Pickle couldn’t be more different from its predecessor.
At 43 Lower Camden Street, where Surma, a mustier, old-school Indian joint used to be, Benny Jacob and Sunil Ghai have created a funky, modern north-Indian restaurant. It opened at the beginning of last week.
Jacob said on Monday that it took six months to get the restaurant up and running. “We wanted to create a little street-food experience, that’s the whole idea,” he said. “We are trying to create that image that you feel you are in a part of India.”
I can sort of see what Jacob is getting at. The decor is Indian kitsch, with colourful posters from Bollywood films and vintage Air India adverts on stripped-back walls. “We wanted to keep it raw,” he said.
But it’s not exactly like an Indian street-food experience. There’s no traffic-clogged, beepetty-beepy road at the end of the table. The music is relaxing, the atmosphere is pleasant, and the dishes are a touch pricier than what’s usually sold on the streets of Delhi.
“The food is upmarket, we are trying to use Irish local products, which is great with Indian flavours,” said Jacob. Among those products, he points out, is goat, which is more common in India than lamb.
“There’s no twist,” he said. “We are trying to keep it as original as possible. The flavours are all Indian, proper Indian. There’s no fusion.”
Camden Street “is getting very lively,” Jacob said. It’s changed a lot in the last five years. In the past, it was an area he was told to stay away from when looking to set up a restaurant. But now “it’s getting that tag of a foodie street”.
On Monday evening, I stopped by to have a taste of the menu.
It’s not a cheap eat. For those who are flush, the Irish sea lobster in turmeric and ginger curry will set you back €32. But there are smaller, taster plates that are much less pricey — which is what I went for.
One of the simpler dishes is the chana masala (€5): soft round chickpeas in a tomatoey sauce, which was hearty and had a satisfyingly tart edge. It tasted like comfort food, the kind of dish that you would tuck into on a cold night wrapped in a warm blanket, sat alongside a bowl of simple white rice.
Next, my dining companion and I picked through the chicken wings (€8), which had the perfect crispy crust and juicy bite, and came accompanied by a roasted tomato and Kashmiri chili chutney, which was smooth as honey, and had a fresh taste.
The spare ribs (€8) — which, like the chicken, came three pieces to a plate — were tender, with plenty of meat and a glaze of sweet mango pickle, sundried mango and toasted nigella seeds.
The venison keema roti (€6), a kind of stuffed flat-bread, were sound and munchy. They came with a berry chutney, which had a touch of spice, and added flavour to the dish.
It was a quick meal, that came to around €30. As we left, Jacob and Ghai stood at the front of the restaurant, ready to greet the next round of new customers. I bumped into a couple outside attentively read the menu.
“It’s really good,” I said.