Dundrum Town Centre
Phone: 01 296 0099
Irish Daily Mail
2 January 2016
Reviewing restaurants is difficult as Christmas approaches. The whole landscape, so to speak, changes as hordes of people who might not even think of eating out during the rest of the year join a gadarene rush to a restaurant, any restaurant.
So, I don’t review restaurants in December. But, on the other hand, I like to catch up with some old friends over, so to speak, a nosebag, and we go somewhere that’s an old favourite and utterly dependable. This year, it included an excellent dinner in a jam-packed L’Gueuleton and a genuinely memorable one at Ananda.
Ireland’s first Indian restaurant opened in 1908, close to the Gresham Hotel; it lasted just a year. The next one seems to have been established on Lower Baggot Street in 1939, lasting until 1943. Dublin’s collective palate must have been too conservative to support such exoticism.
Mike Butt opened The Golden Orient in 1956 on Leeson Street, an opulent place by all accounts that lasted until 1984. When I was student I delivered wine there during my Christmas break when I worked for Mitchell’s of Kildare Street. I still remember the deliciously spicy aroma of the kitchens.
How authentic such restaurants were is a matter of debate. I suspect that most dishes were adjusted and attenuated for the “Irish palate” (the organ for which “Amicardo, the Irish sherry” was, according to the 1960s tv commercial, “specially blended”).
Even today, the average “Indian” restaurant in the average Irish town would not cut the mustard, or any other condiment, back on the vast Sub-Continent. Or so my Indian and Pakistani friends tell me.
When Asheesh Dewan’s Jaipur restaurants burst upon an unsuspecting Dublin in the 1990s, there was a sudden realisation that we were seeing the real thing for the first time. Jaipur was, and still is, crisp, modern and everything that a bog standard “Indian” restaurant is manifestly not.
And then came, emerging from the Jaipur mini-empire, Ananda, showcasing the spectacular talent of Sunil Ghai who had originally come to Dublin to work with Asheesh Dewan. It remains an Indian restaurant apart, one that deals in subtlety, creativity, authenticity mixed with creativity, and an eclectic mirroring of the culinary diversity of that vast land.
So much so, we asked Sunil to order for us. Otherwise we would be still poring over the menu.
Our feast started with a taste of the sea in the form of samundari moti, a Mumbai dish of scallops, from Kilkee, served with a very refined version of what we generally call Bombay mix, crunchy but moist, tangily spiced, with a deep tomato ragout. And there was tillapia, a fish of which we are bound to see more, in the form of a little fillet, encased in crisp semolina crumb served with a sauce of smoked chilli and half a roasted lime.
These two dishes, so poised, so elegant really did provoke the appetite while also setting the agenda. How often in an Irish “Indian” restaurant does the word “elegant” spring to mind?
Main courses were equally off the well worn path. A Keralan curry of duck eggs in a brick-coloured, deep, mysteriously delicious sauce came with plump, crispy prawns which brought with them their own, complimentary spicing. As to what spice was where, my senses were so overwhelmed with pleasure at this stage, I didn’t really care.
We mopped up the sauce with Malabar paratha, a flaky, rather delicate version of the usual northern Indian flatbread.
Then came a pork chop with a huge difference as it was brilliantly paired with a vindaloo sauce, red hot (by our wimpish standards) and so tart it danced on the tongue, cutting the richness of the meat. Further acidity and crispness was added by slices of apple cooked with pork belly. And there was yet another kind of sharpness in the form of tamarind rice.
At this point I have to admit that we could have fed six hungry people quite comfortably with the amount of food that passed across our table. Indeed the fabulous lentils alone, which are cooked for 24 hours with fenugreek and ginger and then served with the zing of crème fraîche, would have kept me going for a day.
We also enjoyed, as far as we could at this stage, a mixture of asparagus, French beans and choi sum which had been dry-fried with their own masala blend.
Refreshed in mind and body – that’s how good and how different Ananda is – we headed off convinced that we would not have to eat until Christmas Day.
The bill for this vast feast, including mineral water and a bottle of Alsace Gewurztraminer, came to €114.25