Tale of two resturants: Diwali and Dali's
Thursday lunchtime often finds me wandering the streets of Dublin, killing an hour or two, before joining Sean Moncrieff in Newstalk. Since the studios are not far from Grafton Street, I become the classic culchie, wandering around looking at the shops and marvelling at the crowds and the endless procession of people.
This week, I went looking for a simple lunch, and I decided to go ethnic. Diwali is a small Indian and Nepalese restaurant on that strip of South Great George's Street that now seems to be almost entirely restaurants.
In the space of maybe 50 yards, you can find The Good World, SoHo Restaurant, Brasserie Sixty6, Yamamori Noodles and Diwali. Extend your walk by another 50 yards and there are even more restaurants to choose from. Apart from Monkstown Crescent, I can't think of anywhere else with so many restaurants side by side.
Once upon a time a situation like this sometimes led to cosy cartels, with all the restaurants pitching their prices very close to one another. This year it seems instead to have produced competition, because what got me in the door of Diwali was the sign outside that said 'two-course lunch €9.99'.
Now, I've paid more than that for a take-away burger, so I was more than curious to see exactly what could be on offer for so little.
Inside it's compact but not crushed. The tables are set simply but well, and, as in most Indian restaurants, the service is polite and quick. As soon as I sat down I was handed a menu and a basket of papadums, which I snacked on as I chose. Two small pots of dips arrived with them, a mint and yogurt dip and a spicy one.
The menu is very straightforward -- three starters and three main courses -- and I chose the vegetable pakora to start with, chopped vegetable balls dipped in gram flour and deep-fried. For my main course, I picked the lamb chilli and garlic masala.
I ordered a large bottle of sparkling water, a bottle of Cobra beer and waited for my starter. Now, when you're paying less than €10 for your lunch, where exactly do you place your expectations? Bear in mind that more than a euro of that €9.99 goes to the Government in VAT, so, in fact, I was being fed for less than €9.
Put simply, my expectations were not high. But when my vegetable pakora arrived it was good -- not memorable, but as good as any I've been given in other restaurants. It looked well on the plate and I enjoyed it.
Often I'm unable to finish the main course, but this time it wasn't a problem. I got a tasty lamb dish, but I counted the pieces of lamb and there were five of them. Actually, it turned out to be perfectly sufficient for my lunch, but trenchermen might find the portions a tad exiguous.
Perfectly cooked rice -- and plenty of it -- accompanied my lamb and soon I found myself in need of an espresso to round off the meal. Not a bad meal at all, and frankly extraordinary value. At these prices, it's almost cheaper to eat out than eat at home. Next time someone bores you with a tale of a meal in Spain for less than €10, point them to Diwali.
My bill came to €18.49.Later in the week I was out to dinner with Marian Kenny, who had decided we should eat in Hartley's in Dun Laoghaire. However, they were booked to the gills and had no table for us, so we booked into Dali's of Blackrock, which I think shares proprietors with Hartley's.
Even here we had to arrive at 7pm and be gone by 9pm, so, whatever about the recession, there are still restaurants doing the business.
Dali's is quite prettily decorated with pastel shades and some pleasing art on the walls. At the moment, it's running an early-bird menu all night, so there's value to be had -- two courses for €26.
We were shown to a comfortable table by a wall. The set menu gave us a choice of five starters and five main courses, and some of the choices looked very tempting.
Among the starters were haddock smokies with grilled garlic, a feta, pea and pickled fennel salad, and Parma ham with figs, Manchego cheese and grilled sourdough bread. Marian chose crispy cod cakes with an olive aioli and I chose the summer minestrone.
The main courses gave us a choice of chicken and bacon pie, fillet of cod, spaghetti with cherry tomatoes, an 8oz rib-eye steak with a €4 supplement, and pork belly.
Marian chose the rib-eye and I chose the chicken and bacon pie. We had two glasses of the house white, a Sauvignon Blanc from Tours, and two bottles of mineral water for our drinks.
Some very good breads came to the table and, unusually, we were allowed to keep them through the main course. The starters arrived; Marian's cod cakes sat on the black-olive aioli, which had an almost purple colour, and they were just a little dry, a common fault in fish cakes.
My minestrone took me by surprise, being bright green. If I had known that Dali's idea of a minestrone was boiled green vegetables served in the water they'd been boiled in, I wouldn't have ordered it. It was a less than successful dish and should not have been described as minestrone, summer or otherwise.
Our main courses were much more successful. Marian's steak was tender and the sea-salt home fries that came with it were good.
My pie was delicious, the black bacon giving it just the kick it needed to raise its game, and the pie crust was golden and crisp. It came with a leek champ, which I enjoyed, and a small ramekin of piccalilli was there to add flavour.
An espresso for me finished the meal, professionally served in a pleasant dining room. The bill for dinner came to €79.70.