Tag Archives: indian

Slow Food Event – Spice Mantraa

Hot1 chilliesI’ve got a great afternoon lined up for this Sunday. Come and join me and spice up your life. The Garden Convivium – that’s the South Dublin and Wicklow ‘branch’ of the wonderful Slow Food movement, in conjunction with wine importers Febvre, have organized ‘The Spice Mantraa’, an exciting event that includes a drinks reception; a 5-course feast of Indian food, with matched wines; a talk on Indian culinary history; a cooking demo; an introduction to spices – including their use for medicinal purposes and a whole host of other delights. ‘Goody bags’ to take away, too. The event commences at 1.30, at new Indian restaurant Mantraa, 123 Lower Baggot Street, Dublin 2.

Organiser Hermione Winters tells me there are still some places available – cost €55 or €45 to Slow Food members – you can join on the day and save a tenner. mailto:wicklow@slowfoodireland.com to book.

Here’s the full programme:
“The Spice Mantraa”
1. Drinks Reception with light snacks
2. Introduction to Indian Food – North, East, West and South Indian food habits and traditions
3. Introduction to spices and their various uses – Includes display of spices and demonstration
4. Ayurvedic Importance and medicinal usage of the different spices
5. Food @ Mantraa and how we are unique
6. Introduction to Tandoor
7. Live demo of Chicken Tikka Starters, Chicken Tikka Masala Mains and Naan Bread
8. Briefing on popular dishes – Chicken Tikka Masala, Lamb Rogan Josh and Meen Moilee
9. Question and Answer Session
10. Mantraa Special 5-Course Meal – Amuse Bouche -> Starter -> Soup -> Mains -> Dessert, including matching alcohol with spices
11. Conclusion session
a. Summary of the session in writing
b. Few Sample Recipes
c. Mantraa Gift bags to take-away: Small spice bags/marination kits with recipes included.


I’m pretty sure that the Taj Mahal was the first Indian restaurant I was ever in, A modest establishment, nestled under some railway arches in central Manchester, it hung on in years after the Corpo had served a compulsory purchase order. The proprietor, a kindly man we called Mister Anwar, acted as confidant and father confessor to us students, giving as much attention to tangled relationships and broken hearts as to encouraging our juvenile taste buds to try the dishes in his nephew the cook’s repertoire. Although Anwar sometimes got it very badly wrong, as when he suggested I ask my parents to arrange a marriage between myself and one of my best friends. “I was married at nineteen. I had not met my wife before our betrothal. We are very happy. Nina and yourself are well suited.” Yeah, right. It would have been the marriage from hell. Luckily, she and I were both well copped on.

Back in those days there were few Indian (and here, I include Pakistani and Bangladeshi) restaurants with pretensions to class and quality. They existed to serve their own community; to provide students like my friends and I with cheap and sustaining food; to provide an opportunity for diners to flaunt their machismo by ordering vicious vindaloos and incendiary Bangalore phals, accompanied by as many as a dozen raw chilies.. And, because they stayed open after midnight, Indian restaurants also catered for the post-pubbing fraternity.

Most of that is now behind us and Indian restaurants are now settled in the mainstream along with Thai, Chinese, pizza and pasta emporia and steak houses. During the 1990s, however, the ante was upped by a new echelon of young trained chefs. Many had worked in fine dining restaurants in five star hotels in their homeland. They took Indian food up market. Whilst respecting their traditions and ingredients, they developed and lightened the culinary style and developed presentational skills that put them on a par with their European counterparts. In Ireland restaurants like Jaipur, Chakra and Rasam led the way.

Ananda, in the Dundrum Shopping Centre is a collaboration between Asheesh Dewan of Jaipur and Atul Kochar, proprietor of famed London restaurant Benares. The latter, who has a high profile from TV appearances, was head hunted for the London restaurant Tamarind back in the mid-nineties and was at the helm when the restaurant gained a Michelin star, first Indian ever to do so, in 2001.

Though the entrance is a trifle low key – up a couple of escalators in the building that houses the cinema – this is easily forgotten once inside. We got a warm welcome from the receptionist and maitre’d. The décor is modern and appealing; the staff young and clearly, professionally trained. Linen and glassware are of fine quality and all is spruce and sparkling; everything in place for a dining experience to remember.

It got even better when I opened the wine list. I have to say, I’m not much of a one for wine and food matching. My stance is that there are 5% of wine and food marriages made in heaven, 10% made in hell and the rest are somewhere in between. It I want to drink something, I’ll order it. And there it was, winking at me. Pezat 2005, €34. A remarkable price for a restaurant, because the 2007, from an inferior vintage, costs £20 in the wine merchants. Pezat, for those who haven’t come across it, is a Merlot-accented Bordeaux made by a class act called Jonathan Maltus from a small plot in a no-name area. ‘Beyond the pale’ it might be but from where these grapes are gathered you could pitch a handbag into the finest property in St.Emilion.

My Rajasthani seekh kebabs, made from minced Irish smoked lamb came as cylindrical ‘sausages’ – simple yet brilliant haute couture comfort food for a cold night, the fragrant delicate spicing pointed up by little spikes of chilli without obscuring the flavour of the lightly smoked meat. Sibella took the pan fried potato cakes filled with spiced peas served with date & tamarind relish. She pronounced it a winner.

There was hardly anything on the list of main course I didn’t fancy. The Coorg Ki Pork Champ wrong-footed me for the ‘Champ’ in the title led me to expect mashed potatoes in some form. It turned out to be two marinated and grilled pork chops with sage, served with an apple and cabbage confection and a sharp vindaloo sauce that gave the whole some considerable ‘oomph’. Sibs’ choice of this left me free to go for the Duck Chettiyar, described as “simmered in southern spices with tamarind, curry leaf & cracked mustard seed served with Chettiyar glaze”. Never did find out what Chettiyar glaze was but the whole shebang was delicious.

A side dish of Dal (lentils) is a good way of seeing how an Indian restaurant copes with traditional aspects. This one passed the test with flying colours as did the nan bread and the ‘every grain a roller’ plain boiled rice.

You would look in vain for korma, bhuna and their cousins but there’s no doubt that the food in Ananda is as traditional as jazz in New Orleans. Saucing, similar to its western counterpart, has made the transition from free-flowing gravy to intensely-flavoured jus, presentation is as high key as any one star Michelin, but that’s about all. The kulfi, Indian ice cream, we shared for dessert took me right back to railway arch days.

This is one fabulous restaurant. Smart chefs, doing their creative thing, pushing the envelope, exciting stuff. At the same time, no head-wrecking flights of fancy. Ananda represents a linear progression from a centuries old tradition not some coke-fired bozo chef’s hallucination. It can surely only be a matter of time before the po-faces from Michelin drop in and bestow a star. Anything less makes no sense.

Rating ****1/2

Verdict: Inspired cooking, savvy wine list with fair pricing, fine décor, friendly, hard-working staff, pristine facilities, ’nuff said.

The damage: €114.50 ex-service for 2 starters, 2 mains, 1 dessert, bottle of excellent wine

Ananda, Dundrum Town Centre, Dundrum. Tel: 01 296 0099


Donal's Nan Bread

Regular forkncork forum contributor DonalH who runs the excellent E Kirby 66 in Kinsale has acceeded to my request to include his nan bread recipe in these pages. I’ve  tested it and it works a treat. In his own words – “I spent hours making the curry but the Naan bread took all the plaudits. Simple to add other flavours too – garlic, coriander, cumin, chilli whatever.”

300g strong white flour
1 tsp salt
sachet yeast
4 tbsp Greek Yoghurt – at room temperature
1 tbsp Olive Oil
125ml warm milk
3 tbsp melted butter – for brushing

Oven to 230 degrees C
Sift dry ingredients, add wet. Knead to soft dough.
Leave in warm place to double.
Knock back and divide into 4.
Form into shapes of flat bicycle saddles.
Allow to rise about 20 minutes.
Brush with melted butter and bake for 10 to 12 minutes.

Vermillion & Jaipur

I remember the word from my schooldays – oxymoron. It means the bringing together of two words of contrasting meaning. I think ‘pleasing poison’ was the example given, from a poem by Andrew Marvell, or was it John Donne? The other day I thought of a new oxymoron – ‘posh curry’.
Indian (and by extension Pakistani and Bangladeshi) food, they say, is now the fastest mover in the ethnic cuisine market. The epidemic of quasi-Italian restaurants has run its course and our flirtation with Thailand and Vietnam is on the wane. Indian, it seems, is darling of the day.
But our fashion queen is wearing new clothes. Gone are flock wallpaper, sitar music, carved teak elephants, peacock thrones and British Raj retainers. These days you are likely to be eating your roghan josh in an air-conditioned, designer-contemporary interior to the strains of Frank, Ella and maybe Miles.
The kitchens have changed too. Though India is a heartbreakingly poor country some people still possess exorbitant wealth. The upper echelon tourists who throng to view the Taj Mahal by moonlight before returning to their five-star hotels. The new princes, slick commercial operators who make fortunes from a country offering plentiful cheap labour, maintaining private establishments as opulent as the richest rajah of old. Sophisticated tastes provided opportunity for Indian chefs to demonstrate their skills and the chefs responded. Then Europe beckoned and, full of ambition, in they came. These young lions were amazed to find their peers here still clarifying butter for ghee. “Why not use vegetable oil?” they reasoned. Furthermore they were amazed to find Madhur Jaffrey revered as an ethnic culinary goddess. “She’s just a bloody actress” one chef told me.
The new breed turned their guns on the old post-pubbing favourites and shot them down in flames. Bang! There goes chicken tikka masala. Pow! Vindaloo rolls over. For inspiration they turned to their home regions – the South-East and the North-West for example have culinary traditions as far apart as those of Mexico and Canton. At the same time they played fusion-style, creating new brilliances and lightening the food to meet the mood of new health-conscious diners.
In Dublin, the Indian revolution was spearheaded by Asheesh Dewan’s Jaipur, still the one the others have to aim to emulate, particularly the Georges Street original (other branches in Dalkey and now Malahide) where inventive, talented chef Kaushik Roy sets the pace in exciting fashion.
Others since have leapt aboard the bandwagon. One of the more notable is Vermilion in Terenure where I spent the other evening celebrating the Indian Summer (though I hope it’s not; we haven’t had the Irish one yet!). We ploughed our way through a selection of starters that included meen balchao, red snapper, marinated overnight in a delicate blend of goan spices; and a peppery fried chicken from Tamil Nadu. My favourites among the mains were a malabar lamb curry from Kerala, cooked with caramelised onions, mustard and coconut and a scintillating dish of mixed vegetables cooked in green coconut curry. It was fascinating to see the contrasts of colours and textures on the plate – gone are the days when curry was simply a red-brown goo. We are lucky indeed to have these two restaurants. It would be great to see similar efforts both in quality and inventiveness directed to the ‘eat and go’ end of the market and maybe they will – I believe Asheesh has some ideas!
Vermilion, over the Terenure House, 94 Terenure Rd Nth, Dublin 6W tel: (01) 489 1400
Jaipur, 41-46 Sth Great Georges street, Dublin 2 Tel: (01) 677 0999
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