Eating Out: Paolo Tullio at Sanjay's Kitchen
"All three of us did that 'wow' and 'OMG' and 'that's amazing' thing. Such a fresh taste."
In All the President's Men, a movie about the Watergate break-in, the whistleblower 'Deep Throat' tells reporter Bob Woodward to "follow the money". That's brilliant advice when you're trying to unravel a conspiracy and it's how Deep Throat put Woodward and Bernstein on the right path to uncovering the whole of the Watergate break-in and subsequent cover up.
Now I'm going to give you similar advice. When you get a meal in a restaurant that really makes you happy, follow the chef. Chefs are peripatetic and tend to move a lot from place to place, so if you want to keep eating the dishes you liked, then you need to follow the chef to the next restaurant.
Here's an example: there's an Indian restaurant in Glasthule called Rasam which gets consistently good reviews from all who eat there.
The head chef from here moved to Indie Dhaba in Anne's Lane, where he garnered even more good reviews. He's moved again, and now he's in Leixlip in his own restaurant, called Sanjay's Kitchen. So now you know - we've been following Sanjay Vishwakarma.
I set out for Leixlip with my son Rocco and his fiancée, Ruby Slevin. We found Sanjay's Kitchen easily enough in a side street just off the main street. It's in a pretty spot, bounding on the Liffey. Inside there's a definite Asian feel to the décor and there are large windows all around two sides of the dining room, giving you views of lawn. It took a while, but after a bit Rocco said, "Isn't that roof finish a bit pagoda-like?" Indeed it was.
Further investigation showed us a very Chinese design on the backs of our chairs. Suddenly, the scales fell from our eyes. We were in a Chinese restaurant. I know now it was Miss Wongs before Sanjay took it over, so as long as you think 'Asian' and not 'Indian' you'll feel perfectly at home.
I hadn't made a booking, but I must have been recognised because Sanjay himself came to the table just as we started looking at the menus. After a brief chat with him, he said those words that I so love in a restaurant - "We'll put ourselves entirely in your hands." Once he'd established that none of us was allergic to any food, he went off to cook and I checked through the wine list. It's short enough but the mark-up is lower than usual. House wines are under €20, for example. I picked a Salice Salentino, a red wine from the Salento peninsula in Italy's heel. It's nicely balanced and full of ripe, almost cooked, fruit flavours for €25.
Then the food started to arrive. First came the poppadoms with three dips -mango, spicy tomato and a flavour that was perfectly delicious and that I couldn't deconstruct.
It turned out to be carrot-based with cumin and mango, and it was one of the tastiest things I've ever eaten.
Next came Rawat ki raj kachori, which was a large hollow dough shell filled with mung bean sprouts, kidney beans, yoghurt and mango chutney.
All three of us did that "wow" and "OMG" and "that's amazing" thing. It had a really fresh, clean taste and made a great start to the meal.
It was followed by jumbo prawns, butterflied and served with a blend of lemon juice, turmeric, mustard and fresh coriander. This too was a fine dish, and a great blend of flavours. Next, we each got a small glass of fried okra. The okra was flavoured with carom seeds, chilli, turmeric and mango powder, a similar blend to the prawns. Rocco and Ruby really liked it; I found it less than exciting.
Next came the Goan squid, fried rings served with peri peri chutney. They were tasty, but they suffered from that common squid affliction - they were tough.
No matter, what came next was stunning. It was on the menu as Murgh Kalimirch, but it's also known as chicken Tangra, after a district of Kolcatta that was once their Chinatown. Of the many dishes we went through, this one still remains in the memory as the night's star dish.
Next we got lamb spare ribs, marinated and cooked long and slow.
Not surprisingly, we were beginning to slow up by now, but the main courses were yet to arrive. So loosening our belts, we waited for more food.
Four dishes arrived together along with a dish of steamed basmati rice and naan bread. Slow-braised lamb shank, a chicken curry, hake cooked with green chillies and the day's special, ray wing.
By the time the side orders of potatoes, kidney beans and cauliflower florets arrived, the table was properly stuffed and so were we. It was obvious we'd be taking a lot of this home with us.
Of these, there was no doubt, the chicken curry was a star dish. Flavoured with lemony coriander, chilli flakes and mixed peppers, it was astonishingly good.
The only dish that didn't please us was the ray, and I suspect this was what used to be called a 'pissy ray' in Dublin.
Rays are sharks, and if badly handled on landing, they excrete urea and ammonia which taints the flesh. Sadly it's a taste that remains and no amount of spices will change that.
Kulfi all round and coffees finished this fine meal, bringing us a bill for €132.10.
On a budget
An early-bird special menu runs all week. Two courses are €16.90 and you can add a dessert for €3.90.
On a blowout
We probably overdid it, but if you want to see what Sanjay can do, try putting yourself in his hands. We only paid €43 each, including wine.
The High Point
We all agreed it was the chicken curry. Superb.
The Low Point
The pissy ray. Of course, not the chef's fault.
Value for money: 9/10
Ralph Square, Leixlip, Co Kildare
Tel. 01 624 7707
Whispers from the Gastronomicon
It's always a pleasant surprise when I find a classic Irish dish on a menu. There's no harm in importing cuisines and their dishes, but we should celebrate our own cuisine as well. So it's good news that there's a new restaurant in Frederick Street called the Old Music Shop, which takes its name from Walton's, the music shop that used to be there. Executive chef Carlo Alambi will be serving the best of traditional Irish cuisine, as well as European classics. I'm looking forward to trying it.