On Monday afternoon, owner and head chef Nageh Shaaban sat sipping a coffee in his brightly painted restaurant, Cafe Oasis, on North King Street.
The walls are green and blue with drawings of palm trees and pyramids. There are books and ornaments, sheesha pipes on the shelves, and coloured lights hanging from the windows.
Shaaban, who is middle aged with dark hair, says the painting of the walls was done for him by a local artist, who runs a company called All Out Design. It cost him a bit but he loves the style, he says.
A two-minute walk from Smithfield Square, Oasis is a small restaurant with a lengthy menu offering dish after dish of Lebanese and Mediterranean food – which he says are all cooked from scratch.
“Everything is home-made, old-fashioned cooking,” he says. “We call it ‘mother’s way’.”
Long menus can raise eyebrows, though. How can anyone serve everything from burgers and kebabs, to pizzas, pastas, Lebanese main courses, sandwiches and moussaka and still get it right?
Yet, the food is tasty. The spicy chicken wings (€6) come with a garlic dip that tastes creamy and of fresh yoghurt.
The char-grilled chicken – marinated in herbs – comes with the same dip, and also a side salad and chips. The chips are home-made, chunky, salty, and crispy.
The taste depends on when you add the herbs, says Shaaban. Some meats you marinate or smother in herbs when they are cold. Others, you douse when they are hot.
Shaaban is originally from Egypt. “Lebanese food is the same as food in Egypt, really, so that is what we eat every day,” he says.
He arrived in Dublin with his family about 20 years ago. “Then I worked as a chef for 12 years in Little Caesar’s Italian restaurant here in Dublin, so I have to be able to cook Italian food well,” he says, with a smile.
Before that he lived in Greece for three years, and he worked there as a chef too. That’s part of the reason the menu ended up so extensive.
Shaaban opened Cafe Oasis in 2013 and says it was tough to get it off the ground.
Despite being very close to Smithfield, he is not on a main thoroughfare, so people have to hear about his food and come looking for the restaurant, he says. He he doesn’t get much passing trade.
His first year in business he worked night and day to establish the restaurant and its reputation, he says. It took a lot of time and perseverance to build up his customer base.
“I did everything myself for the first year. I was in the kitchen and I was doing the floor,” he says.
As he got busier, he hired someone to cover him for a couple of hours here and there, and, little by little, he built up his team.
“I took a business course and they told me it would take three years to get a business to be profitable. I didn’t believe them,” he says, “but it’s true.”
He still does a lot of the cooking himself, and says it can be hard to recruit chefs who can cook everything on his menu.
But he believes that people are starting to talk about Oasis more, both as a sit-in restaurant and as a take-away. They do a good trade in deliveries as well.
“I believe next year we will be one of the busiest restaurants in the Smithfield area,” he says, with a smile.
Oasis doesn’t sell alcohol, but you can bring your own beer or wine, and there’s no corkage charge if you do.
All the mains are priced at €12. There are 13 pasta dishes on the menu, which range in price from €10 to €14.
The 12-inch pizzas start at €8.50. Kebabs come with home-made chips, salad and bread, and start at €10. Salads start from €6.50.