Paolo Tullio: Spice up your Tastebuds
This is a review that wasn't supposed to happen this week. But it happened because I'm not in the habit of reading the second half of newspapers. And, because I hadn't read the back pages, I must have been one of the very few people in the country who didn't know that Ireland were playing Wales at Lansdowne Road. Sorry, at the Aviva Stadium.
It was the opening night of 'God of Carnage' at the Gate Theatre and I'd arrived in Dalkey to pick up Marian Kenny before heading into the city. Being an opening night, and therefore a glitzy occasion, I'd put on the glad rags and Marian was looking very glamorous.
We set off from Dalkey an hour and quarter before curtain up, the idea being we'd have enough time for a drink before the play began. So much for best-laid plans. An hour after leaving, we had got as far as Ballsbridge and had been stationary outside the RDS for 10 minutes, trapped in the match traffic. It became clear we were never going to make it in time. We phoned the Gate and made our apologies.
"Why don't we go to Roly's and get something to eat?" asked Marian. "Good idea," I said, and, after another 15 minutes or so of barely moving traffic, we turned up Herbert Park Road and looked for a parking space. There were none. Soon we hit Donnybrook, and then I remembered. There was a new restaurant above Kiely's where Yo! Sushi used to be, an Indian restaurant called Dakshin. So that's where we ended up, more than a little overdressed, but at least we'd salvaged something from a fraught drive.
The interior has changed since the days of Yo! Sushi: the long teppanyaki table has gone and the room has been fitted out in a traditional way; the walls a pleasing shade of mushroom, large lampshades dominate the ceiling and a new fireplace ends the room with a welcoming flame. A few decorative screens are the only nod in the décor to the sub-continent, otherwise, it's an international look. We took a table and studied the menu.
Dakshin specialises in the cuisine of southern India -- to be exact, from the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. As ever in Indian cuisine, the emphasis is always on the skilful combination of spices and flavours, with particular attention being given to the balance of heat and spice. Dakshin is a new venture, but the team, both front of house and in the kitchen, have had a long experience in the Jaipur chain and in Dundrum's Ananda.
While Marian was looking through the menu, I read the wine list. We weren't having any wine, but I was interested to see what was on the list.
For the most part, it's made up of wines you'd find on a lot of restaurant lists, but the main difference is that the mark-up here is significantly less than it is elsewhere. For example, the Marquis de Goulaine Sauvignon Blanc and a Barbera d'Asti are both listed at €19, and a Barolo 2006 is €36. We drank sparkling water, and even this was less than usual at €3.75 for a large bottle.
We spent a while trying to work out our order until Marian noticed that there was a Dakshin platter for €12, which gave us a taste of four of the starters. When it came, we had minced lamb patties flavoured with clove, ginger and curry leaf; chicken marinated in garam masala, brown onion and green chilli; saffron and lemon leaf-flavoured prawns cooked in a tandoori, and a deep-fried potato cake with a tamarind chutney.
These were all complex and interesting flavours, not easily described, but what I can say is that each of these various dishes were like tiny taste bombs exploding in the mouth, each sufficiently different from the others that the palate never jaded. I thought it was quite a tour de force by the kitchen, and Marian, who normally is not particularly adventurous in her choices, was effusive in her praise.
We moved on to our main courses. Marian chose the keema mutter, which was lamb mince braised with peas, tomatoes and spinach. I'd chosen a lamb biryani, which arrived in a square dish covered in the same dough that makes naan bread. As I broke through the thin crust, an extraordinary scent of spices, cumin and cardamom came bursting out of the dish.
Quite the most delicious rice I've eaten surrounded by chunks of lamb, but, despite the carnivore that I am, I found myself eating the rice and ignoring the meat.
While I was singing the praises of my dish, Marian was making surprising headway into hers. It's worth telling you that the portions here are large; large enough, I suspect, to leave even the hungriest of men satisfied.
Marian has the appetite of a bird, so it was no surprise when she surrendered and announced she could eat no more. I was in exactly the same position, unable to eat any more, but still picking away at my rice. When it was suggested that it could be all wrapped up and boxed for us to take home, we agreed at once.
It's a curious thing that, even when your stomach feels completely full, there's often a bit of space in your dessert stomach, which quite obviously is a different stomach. Which meant we got a taste of star anise ice cream and mango ice cream, both utterly delicious.
We finished this really excellent meal with a good Indian tea for Marian and an espresso for me, which brought our bill to a reasonable €69.50 without service charge.