Lise Hand reviews Rasam Restaurant

Rasam in south Dublin impressed IMF officials who dined there after Lise Hand’s tip-off. She returns ten years on

It was a wintry Monday night in November 2010 and snow and ice were all over Ireland — on pavements, on fields, in hearts and souls.

I was slumped on my sofa, drained from the previous evening, when I had covered what had been, and remains, one of the bleakest press conferences of my career.

The phone rang. “Lise,” hissed a slightly panicky voice. “The IMF are here!” Nisheeth Tak is a gentleman and doesn’t swear. But a string of profanities was implied.

The IMF was indeed here, in Ireland and now in Rasam Restaurant, and it was all my fault (the second bit, not the first).

The night before, while sheltering from the cold in the Merrion Hotel in advance of the press conference across the street during which the Irish government would officially cede our country’s sovereignty to the International Monetary Fund, I fell briefly into conversation with our new chieftain. It was the sort of oddly disconnected, overly polite dialogue between two strangers at a funeral. We spoke of food, not of tragedy. Out of sheer habit I recommended Rasam. No harm: sure, it wasn’t like the IMF’s head of mission to Ireland, Ashoka Mody, would have the time to take himself all the way out to the snow-covered south Dublin suburb given he now had a country to run.

Twenty-four hours later Nisheeth was showing a group of 12 customers to their table. Given the Baltic weather, he had been contemplating an early finish when the booking popped up. How, he asked, had they found their way to his restaurant? My name was invoked. “Ah, so you’re journalists,” he concluded.

Then came the bone-chilling response. “No, we’re the IMF.”

Mercifully our longstanding friendship survived. Nisheeth has been feeding me and myriad journalist colleagues across several decades and in a succession of Dublin restaurants: Saagar, India Gate, Poppadom, Jaipur, Vermilion and, for the past 18 years, as co-owner of Rasam, a lovely eyrie nestling atop Eagle House pub close to Sandycove.

Now back in business for indoor dining, Rasam has survived recessions and a pandemic for two simple reasons: the consistent excellence of its food and the unstinting kindness and dedication of its host, which have secured it a legion of loyal devotees.

The room is a harmonious blend of East-West decor; a large silver elephant surveys the well-spaced tables and comfortably plush chairs, all bathed in a flattering light that gives off soothing “abandon hopelessness all ye who enter here” vibrations. The staff unfailingly navigate the tightrope between being attentive and unobtrusive; the menu is a dictionary of deliciousness, the described dishes rising aromatically off the page.

If you want a rogan josh or a vindaloo, Rasam is not for you. But if a starter described as “muscovy duck with star anise, fig, tamarind, filo pastry, roasted pepper coulis, curry leaf gun powder” sparks joy, then step right up.

To celebrate a return to Rasam after an eight-month hiatus I brought along the other two members of the Witches of East Coast, Claire and Áine, all of us regulars and all successful escapees from working in the same newsroom.

There is a new menu, devised during lockdown by Nisheeth and the head chef, Krishna Gupthan (who has worked in two Michelin-starred restaurants in India). Nisheeth is a tireless collector of innovative recipes and talented chefs, travelling to India regularly to acquire both. The result is a bill of fare that reflects the continent’s dizzying range of styles and spices, flavours and textures. The meat and fish are always fresh, the breads are baked on the premises and the spices are roasted and blended daily a few hours before opening time for maximum potency.

Claire began with the tilapia fish and prawn cake, delicately laced with ginger and coriander, finely textured and a perfect balance of flavours; and Áine chose an old favourite, the trio of chicken featuring three tandoori grilled tikka, individually spiced with chilli and garlic, mustard and turmeric, and rose petal and cream cheese, sprinkled with saffron-flavoured ghee.

I ordered the tasting platter — a selection box of five delights beautifully served on a silver leaf, including the aforementioned duck roll and a succulent masala scallop.

For her main course Áine was happily reunited with the simple but beautiful beetroot chicken, the tender meat simmering in a rich but light sauce of beetroot, tomatoes, cumin, coriander, red chilli, ginger and garlic. This had vanished off the menu but recently reappeared due to popular demand as a takeaway dish during lockdown. Claire tucked into meen manga curry — a generous portion of white fish served in a creamy coconut and mango curry sauce with just enough spiciness to temper the sweetness — while I polished off the new chicken dish, Guntur kodi kura, a delicious concoction of coconut, curry leaf, stone flower and coriander seed.

These were accompanied by pilau rice, Rasam’s scrumptious signature garlic, onion and coriander naan, and for fear we should leave hungry, Nisheeth added some side dishes — the often-modest side vegetable of cauliflower can-canned on to the table in a fabulous garb of ginger, cumin and green chilli.

To wash it all down we had some quality wine: a southern French grenache.

With its meticulous attention to detail and genuine passion for creating food that is a far holler from the stodgy, fiery dishes associated with old notions of a “curry-house”, Rasam is gajar murgh for the soul.

And how fared Nisheeth and the IMF on that wintry evening? Well, the head chef was hastily called in from his day off and the head of mission returned for two further visits while he did his bit in running the country.

For decades I’ve exited Nisheeth’s restaurants nourished by the food and warmed by the welcome. If you go, tell him that I sent you. But for goodness’ sake behave; it’d be terrible if you caused the end of a beautiful friendship.

@liseinthecity

Rasam Restaurant

18-19 Glasthule Road, Glasthule, Co Dublin

What we ate

To start
1 tasting platter €16.95
1 trio of chicken €10.50
1 fish and prawn cake €11.95

Mains
1 Guntur kodi kura €19.95
1 beetroot chicken €19.95
1 meen manga curry €22.50

Sides
3 pilau rice €10.50
2 garlic, onion and coriander naan €7.90
1 choley (chickpea, tomato, green chilli, carom) No charge
1 gobhi adraki (cauliflower, ginger, cumin, green chilli, tomato) No charge

To Drink
1 bottle Petit Papillon Grenache Rouge €26.95

Total: €147.15

 

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