43 Camden Street
Phone: 01 5557755
Irish Daily Mail
19 March 2016
Just as a critic needs to avoid what the lawyers call malice aforethought when choosing the subject of a review, I suppose we should avoid, insofar as we can, the very opposite: an expectation that you’re going to be wowed.
Well, on this occasion, I didn’t. I wasn’t looking forward to the next few days (which would involve a spell in hospital) and I wanted to eat somewhere (a) new and (b) where I had a reasonable expectation of having a great meal. So, I chose Pickle, the brand new restaurant of Sunil Ghai, until recently head chef of the superb Ananda in Dundrum. He and Ananda redefined Indian food in Ireland and let us see a degree of refinement in it that we had been unable to imagine.
To cut to the chase, I was not disappointed. In fact, I had a whale of a time. 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. 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.
We asked Sunil to choose for us and we spent a couple of hours marvelling at what came out of the kitchen, each dish rooted in the culinary traditions of northern India. It was like a musical performance that initially titilated, teased, then entertained and finally led up to a crescendo.
First came fine, plump, sweet prawns in a crisp coating of semolina, with the sharp tang of tamarind and the contrast of coconut flesh and flaked almonds. Then little samosas of pea and potato, presented with little dollops each of tamarind, mint and yoghurt, as pretty as a picture and combining crunch, comfort, sharpness, freshness and intense savouriness.
Chicken wings followed and they were both unusual and the best I’ve ever had. They had been “popped” (i.e. the meat pushed down the bone) and encased in a crisp shell of spiced flour. Moist inside, they came with an earthy, deep roast tomato chutney and a fresh one of coconut and chilli. Chicken wings will never be the same, to be honest.
Now we moved on to venison keema roti with berry chutney. You see what I mean about this being Indian food and not at all as we have known it? Well imagine a kind of stuffed pancake, the filling being venison, slow cooked with warm, earthy spices, the whole thing rich and deep but cut with a sharp fresh chutney of berries. Now you have it.
Then came lamb chops that had been marinated in, amongst other things, smoked chilli, ginger and garlic, then cooked in the tandoor and served with shaved fennel and a remarkable chutney of smoked aubergine, fresh strawberries and green chillis. This was a revelation. I have since had dreams about it.
By the time we hit the crisp potato cakes stuffed with lentils and chickpeas flavoured with asafoetida (think very aromatic, garlicky, almost truffley with a hint of musk), my ability to memorise the elements of each dish was becoming debatable but I do remember that this vegetarian dish was astonishingly good, right down to the mixture of powdered lime, black salt and sugar that made the whole dish jump with taste. Wasabi yoghurt was another unexpected but amazingly effective element. This is a dish from Sunil’s hometown in northern India and he is understandably very proud of it.
Then a fabulously intense curry of minced goat into which we were invited to mix strands of raw red onion and bits of toasted bread, a kind of milky Indian brioche. I felt the meal could not keep getting better but it did.
However, by the time our duck dish arrived, we were defeated. We didn’t manage to do justice to the dry jalfrezi style curry of meaty duck breast with red and yellow peppers, puffed lotus seeds (think the very ultimate popcorn) and crisped lotus root slices. It was even better than that bald description would suggest.
We shared a dish of kulfi, the richer, more lush Indian version of ice cream which came in a sundae glass with sweet saffron vermicelli, roasted nuts and an all pervading flavour and aroma of roses. Ambrosial or what?
We ate far too much and ran up a bill of €130 which gives a misleading impression of this affordable restaurant. But we didn’t regret it.
Pickle is a very important addition to Dublin.