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In Good Hummus

It was raining stair rods. Ruby, Pearl and I were walking, well, swimming nearly, down the main street of Rathmines. I swear I saw Captain Ahab going the other way. Someone must have told him Moby Dick was hanging out in Rody Bolands. Meanwhile, Noah was provisioning his ark in Tesco. "Did you book?" asked Pearl. "Well, yes, but nobody will be eating out on a night like this," I ventured. Yeah, right.

We swung into Little Jerusalem (it's in the laneway down the side of Slattery's) and found every table taken, including the one we'd booked. We received a gracious apology, in fact three gracious apologies, and the staff made space for us.

Alas, they'd omitted to inform us that Little Jerusalem did not have a liquor licence, so, I donned hat and raincoat and went back into the pissy-wet night.

The nearest offie seemed to be the one at Tesco, a five-minute walk away. The fridge was chocker with beers of various kinds, with only a couple of white wines.

I went to the shelves and I picked two by Tim Adams, an Aussie set for canonisation because he believes drinkers should be able to enjoy fine wines at realistic prices -- the €13-something charged for his Fergus Shiraz makes it an enormous bargain.

By the time I got back, all three of us were ravenous, so we wellied into the menu. Little Jerusalem is in the same ownership as the Silk Road Café in the Chester Beatty Library, which I reviewed a couple of months ago.

The proprietor did say that the cooking was not the same, the Silk Road being Mediterranean and Middle Eastern whereas Little Jerusalem is "Lebanese and Palestinian". Be that as it may, the food has the same hallmark of freshness and good flavour.

To make amends for the booking cock-up, they gave us a free plate of falafel: tasty, deep-fried chick pea-and-herb balls. Our own selection of mezze included mashawi lahme (marinated lamb charcoal grilled) and baba ghanoush (aubergine puréed with tahini, yoghurt, lemon and olive oil).

This was good, but the big bowl of hummus they placed in the middle of the table was simply exceptional -- quite the best hummus I've ever had and I'd kill for the recipe.

Then another dish appeared, which we weren't sure we'd ordered, but what the hell. We couldn't find it on the menu, but it was, in effect, a minced lamb pizza, exotically scented, with cinnamon well to the fore.

We requested an interval before the mains and got it. I elbowed my way to the fassoulia b allhma (I think I got the spelling correct) -- chunks of lamb in a robust tomato sauce, with potato slices, garlic and onion, and lovely flavoured rice. Ruby settled for mashawi mushakla-- chicken and lamb kofta skewers served with tabbouleh, naan bread and (yippee!) more hummus.

Pearl, though we gave her first pick, probably got the short straw; monsef was layers of flat bread with lamb, rice, yoghurt sauce, fresh pomegranate seeds and pine nuts, but there were square yards of bread and not quite enough lamb, making the dish unbalanced.

All through the meal the flavours sang long and loud. I think the serving staff appreciated our interest as well as our 'oohs' and 'aahs' of delight and took a deal of trouble to answer our enquiries.

In truth we were pretty stuffed, but I am, alas, a sucker for lokoum (Turkish delight) and baklava, especially the diddy bite-sized ones, so we ordered a mixed plate which we enjoyed at leisure with surprisingly good coffee. The Tim Adams Riesling and Fergus really cut the mustard with the grub too. Wouldn't have minded a raki or an ouzo to top the meal off, but you can't have everything, can you?

The proprietor came over to chat before going home and, after we'd waved him away, the three of us exclaimed in near unison: "What a lovely man." He'd come over here 20-odd years ago to be with a nice Irish girl at a time when everybody in Ireland was going the other way -- a tale that mirrored my own history.

A caveat: Little Jerusalem, a cosy 24-seater, is not about fine dining, nor fine décor. It's not a huge meatfest (steak is off-limits), nor is it a procession of 'pictures on a plate'. But it brought the sun into a wet night in Rathmines.

Verdict: Rich and abundant flavours; healthy, wholesome food; the warmest of welcomes and real value for money.

Rating:

Little Jerusalem, 3 Wynnefield Road, Rathmines, Dublin 6 Tel: 01 412 6912

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