Spicing things up in D9
Vagya, a Nepalese and Indian restaurant in the Sunnybank Hotel on Botanic Road, is as hidden as gems getI’M NOT A curry lover. I might be if I lived in London, where it is a badge of honour to have a secret knowledge of your neighbourhood’s best curry house. But I’ve had too many bad Dublin curries: cartons of brown sludge with questionable meat stewed in fat, salt and spice, with a side of tooth-cracking reheated rice.
The Irish curry scene divides, with some honourable exceptions, into two experiences. There are the impressive restaurants such as Rasam, Kinara Kitchen and Jaipur, where good Indian cooking can be found. And there are the cheaper takeaways, where expectations are as low as the prices.
So when friends raved about a great curry house on Dublin’s Botanic Road I was interested. “Wear elastic trousers,” were the parting words from one when I rang to check the name. Vagya is a Nepalese and Indian restaurant in the Sunnybank Hotel, which is an old-fashioned flowery-carpet hotel in which I imagine travelling salesmen unpacking their battered leather suitcases back in the day. The sign outside is barely legible, written in an abstract graphic script. In the hotel car park it’s sardine-can tight and full of unfriendly signs threatening a post-dinner clamping experience. This is as hidden as gems get.
The hostility dissolves inside the restaurant. The dining room is in two interconnecting rooms of this old house, the marble fireplaces have been boarded up and everything is painted sunny yellow. The tablecloths are covered in white paper cloths to catch the spills. There are nice wine glasses and the service is very friendly.
Western versions of Indian food come with heavy ingredients, such as clarified butter, cream and large chunks of meat – the “tikka masala” school of cooking. In 2009 a British MP tabled a motion proposing Glasgow as the EU-protected originator of the tikka masala. It is widely accepted to be a British curry house invention concocted to appeal to a western palate. It contains none of the simple Indian and Nepalese diet staples of lentils, rice and curried vegetables.
In Vagya, the menu has a mix of Nepalese dishes along with the more familiar Indian food we know. All of it is relatively cheap (there’s a €12.90 early bird three-course meal option).
Momo are Nepalese dumplings. By the power of Google I can tell you that in Nepal, momo would traditionally be filled with minced buffalo meat. Here they are filled with minced chicken and served in a generous portion, each topped with a fresh coriander leaf, a tangle of raw carrot that’s been turned into stringy salad, and a piquant dipping sauce. They’re rubbery and tasty.
A tandoori prawn starter is another good portion of blousy tiger prawns, flesh softened by being marinated in yoghurt and lemon juice and then cooked to a tail-singed crisp in a tandoori oven. A third starter of aloo tikki are golden fried spiced potato cakes with a swirl of tamarind and tomato chutney.