In the underground shopping centre below Moore Street, along a stretch of the mall that consists of buffets and boutiques, Nikola Abdaladze dons a baseball cap and steps behind the counter of Georgian Delight.
Located in the middle of the food court, the kitchen of this newly opened Georgian food restaurant is on full display to his customers. And he is eager to show how one of the chefs prepares a series of dumplings known as khinkali.
While a nearby boutique blares uplifting religious dance music, with auto-tuned vocals, the chef lays out three circles of dough.
They have been rolled thinly until each one is roughly six inches in diameter.
Next, the chef ladles into them a mixture of ground beef, chopped coriander, garlic and ground pepper.
Delicately, he raises the edges of the dough up to create a parcel, round around its base, and scrunched up at its top, like a garlic bulb.
The khinkali are lowered into an enormous pot of boiling water and after approximately 10 minutes, are ready to serve.
Abdaladze says each dumpling should be eaten in one go. “They are very juicy inside, so you have to not get it all over yourself.”
It takes at least one try to learn how not to create a mess, Abdaladze says. “But you’re gonna get used to this.”
Bread and wine
Abdaladze moved to Dublin about 23 years ago.
From the city of Kutaisi in western Georgia, during the 1990s he was a member of the country’s international rugby team, he says.
His entry into the culinary world came through the sport, because his sons are also active players, he says
He points to four wine bottles behind the counter, draped in the Georgian flag. The wine came via Taste of Georgia, an import company set up in 2018 by Vakh, his eldest son, who has played for Leinster, and also the Georgian national rugby team.
Abdaladze was also keen to promote his culture, and he started organising for Dublin rugby clubs to tour his home country, he says. “We wanted to show Irish people Georgian culture and how nice our food is.”
Buoyed by the success of the tours, and his son’s wine business, they opened a bakery in the PoloStores in Tallaght, also called Taste of Georgia.
The bakery sells goods like khachapuri, a cheese-filled bread, and lobiani, which is stuffed with red beans. “It worked well, and we made people happy. Not just local Georgians, but everyone.”
Earlier this year, Abdaladze and four of his friends set about scouting in the city centre for a place to open a restaurant, eventually landing on their current unit in the food court beneath Moore Street.
They opened it in early September. The atmosphere is casual, friendly and energetic.
In the kitchen, situated just behind the counter from the seating area, three chefs chat loudly, joking as they prepare stews and flatten out the dough for the bases of khachapuri.
Abdaladze moves between the kitchen and the floor, shaking hands with regulars, and stepping behind the register to take orders.
Spicy stews and soups
Once he has sorted out a friend’s order, Abdaladze takes a seat at a table, a chef following in tow with a trio of bowls.
The first is a dark red stew known as lobio. It is a vegetarian dish made with kidney beans, tomato juice, cayenne, black pepper, cilantro and onion. “It is perfect especially when it is cold out there,” he says.
The lobio is served like a thick and creamy soup, and leaves a mild spicy aftertaste.
After the lobio is kharcho. A thinnish soup prepared with a dash of olive oil. It contains rice, tomato and beef that almost liquifies once bitten.
“A lot of people would go for this when they have a hangover, because you get nice big lumps of beef and soup,” Abdaladze says.
Then there is the ostri, a hot stew made with tomato and red pepper, and served with a side of lavash, a round and chewy flatbread. It is a popular dish in Kutaisi, he says. “Because there we would like a very spicy type of food.”
Finally, to cap it off, the chef returns with imeruli khachapuri, a circular bread, loaded with cheese.
The yellow imeruli cheese has an intense savoury scent and a smooth surface. A second layer of cheese is dense and moist like in a deep-dish pizza.
Georgian Delight caters to people who want to drop by for lunch or an early dinner, Abdaladze says.
But he and his partners are now eyeing up another location for later in the evening, he says.
“We really want to open a restaurant nearby for after eight o’clock when this is closed, and you can go to have our food and hear some Georgian music,” he says. “That’s the plan anyway.”