Pickles are an essential part of an Indian meal, adding new dimensions and depth of flavour, and revitalising sluggish taste buds. Intensely sweet, spicy, or sour, depending on the spices added, a good Indian pickle, or ‘achar’, should balance out the meal. Too spicy? Add a sweet mango pickle spiked with fenugreek and cardamom. Lacking zest? A sour lime pickle will pack a punch, and if it’s mild, there’s always a spicy chili pickle to ignite your palate.
To much the same effect as its namesake, with Pickle Eating House & Bar, Sunil Ghai, the chef behind Jaipur and then Ananda in Dundrum, aims to reinvigorate, and add a new dimension to the offering of Indian restaurants in Dublin city, which, aside from a few gems, primarily come in the form of cheap and cheerful high-street curry houses.
Greeted warmly at the door, we sit down at our table, a thick block of wood set upon ornate iron legs, and absorb the feast of sight, sounds and smells. Pickle is designed to recreate the charm of an old school Bombay café, with an intricately tiled mosaic floor, Hindi characters scrawled on walls painted a faded green, and a large gold-framed mirror that lends an air of antiquity.
Despite a retro look, Sunil and his business partner Benny Jacob, are drawing in the crowd with their modern take on the street food and home cooked dishes of North India, and mid-week on a summers evening, the restaurant is in full swing.
Still bright when we arrive, with a large window facing onto Camden Street and overhead skylight, as the daylight dims the assortment of vintage lamps and overhead shades add a subtle glow. The main dining room extends up, with a split level stairs leading to an upstairs bar, and juts back into a long, darker dining area that leads to the kitchen.
Pasted on a purposefully distressed wall, vintage posters in bold primary colours evoke fantasies of travel in India, via plane, train, motorbike and even elephant – perhaps signalling the journey in spice and flavour we were about to take.
Our servers, dressed in traditional buttoned up garments of emerald green and peacock blue with a gold trim, descended on our table with our selection of small plates (gushup) and we buckled up for our Indian adventure.
A small wooden crate contained a clutter of Cassava, Lentil, and Vegetables Crisps, mostly the same shape and puffed texture as classic poppadums, though others are like large hollow chipsticks, and some are comparable to water crackers. Whatever the form, each were delicious smothered in the chunky ‘Sunil ’sprawn pickle’, that was at the same time pungent and palate cleansing, served in a mini Kilner jar alongside a sweet mango chutney.
A generous portion, and what should be a staple order for anyone dining at Pickle, these were swiftly and greedily gobbled, until all that was left was a scattering of deep-fried curry leaves – that in themselves were delicious morsels.
Although not intended to be exploited by the crisps, an intensely sour tamarind sauce, with sweetness from dates and jaggery, was another delicious dip, and its sour smack was just as appreciated with the three triangular Dilli Wala Samosas it was predestined for.
The same tangy brown tamarind dressed the Crispy Potato Cakes, pillows of lightly fried potato stuffed with asafoetida infused lentils, that are also doused in a sour yoghurt and a trio of chutneys. A delectably moreish start to our meal.
My fellow diners chose from the selection of main courses, divided into Curry and Biryani (desi khana), and Game and Chops (tandoori chakhna), though I opted to fill our table with a clutter of the veggie sides, that arrived in traditional Indian steel serving bowls.
A potato and tomato curry, Aloo Tamater Rasedar, was tangy and thick with nuggets of tender potato, while a coriander flecked Yellow Dal was soft in both texture and flavour; a delicate dish amongst a riot of punchy flavours.
Even a side of garlic speckled green vegetables were delicious, with obvious care taken in their preparation; these are side dishes but there is nothing subsidiary about them.
Though it was the Chana Masala, billed as the ‘all time special’, that stole the (side) show. Often served with too much bite, here the chickpeas were melt in your mouth, and tinted a deep brown from the rich, aromatic sauce they were steeped in. A trio of puffed up pani puri, a common Indian street snack, were popped and loaded with these succulent pulses.
A main dish of Tiger Prawns, simmered until plump in a curry sauce of desiccated coconut, fresh turmeric and dry mangosteen, was complex in flavour, leading with a sweetness and an assertive coconut flavour that gave way to spicy heat that warmed the back of the throat. A unanimous favourite.
Masala seasoned Guinea Fowl, served with a mix of flash fried vegetables and liberally sprinkled with coriander and sesame seeds, was a colourful and fresh addition to the platter of silver dishes that bejewelled the table, each made all the better of course by the house made pickle that accompanied them.
A stalwart in any Indian meal, a basket of traditional breads, including herb and garlic naan, a sweet and moreish Peshwari naan packed full of coconut and golden sultanas, and an intricately layered paratha flavoured with the musty hum of fenugreek, were used to mop, dredge and scoop up every last lick of sauce.
Our final destination was a sweet Raspberry Sorbet, with crumbled dehydrated raspberries, fresh berries, and chocolate shavings, which brought a bit of Bollywood glamour to a meal which was its core Indian home cooking at its best.
Like the great railway system of India, Pickle is reasonably priced; a barely conquerable feast for three people, with a bottle of 2013 Hugel Riesling, comes to less than €130.
A whistle-stop tour of the sweet, sour, spicy flavours of Northern India, for lovers of Indian cuisine a visit Pickle is recommended – just sit back and enjoy the ride.
43 Camden Street,
Erica grew up with a baker and confectioner for a father, and a mother with an instinct and love for good food. It is little wonder then that, after a brief dalliance with law, she completed a Masters degree in Food Business at UCC. With a consuming passion for all things food, nutrition and wellness, working with TheTaste is a perfect fit for Erica; allowing her to learn and experience every aspect of the food world meeting its characters and influencers along the way.