Sunday Business Post ©

Just when you thought the old ritual of ladies retiring to the drawing room while gentlemen had cigars and brandy had disappeared, a new version has arrived. Smoke breaks are the new scourge of dining with friends.

Our party of five regularly shrank to two as various characters disappeared for cigarettes. Michael Martin may have improved the nation’s health, but he’s simply ruining the dinner conversation.

I was left sitting with the Brother in one of Dublin ’s better Indian restaurants. I knew it was a good one because an Indian family was sitting next to us and an adventurous Southside couple were ordering food to match their recent trip to India .

From an extensive, well priced wine list we went for Matua Valley Sauvignon Blanc, a serviceable variety from New Zealand , for 18 euros.

For starters FI had the stir fried crab meat with smoked chillies, ginger, spring onions and green curry leaves served with a mango and cumin relish. For 10 euros, I got and explosion of flavour, which is just what contemporary Indian food, is all about, drawing from tradition, but delivering a present-day punch.

We also ordered khumb ki khasta tokri, a warm salad of stir-fried wild mushroom served in semolina basked for 6.50 euros.This is a hot little number, which sneaks up on you after a few mouthfuls, but is well balanced by the neutral semolina basket.

Anyone who thinks the Irish have cornered the market on potato dishes need only try aloo bonda to be thoroughly humbled. Aloo bonda, for 6 euros, are fried potato cakes stuffed with cream cheese and nuts and served with black gram pachadi and mint sauce. More a rock concert of tastes than a symphony, the strong flavours are matched by gentle reprise from the mint sauce. Superb.

The sarson monkfish tikka, for 9.50 euros, is a Bengali speciality. I was a big fan, though others found it too salty. The monkfish is cooked with ground mustard paste and turmeric and the forceful flavours are married with fish, which reminded me of Spanish Bacalao. An interesting starter, well worth a try if you are growing bored of more staid monkfish numbers.

The sambusek samosas are good for sharing, unless you don’t like sharing. The pastry parcels are filled with peppered goat’s cheese, baby spinach and pine nuts and served with walnut and cucumber salad with raisin chutney all for 7 euros. This dish tastes every bit as magical as it sounds.

Between courses I cleared out the messages in my mobile phone, straightened my cutlery, smiled at the next table, re-read the menu, and straightened the cutlery again before finally welcoming back my guests after another smoke break. Next time I’ll be ordering nicotine patches as an amuse bouche.

For the main course we ordered the nalli gosht of slow roasted tender lamb shanks in a medium hot curry flavoured with the chef’s creation of aromatic salts for 21 euros.

Lamb shank is a favourite of the Irish, so this is a real winner, combining that irresistible flaking meat with layers of herb and tomato spices.

The murgh jalfarezi of chicken strips tossed in ginger, tomatoes, scallions and bell peppers in a tangy sauce of carom seeds for 17 euros was another success, as was the meen moilly.You’ve never heard of it? Needless to say, the Brother had. He’d just returned from Rwanda and had it straight from the Great Lakes. And I thought I was good at one-upmanship.

The central part of this dish is tilapia, a fresh water fish with white flesh and flaky texture. In meen moilly the fillets of tilapia are marinated in turmeric and ginger, and then gently cooked in coconut cream, curry leaf and green chilli sauce. At 19 euros, this was another outstanding dish.The chicken stew is a Christian dish from Travancore is southern India , cooked in coconut milk with ginger, green chillies, cardamom, turmeric, cashew nuts and raisins this was another hit at 17 euros.

We also ordered achaari jhinga, which is a medium hot prawn dish from Delhi made with fresh tomatoes, coriander and spiced with “punch phooran”, or hand pounded spices for 19 euros. This was really the only disappointment as the prawns looked large and plum, but tasted watery.

The inevitable pulao rice was ordered along with lemon rice and a mixture of naan breads, none of which was strictly speaking – necessary.

A bottle of Brown Brother’s orange muscat was ordered to match the inspired dessert of chocolate fondue with orange, apple, pear and strawberry. Good for people who just want a little dessert as well as those who could eat an entire fondue set.

We also ordered a particular favourite of mine: tandoor pineapple with chilli and coconut ice-cream. If you haven’t tried it, you haven’t lived.

The bill came to 294 euros between five, which worked out at 60 euros each. By any estimation this is good value, but when you consider the imagination and quality of the food it’s a real bargain.

It’s feast or famine in this business. Okay, I admit it’s never actually famine, but there are long barren stretches of mediocre food. A recent bleak patch has given way to some real culinary delights and Jaipur is one of the them. The perfect venue for dining alone with a party of smokers.

Sunday Business Post Review (June 2004)©