With the opening of Pickle, their new restaurant on Dublin’s Camden Street, Sunil Ghai and Benny Jacob are once again challenging the way we think about ethnic cooking.
Of course, Sunil Guy done this sort of thing before. When Ananda opened, in Dundrum in south Dublin 8 years ago, Mr Ghai upended people’s expectations of how you could cook and serve Indian cuisine.
Pickle is doing the same thing, but in a different way. This time, the venture is more stripped-back, it’s simpler, and whilst the room is comfortable, Mr Ghai wants to get your focus four-square on what he is putting on your plate.
He does this, for example, by cooking a dish of black lentils – kali dal, a famous Moghul dish – for eighteen hours, until you have a dish of lentils unlike anything you have ever eaten before. The flavours are so deep and entwined, so resonant, that it’s a dish where you can no longer see the origin of the creation: like a painting, the elements used to make the work have been utterly transformed. It’s lentils, but not as you have ever known them.
And that is what Mr Ghai does: he takes simple things – chicken thighs; rice; lamb shank; prawns; goat mince; kulfi – and through complex, finessed technique, he transforms them utterly. But the dishes hide the technique, and simply offer fluent and imaginative tastes and textures – those kernels of sweetcorn and cashews with the chicken; that avocado pickle with grilled prawns, further intensified with a wasabi yogurt and almonds – a mesmerising mixture; the deep and sour note in the lamb vindaloo, the sweet resonance of the marrowbone in the lamb; the crisp bite of home-made mango pickle with the pillowy, delicate pooris.
The techniques and seasonings may be complex, but Pickle food is extremely approchable food: you want chicken wings or chicken tikka? grilled prawns? potato cakes? chocolate cake? ice cream? Here they are, reworked and rewired, for sure, but still recogniseable. And the dishes have a special secret: they make you yearn for them, so that the next day you are remembering the perfection of the chicken biryani, or the goat mince curry with cardamom, or that wild chocolate, burfi and treacle tart.
Two more important things: Pickle has hit the ground fully functioning and flying, much like other Dublin city openings – Lock’s; Bastible; Forest Avenue – where the chefs have managed to nail it right from the start.
Secondly: it’s location at the upper end of Camden Street consecrates this zone as the food lovers' parade, a parade that stretches from Picada Mexican Pantry at the canal to San Lorenzo's down near Dame Street, and which houses area pioneers such as Liston’s and Simon’s Place and The Cake Café, and area luminaries like Bunsen and The Good World and Wall and Keogh and Evergreen, amongst many others. Pickle is right where it needs to be.