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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