Lucinda O'Sullivan: Doolally serves up hard bhaji and 'dips that taste like diluted curry paste'
Press Up Group has built an empire of beautiful, buzzing hotspots, but their food, while inoffensive, is usually fairly mundane, says Lucinda O'Sullivan, who unfortunately found the same at their new Indian restaurant
You may have heard talk of the major shortage of chefs in the industry, but you might be surprised to know that the most valuable 'commodity' in the Irish restaurant biz right now isn't some nouveau Nordic Michelin-style maven but rather the Indian chef - who can command quite a salary.
For years, your local curry house ticked along, churning out the old chicken vindaloo, but, in the past decade, with Atul Kochar being the first Indian chef to win a Michelin star in London's Tamarind restaurant, contemporary Indian food has taken off. Today, we have some very high-level Indian restaurants but not nearly enough high-level chefs. Restaurateurs are left tearing their hair out when, having gone through the lengthy rigmarole of sourcing a good Indian chef, they're inevitably poached by rival restaurants.
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With the opening of the Press Up Group's new Indian restaurant, Doolally, on South Richmond Street, a virtual bidding war has arisen, driving Indian restaurateurs, rather fittingly, doolally tap. They've hoovered up staff from top Dublin restaurants for this 220-seater, as well as bringing in chefs from India.
Based on the large colonial-style clubs of the days of the Raj, there are any number of similarly styled restaurants in London - Gymkhana, Dishoom, Amaya, and Chutney Mary - all doing great food. The decor here is stunning - Press Up do interiors, fun and cocktails well - but the menu, created 'in collaboration' with Alfred Prasad, a London-based Michelin-starred chef, certainly wouldn't frighten the horses or make me leap over any seven-foot-high fences.
It was a straightforward curry selection - as you'll get in any good takeaway (€15.95-€23.95) - chicken korma, lamb rogan josh, prawn jalfrezi; and kebabs (€11.95-€13.50). But, there was no seafood apart from tiger prawns and mussels. There were no jumbo prawns, scallops, crab, lobster, etc. Back on land, there was no duck, game, goat or guinea fowl either. I'm always lauding vegetables in Indian restaurants, but again this element was disappointing - no okra or aubergine - just a bowl of broccoli and cauliflower florets, green beans and spinach leaves (€5.25) tossed around and tasting like a 1970's country hotel.
Hard bhaji & mini golf balls
As we turned our attention to starters (€6.95-€13.95) - many containing mincemeat and/or potato - we were brought some poppadoms with two dips that tasted like diluted curry pastes.
To get the overall drift, we had a Tasting Plate (€12.50), which looked pretty on arrival, but didn't deliver. Three tiger prawns in a light masala were pleasant; an onion bhaji was hard as though it was reheated and burnt; lamb galouti - described as melt in the mouth ground lamb cakes flavoured with mace and cardamom - were two dense dry little patties; medu vada 'pillowy' lentil dumplings with peppercorns and chilli coconut chutney were chalky and hard causing my friend to say, "God, they're like mini golf balls." A separate starter of Beetroot Shikampuri (€9.95) - spiced beetroot cake, cream cheese filling, pistachio crust - came in two soggy uninteresting leaden lumps.
The only saving grace was Doolally Chaap (€13.50), two delicious lamb chops marinated with raw papaya, which tenderises, paprika and fennel seed, and cooked in the tandoor. Our final plate, Keralan veal fillet, pictured, (€11.95) was chosen in our search for something 'different'. Coated with a 'Tellicherry peppercorn spiced crust', it too was good, rare and thinly sliced and was sprinkled with coconut flakes. Gunpowder chips (€4.95) were billed with salt and chilli - they had salt.
I wish I could say that our evening finished on an ambrosial note as we shared a rice kheer pudding (€7.95), but sadly it was a very light-weight version of the traditional Indian mammy's rice pud.
Our bill, with a bottle of Rioja Conde Valdemar Blanco 2018 (€35), two small bottled waters (€4.80), and service from a delightful young lady, was €115.85.
If you're expecting a culinary experience worthy of a Maharajah, you may be disappointed. But, if you're after a fun see-and-be-seen night out with lots of pricey cocktails, it might be up your street.
47-51 Richmond Street South, Dublin 2.
Tel: (01) 533-7562