It's lunchtime on one of the coldest days of the year. The pavements are frosty, but the sun is shining, the skies are blue and the election's been called – at least three reasons to be cheerful. Best of all I have a new lunch companion – it's the first time that I've managed to persuade Mollie to join me on a review. As it turns out, she doesn't have too many opinions about the business at hand but, for a seven-week-old on her first restaurant excursion, she is impeccably behaved – obliging her mum, granny and me by having a snooze while we eat, waking for a bottle and then charming the waitress while we drink our coffees.
Mollie's not the only baby in the Happy Pear on the day of our visit. They're a fecund lot, the Greystonians, judging by the number of bonny infants on the premises. Hardy too, as plenty of said babies are – despite the freezing weather – hanging out at the tables on the pavement outside, being bounced on knees and generally having a good time.
Wholesome good vibes from the Happy Pear have been wending my way for a couple of months now. Steven and David Flynn's food store, vegetable market, juice bar and café has quite a following; it's popular with locals and walkers in need of sustenance after hiking over the hill from Bray along the coastal path. Friends attended a Happy Heart course there before Christmas and were delighted with both weight loss and cholesterol lowering, although the regime had been pretty tough. Others told of the free organic porridge that the Happy Pear dishes out each morning – acting, so a notice on the wall asserts, on instructions from the IMF.
Greystones' main street has an abundance of eateries – there's A Caviston next door,
3 Qs and Backstage@Bel's down the street and the Hungry Monk across the road. It was nice to see so many of these establishments doing good business on a Wednesday lunchtime in the middle of January. The Happy Pear was the busiest of them all – its offering appealing to the clean-living sensibilities of the first month of the year.
The menu – which changes daily – is time-warp vegetarian wholefood. You queue up to order on the ground floor and take a tray either outside or upstairs to a higgledy-piggledy room with a fire. There are a couple of soups, half-a-dozen salads, a few stuffed pitas and two hot main courses, plus various cakes.
Between the three of us we covered a good cross-section of what was on offer. Soups – squash and coriander and mild Indian vegetable – were both hearty and flavoursome, the accompanying home-made bread really excellent. Hummus was terrific, lighter than the norm, almost as if it had been whipped.
Mains weren't quite as successful. Hungarian goulash, topped with sour cream, was pleasant enough but nothing special. A Spanish chick-pea bake was bland and heavy, the portion grotesquely huge and the potato topping unnecessary. Salads – green, potato with sun-dried tomatoes and red onion, red cabbage with carrot, yellow pepper and sprouts and couscous – were generally good. While it was all very worthy and substantial – Mary Pat said she could feel it doing her good – there was nothing here to convince me that I could ever be a vegetarian. (Now, if Denis Cotter were cooking for me on a daily basis I might be persuaded.)
Sweet things are clearly a strength. Chocolate fudge cake topped with whole roasted almonds was dense and delicious, while carrot cake – cinnamon-scented, choc a bloc with walnuts and topped with seriously good icing – was light and more-ish. There are wheat-free and gluten-free options too.
Our bill for this enormous quantity of food came to €36.40 – the fact that all the prices are on a board rather than a printed menu (and the receipt was a bit all over the place) has hampered me being able to identify the prices of each item. We would have eaten well on only half the amount.
There's nothing elegant about the Happy Pear – this is old-fashioned vegetarian nosh that may not provide much in the way of foodie excitement but seems to be exactly what the punters want. The place was packed out for the whole time that we were there.