43 Camden Street
Phone: 01 555 7755
Pickle is fabulous, a gloriously informal riot of intense flavours, vivid colours, unexpected subtleties, flashes of spicy hotness, deep and earthy tones, light and delicate dances on the tongue.
Pickle would be a bright star no matter where it was geographically. But in Ireland, even in cosmopolitan Dublin these days, the general run of food from the Indian sub-continent – with a handful of lovely exceptions - is pretty pedestrian and often narcoleptically predictable. In this context, Pickle is a luminescent ruby in the dust. The fact that it won Ethnic Restaurant of the Year in the Food and Wine magazine awards for 2016 should be no surprise.
You see, chef/proprietor Sunil Ghai is a man who creates quite a stir wherever he goes. When he came to Ireland the better part of a decade ago, Ireland had never seen anything like his cooking. There was a vague notion that exciting Indian food existed beyond the hoary old staples; but Sunil quite simply redefined what we expected and, ultimately, wanted. In 2009 he was Food & Wine magazine’s Chef of the Year, in 2013 the RAI Awards Chef of the Year.
Pickle, a joint venture with business partner Benny Jacob as FOH, is the logical extension but, I’m pretty sure, not the conclusion. Sunil’s own venture in a premises which, ironically, was at one time a pretty bog standard Indian or Pakistani joint of the of the chicken tikka masala school. And once again he is making waves.
Despite months of feverish anticipation – because we all knew this was going to be good – and the danger of expecting just too much, Pickle turned out to be fabulous, a gloriously informal riot of intense flavours, vivid colours, unexpected subtleties, flashes of spicy hotness, deep and earthy tones, light and delicate dances on the tongue.
And it’s not expensive, when you consider the level of cooking that is involved. You can eat superbly here for the money that would buy you something utterly indifferent elsewhere.
Everything I have eaten here has been memorable, from the best chicken wings I have ever tasted (popped and encased in a crisp, spiced shell, served with an earthy, cooked chutney of roast tomato, and a fresh, zingy one of coconut and chilli) to an amazing curry of finely minced goat with strands of crisp, raw red onion and fragments of a kind of Indian brioche.
See what I mean? I could go on to mention the yin of keema roti, a rich, sticky amalgam of slow-cooked venison and spices presented in a delicate pancake with the yang of a chutney of fresh berries. Or one of the finest vegetarian dishes I’ve ever tasted: potato pancakes stuffed with lentils and chickpeas that had been flavoured with musky, garlicky, almost truffley asafoetida. On the side was an electrifying mixture of powdered dried lime, black salt and sugar, plus a wasabi yoghurt.
So, the polar opposite of the omelette that vegetarians are so often offered.
What you need to know about Pickle, in a concise form is as follows.
The cooking is exciting, vibrant and different, with many dishes (including the stuffed pancakes) coming from Sunil Ghai’s own region in northern India. Expect the unexpected. Vegetarians will think they have been assumed into heaven.
The décor is minimal, clean, bright: attractive old tiled floor with retro travel posters on the walls. Don’t expect fripperies and silliness here. The focus is right on the food and that extends to desserts, an area in which the average Indian restaurant in Ireland fails, frankly, to shine. The ambrosial, rose-scented kulfi lives on in my memory.
And finally, this is a restaurant that firmly believes in pairing wines with Indian food, often with wholly unanticipated loveliness. However, there’s a fine collection of beers too.