and metaphorical roots, valuing produce and a commendable ethos, or is Glas a chameleon, there to mimic non-vegan/vegetarian dishes offering viable alternatives to their meat counterparts? The words caviar, carpaccio, and terrine wouldn’t spring to mind when I think vegan or vegetarian, yet they all appear on the menu. 

“More places need to try and appeal to the masses and ensure that vegan and vegetarian dishes are not just a side thought for that one customer who is viewed as difficult and virtuous.”

At the end of the day, it is a Michelin guide-recommended restaurant for a reason. The experience, the motivations and the level of experimentation are all highly commendable. It’s a green flag for Glas in this department. More places need to try and appeal to the masses and ensure that vegan and vegetarian dishes are not just a side thought for that one customer who is viewed as difficult and virtuous. As I tap my phone to pay for the meal, the Revolut notification bings, “Paid Just Legumes Ltd.” In fairness, I think to myself, they have done those legumes justice. Did I leave looking like the Michelin tyre man, elated and full after a big feed? Not exactly. But would I go back? Probably. Maybe far-away hills are greener after all – even if those hills are right on your doorstep and are more like vegetable patches.