It’s approaching 10am as people flow through the archway towards the marketplace.
Among them are Ken Doherty and Gwen McGrath, who make a beeline for the goods from Broughgammon Farm.
They’ve arrived to scour the stalls at Meeting House Square in Temple Bar for ingredients to combine into dishes to serve at Assassination Custard, their tiny restaurant on Lower Kevin Street.
These sweetbreads may be the thyroid gland of a goat, sure, but they are tasty when poached and pan-fried with butter and capers, says Doherty.
He is picking up his next purchase: fresh goat hearts. “What we do is thinly slice these and then grill them, mix them with some salsa verde or salmoriglio, pan-fry them then and mix them with some anchovies,” he says.
Assassination Custard opened quietly in September 2015. Since then, Doherty and McGrath have won praise for their use of flavours and ingredients. Although they create new recipes each day, standards include chickpea fritters and nduja rolls: spreadable, spicy salami served on homemade bread. The prices are low, between €3.50 and €7.50 each for most of the smallish dishes.
With eight seats available and menus handwritten on brown-paper bags, the restaurant continues to have a no-frills decor and a focus on the food.
It opens for just three hours each day, between 12pm and 3pm, Tuesday to Friday. Doherty and McGrath spend the rest of their time either parenting their two young daughters or hosting private parties.
Grab and Go
Each week, usually on Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings, Doherty and McGrath make the market rounds.
The McNallys’ vegetable stall in Meeting House Square is a staple for them. Many of the recipes on Assassination Custard’s ever-changing menu are vegetarian.
“These are bitter leaves,” says Doherty, grabbing handfuls of bagged up, long green stalks. “What we do is we blanch them, then fry them on the pan with some garlic and turmeric. Gorgeous.”
“Are we going to buy everything today or will we go shopping again tomorrow?” asks McGrath. She is filling a wicker basket with more bitter leaves.
Tonight, in addition to a party of 10 at the restaurant, the couple are catering a wedding dinner for 80 people earlier in the evening.
“We’d never buy this much,” says Doherty, smiling, throwing into the basket a few more bags of leaves, just to be safe.
“Ah, that’s loads,” cries McGrath.
Doherty grabs the last two bunched stalks of kai broccili. “We just pan-fry them straight,” he says. “We don’t bother blanching them. We just mix them with black garlic.”
“We’ll maybe get two more of those,” says McGrath, with Irish heritage tomatoes in one hand and a second basket in the other.
“We’ll just serve them with a dressing of vinaigrette, some raw onion and capers. That’s it. Sharp and sweet,” she says.
By now each basket is also laden with giant courgettes – these will be sliced and pan-fried in oil – and marrows, which are best with butter, says Doherty.
The dozen or so Padrón peppers, sat next to red cabbage, tomatoes, cavolo nero or black kale, bitter leaves and small gherkins for pickling, will be grilled and filled with labneh, a rich strained yogurt. “The texture of the labneh cools them down,” says McGrath.
Nothing goes to waste, and although the couple’s cooking could be described as somewhere between Italian and Middle Eastern, there is plenty of experimentation.
The wedding party have requested that gravy be served with the porchetta main.
Just as well Doherty and McGrath cooked Chinese ribs during the week. “There was loads of lovely sauce from that. So we have that. We’ll cook that down,” says Doherty.
Together, the couple work out whether they’ve enough to cater both parties this evening, and what’s needed for Tuesday afternoon’s lunch.
They pay up. Loaded with half-a-dozen blue-and-white plastic bags filled with fresh ingredients, it’s a quick stop-off home and on to Assassination Custard.
The Love Of It
On Tuesday morning, shortly before 12pm, Doherty and McGrath scribble the last of the day’s menu on a small brown paper bag.
Some ingredients are familiar. Today it’s pickled cucumber for €3.50, and chicória with anchovies and lemon at €5. There are also salty panelle – chickpea fritters – which cost €5, and the Padrón peppers for €6.
Doherty pulls on his red chef’s hat and fires up the grill. McGrath tosses hazelnuts into a hot pan. A round table with six chairs fills the bulk of the restaurant. To the left, near the entrance, a table for two. That’s it.
The low prices mean it’s not always easy to make money, says Doherty. People also at times worry they won’t a get a table due to the restaurant’s size.
Two customers arrive at 12:08pm, an early lunch. “He’s been raving about ye for days,” one announces, as they take their seats at the round table.
Further down the menu, they find those soft heritage tomatoes with onion and capers for €5. There’s also endive slow-cooked in butter for five hours, Keralan thoran for €6.50 and kai broccoli with spiced tahini for €6.50.
The goat’s heart has been doused in oregano and fermented chili for €7.50, and, to finish, there are rum baba – soft cakes doused in liquor – for €3.50.
McGrath puts one baba on a saucer for me, leaving it atop the counter. Doherty places four Padrón peppers on a pan and looks up soon after. The dessert’s been demolished.
“You’ll roll home after that,” he laughs.