The review: Rasam - a cut above, thanks to a kitchen that imports and grinds its own spices
Rasam, 18/19 Glasthule Road, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin. (01) 230-0600
I grew up near Bournemouth on the south coast of England. I gather that Bournemouth is trendy now, as people in their 30s gravitate from London out to the seaside, to towns in which they might actually be able to afford to buy a house and send their children to school and have the kind of normal life on a normal salary that has become impossible in the UK capital.
It was not always so. When I lived there, Bournemouth was full of old people, and popular with retired showbiz folk. (I don't remember any names, but do recall that I had a misplaced pride in the fact that Canford Cliffs, the suburb in which we lived, had the highest ratio of Rolls Royces per capita in the UK). I shared a dentist with Tony Blackburn (a portrait shot of him displaying his toothy grin hung over the receptionist's desk), something I found moderately impressive, though less so when said dentist injected one side of my mouth to numb it and proceeded to drill and fill a tooth on the other side.
My only actual brush with showbiz (aside from attending a Bay City Rollers concert at the Winter Gardens) was at my friend Julie's house. Her mother had been a member of the Black & White Minstrels song and dance troupe, but was now retired. She was a glamorous woman, with bouffant hair and heavy make-up, a more exotic creature than my own schoolteacher mother.
I never saw the Black & White Minstrels perform live (although the show ran at the Pavilion Theatre), but they were a regular feature on Saturday night television variety shows in the '70s before being cancelled in 1978, an inexplicable number of years after that should have happened. The thing about the minstrels was that they wore blackfaces, which is such a shocking notion now. (At around the same time, you could collect the labels off Robertson's jam to send away for golliwog brooches).
On Halloween night, which also happened to be the start of the Hindu festival of Diwali, we arrived for dinner at Rasam, a fine Indian restaurant located over the Eagle House pub in Glasthule, and the first people that we saw when we came through the door were a couple dressed as golliwogs in red and white striped suits, Afro wigs and full blackface make-up.
We were appalled and wondered what the reaction of the staff had been when their 7.30pm table for two showed up. Were they just too polite to do anything about it? The staff at Rasam are lovely, but I doubt that they could have found it easy to tolerate this.
The last time I ate at Rasam, there were just two of us, but on this occasion, we were five, so we tried a bigger selection of the dishes on offer.
Rasam is not your standard curry house: the focus is on authentic regional dishes from around India, so don't go there in search of chicken tikka masala. Even the poppadoms (light, fragrant), and the dips that accompany them, are superior.
Of the starters, the Nimbu Jhinga - pan-seared prawns with fresh turmeric, Kashimiri round chillies, ginger, fenugreek leaves, lemon leaves and garlic - is the standout, although dividing the three prawns equitably between us led to a little tension. The calamari, a dish found all around the coast of India, is coated in a crisp semolina crust and served with a spice-infused tomato chutney; it's excellent.
Palak Patta - crisp baby spinach leaves topped with a honey and yoghurt dressing are like a much better, tastier version of kale crisps. It's a dish that feels almost virtuous, as do most of the dishes at Rasam. The kitchen eschews heavy sauces and keeps an eye on the glycaemic load.
Imli Ki Machhi, red snapper fried in a light chickpea batter flavoured with tamarind, ginger and chilli, a Bengali speciality, is another winner. The only starter that fails to please is the duck rolls - a Keralan dish of Muscovy duck, flavoured with star anise, figs and tamarind, wrapped in filo pastry - that has a disappointingly sludgy texture.
Of the main courses, we are keenest on two lamb dishes: Dum Pukht Gosht from Lucknow, a slow-cooked, aromatic yoghurt lamb curry that is Rasam's signature dish; and Barrah Nalli from the north-west of India, a shank marinated in onions, cardamom, cloves and yoghurt, and served dry with a tangy, piquant sauce on the side.
We all find the Mango Prawn Curry too sweet, but the Aloo Baingan - aubergines and potatoes cooked with dry mango, green chillies, onions and fresh tomatoes - is delicious, and our quasi-vegetarian says that her favourite dish is the Palak Kofta, spinach dumplings in a creamy tomato and garlic sauce.
Sides are good, in particular the Methi Gobhi, a roasted cauliflower dish with a kick, and Chonka Patta, cabbage and spinach with mustard seeds, chilli and curry leaves. An initial modest order of two naan breads between the five of us is not enough.
With a single portion of rice and two desserts, including an excellent Malai Kulfi ice cream with basil seeds, two bottles of the Trimbach riesling that is such a good accompaniment to Indian food, and a single Cobra beer, our bill came to €267.35 before service.
Rasam is a cut above, thanks to a kitchen that imports and grinds its own spices, and a genuine commitment to authenticity. It's a treat.
8/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET
The early bird menu is priced at €23.95 for two courses plus tea or coffee.
ON A BLOW OUT
The Nimbu Jhinga prawns, followed by a Manshari Thali - a platter of lamb, chicken, prawns, potatoes and spinach served with pulao rice, naan bread and a sweet and sour pickle - and Malai Kulfi, would cost a little over €100 for two before wine or service.
THE HIGH POINT
A relaxed yet sophisticated restaurant that raises the bar when it comes to Indian food in Ireland thanks to its commitment to authentic recipes.
THE LOW POINT
Those appalling costumes.