The capital is fast becoming a splendid place to commit a spot of eating.
I enjoy a smashing seafood lunch (including gorgeous cockles with sherry and chorizo) in Fish Shop, while in Etto, I have one of the best and most enjoyable meals I’ve put away in years, a riotous night of superb food, wines and companionable service.
Tonight, Lady B and I are off to Pickle, first stopping in the Long Hall, it being some 30 years since last I supped in this venerable old Victorian palace, further imbuing our evening with a sense of occasion, before we wend our way up a buzzing Camden Street early on a wintery Thursday evening into the welcoming glow of Pickle where the crackle of contentment charges the air like static.
Pickle is a potentially awkward space, long, narrow, and at various levels, but a canny Indian-themed shabby-chic makeover, creates a series of chambers and though packed to the rafters, myriad waiting staff glide serenely throughout, the ‘oil’ in this effortlessly smooth ‘machine’. We are seated in under a minute, still catching our breath.
My love affair with Indian cuisine began during years living in England though it has rarely been well-served by Irish-based Indian restaurants since returning to the Oul’ Sod (Iyer’s, in Cork, being an honourable exception). Pickle (owned and operated by chef Sunil Ghai and restaurateur Benny Jacob) I am reliably informed, operates in a rather different league.
Golgappa, semolina and wheat ‘bubbles’ the size of ping-pong balls with a small hole, contain pomegranate seeds. We spoon zippy mint and coriander sauce and sumptuous date and tamarind chutney through the aperture, devouring all in a single playful bite.
Tandoori scallops carry citric lemony essence, tender flesh contrasting with crispy puffed rice, vermicelli and peanut masala and we tear at rustic smokey tandoori jumbo prawns demurely chaperoned by wasabi raita and nutty roasted beetroot.
We gnaw from the bone, spicy onion-marinated Irish lamb; pine nut and mint pesto and sharp pickled red onion refresh the palate while softer flesh of pickled baby aubergine carries its own sweet meaty oomph. There is heft to Wicklow venison in a samosa nicely paired with sweet-sharp forest berry chutney and rich fermented notes of smoked chilli yoghurt.
A ‘cleanser’ of pickled cucumber comes with salts, chilli, lemon and ‘black’, the latter a volcanic mineral with deep, sulphurous eggy notes that repel, then compel, all in the same mouthful. Though rarely encountered in bog-standard Irish outlets, pickles are an integral part of the daily Indian diet and a staple in this eponymously named establishment.
A glorious selection (carrot, mango, lime, seaweed, chilli) arrives, solely pickled in hot mustard oil, adding roundness and depth to their exquisite tangy bite.
I have long been staging my own one-man PR campaign to put goat meat on the Irish table, unable to fathom why the Gael doesn’t eat more of this wonderful meat. In future, I shall direct potential converts to Pickle’s goat mince curry, an earthy old school bowl with a throbbing chilli undertow.
Thirty-six-hour cooked lentils with butter naan is a meal in itself: blistered, chewy bread, soft and moist with butter, to dredge through the creamy comfort that is this gloopy, soupy dhal, spicing an ethereal echo at the back of the palate.
After that lot, I’m never eating again. Ever. For as long as I live and for several aeons again after that. Perhaps, this is why a nameless Mughal cook invented kulfi some 500 years ago, to tempt the seemingly sated into one last nibble and the nutty caramel of this iced confection is delicious, a sweet sinfulness further compounded by gulab jamun, deep-fried milky dough balls soaked in cardamom syrup.
This combo would earn you a death sentence at your Operation Transformation weekly weigh-in and don’t even let a diabetic into the same room when it’s on the table but it is a blissful conclusion to a blissfully sybaritic few days.
Pickle is, hands down, the best Indian food I have eaten in Ireland, playful, inventive, damn tasty and so much more than mere reproductions from the canon.
Wednesday to Friday, 12pm-2.15pm; Tuesday to Saturday, 5pm-10pm; Sunday, 3pm-9.30pm
- Food: 8.5/10
- Service: 9/10
- Value: 8.5/10
- Atmosphere: 9/10