Restaurant Review: Ananda - The spice is right
Dundrum Town Centre, Sandyford Road, Dublin 16 (01) 2960099, ananda.ie
If there's a better example of how life in Ireland has changed than the tableau vivant in Ananda on a Sunday evening - families getting together over food that couldn't be further from a Mammy roast - then I can't think what it might be.
We're here for the first time since chef Sunil Ghai left to open his own place, Pickle, on Camden Street in Dublin city centre. Since the summer of last year, the head chef has been 25-year-old Karan Mittal from Delhi, by way of New York.
"In India, when you do well in high school," he tells me on the phone a couple of days after my visit, "the expectation is that you will either become a doctor or an economist. I did go to economics school for a while, but it was not for me. In my family, nobody had ever been a chef and it was a very unconventional choice, but my parents have been very supportive."
Karan trained with the Oberoi Group in India, before being head-hunted to work at Indian Accent in New York and then to open a modern Indian small-plates restaurant, Aroga, in the same city. Then Asheesh Dewan of the Jaipur Group persuaded him to come to Dublin; he had previously visited on holiday with his family.
On a Sunday evening, Ananda is full to capacity. We're eating from the à la carte menu rather than the early bird, so there's an amuse to start - a miniature cannoli of green mung beans with a tamarind dressing on a bed of spiced chickpeas; there's green apple in there somewhere and a dressing of Velvet Cloud sheep's milk yoghurt.
It's clear from the outset that there is something interesting going on.
Thin slices of Barbary duck breast smoked in the tandoor come with a samosa of duck-leg and fig, a piquant plum ketchup and medjool date stuffed with soft St. Tola goat's cheese. Char-grilled prawns with avocado koshimbiri, mango confiture (and a whole lot more besides) deliver flavour combinations that are vibrant and unexpected, in a good way. At this point we are spotted and a couple of extra courses from the tasting menu arrive. If a chef knows that there's a critic in the house, they want them to try the dishes of which they are most proud; it's understandable.
The first is a dried and reconstituted Kashmiri morel stuffed with wild mushrooms, chicken tikka and asparagus, on a bed of mushroom kedgeree flavoured with Parmesan cheese and tomato, with a scattering of pine nuts on top. It's barely more than a morsel, but an explosion of umami on the palate.
The second freebie is a black lime sorbet, smooth and creamy despite being dairy-free. At home, Karan tells me, his grandmother dries limes on the roof and then marinates them in a solution of sugar and spices for at least a year - here, the heat of the tandoor has the same drying effect as the sun of the southern hemisphere. The flavour is pungent, intense, magnificent.
Back to the à la carte and Bombay Keema Salli, a dish of hand-pounded lamb topped with a deep-fried quail's egg and padron pepper, Jhinga Neel Giri - wild prawns with gentle quorma flavours - and a saffron and rose water-scented lamb biryani, served under a crisp lid of dough. Each is impeccable, as are sides of okra and black dahl, the ultimate comfort food.
Really we have no room for dessert, but we are persuaded to share a panna cotta of caramel and cardamom (Karan tells me that when he was younger he was obsessed with a yoghurt in this flavour combination and his parents had to restrict his consumption) and a dark chocolate cremeux with flavours of cherry, inspired by the Black Forest gateau he remembers from another family holiday in Germany.
With a bottle of Trimbach Gewurztraminer, two glasses of red wine, two beers and two bottles of sparkling water, the bill for four comes to €267.35 before service.
I couldn't recommend Ananda more.
ON A BUDGET
The pre-theatre menu costs €28 for two courses.
ON A BLOW OUT
The tasting menu with matching wines is €100 per head and must be ordered by the whole table.
THE HIGH POINT
Sophisticated modern Indian food from a young chef focussed on flavour.
THE LOW POINT
Poor SoCoDu Mammy - her roast is clearly no match for Sunday night dinner at Ananda.