Friday 19 July 2019

On the spice trail - Ananda Dundrum Shopping Centre

Paolo Tullio

There's a lovely word in Italian to describe that blind, unquestioning loyalty to where one lives. It's 'campanelismo', from the Italian word 'campana', meaning a bell. In other words, you can only hear the sound of your own church bells -- every town dweller is a local patriot.

I find myself subject to 'campanelismo', convinced as I am that the centre of the universe is based in Annamoe. When people ask me what happens when it snows up in the hills, I always answer: "Dublin gets cut off."

I'm not the only one to have this belief. Charley Boorman's newest TV adventure, By Any Means, was a trip from the centre of the universe -- Annamoe -- to Sydney. Annamoe is where he grew up, so he hears the same bells that I do. On the day he left on his vintage motorbike, we all turned up to wish him well and eagle-eyed viewers might have seen me waving Charley off.

This week, he was back in Dublin to do a Q&A in Dundrum shopping centre, which took place in a cinema that was packed with his fans. After that he went to Hughes & Hughes, where an even larger crowd was waiting for him to sign books. At every turn he met with adulation, which he accepted both modestly and graciously.

I'd gone in with Charley's dad, John Boorman, and the idea was that after Charley had finished doing his book signing, we'd go for a bite to eat. For me that was serendipitous. I'd been wanting to try the new Indian restaurant, called Ananda, that has opened in the shopping centre and here was a perfect opportunity.

After a while, John and I realised that Charley was going to be signing books for quite a while, so we went on ahead. We found Ananda by going around the side of the cinemas and up the road a bit, where you find a lift that takes you to the restaurant. There we discovered the other entrance, which we'd passed inside the centre without noticing.

The dining room is in a modern building, but they've gone to a bit of trouble to soften the hard edges with intricately-carved Indian wooden panels. Other than that, the interior is quite austere with plain, neutral walls. We were handed menus and they were up to my expectations, which were high. Ananda is the latest venture for Asheesh Dewan, the man behind the Jaipur chain and Chakra in Greystones. This time he's partnered with Atul Kochhar -- the first Indian chef to get a Michelin star for his London restaurant, Benares -- and Ananda is the result. The executive chef is Sunil Ghai, who has been with the Jaipur chain since 2001 and has spent the past few months in Benares working with Atul. In between, they created the menu in Ananda.

While we were making up our minds, we were able to pick away at bowls of prawn crackers that came with a selection of dips: a chilli, a spiced yoghurt, and an amazingly good tamarind one. We decided to go ahead and order, rather than wait for Charley. John chose the aloo tikki to start, which was pan-fried potato cakes filled with spiced peas, and followed that with duck chettiyar, slow cooked with southern Indian spices.

I started with the baingan ki katli, which was a grilled aubergine steak cooked with mustard, and followed that with the mahsahari thali. A thali is a traditional Indian way of serving a variety of dishes, often from different regions. This one gave me a chance to try a lamb, a chicken, a prawn and a vegetable curry.

The wine list is a good one. It's long, with more than 100 wines listed, very fairly priced and well chosen. As an example, here's the list of the white wines by the glass -- all under €8: a Spanish Verdejo, the Yalumba unoaked Chardonnay, the Torres Santa Digna Sauvignon, a Macon-Lugny, a Barossa Riesling, the Collavini Pinot Grigio and Lawson's Dry Hills Sauvignon; all decent wines. The majority of the wines listed were less than €30, which was great to see.

We decided that the Albert Pic Chablis, at €34, would be perfect for us.

We both enjoyed our starters, although I thought John's potato cake starter was rather better than mine which, although tasty enough, was just a little plain. What was clear, though, was that the seasoning and spicing of the dishes was the work of a chef with great skill.

We'd just been given our main courses when Charley arrived with David, his London editor, and two of the Hughes & Hughes team, so we were now six. The look of my thali prompted the order of two more -- and, by tasting from it, a lamb and a chicken curry were ordered as well.

As an introduction to this restaurant's menu, the thali is perfect. Effectively, you get to try four dishes and that's a fair cross-section of the menu.

Of the four I had before me, I liked the lamb curry the best, closely followed by the prawns. Meanwhile, John finished off his duck very happily and further compliments came from the rest of the table. If you enjoy Indian food, Ananda takes Indian cuisine to a new level for Dublin.

Between these dishes, the rice, the prawn crackers and the naan bread, we were well fed at this point. It was also getting late, so we decided to have coffees and leave. It was about then that a young woman stopped by our table and said to me: "Would you mind if I get a photo of you and me?" I was deeply flattered, but before I could get up Charley was on his feet. He came around the table smiling and ready for his photo. I hadn't the heart to stop him, so Jenny Murphy PhD, if you're reading this, thank you for this Zoolander moment.

While the photos were being taken, David went and paid the bill, so I don't know what it came to. But I can say that what John and I ordered would have come to about €110 without service.

Ananda, Dundrum Town Centre, Dundrum, Co Dublin. Tel: 01-296 0099

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