Pickle review: You’ll never get food this good from a delivery bike

Ditch the delivery apps for stunning Indian cooking and the happy hum of a real restaurant

   

Pickle

The retail gurus predict the end of the high street. It’s wilting like a poinsettia in an overheated room, death by a billion Amazon same-day deliveries. So what happens to the restaurants on our main streets?  Will our mid-range restaurant sector be Amazoned? Dinner is already a virtual human-interaction-free thumb swipe away.

Paschal Donohoe’s VAT hike isn’t the only thing sending a shiver down spines these days. This year sees Deliveroo bringing a new phenomenon to Dublin, a centralised service kitchen preparing dishes from its member restaurants’ menus one emailed recipe after another. It’s an obvious business model reducing all the pesky necessity of having actual restaurants with actual kitchens cooking the food for diners to eat in the same building. 

It feels like that future is here on an eerily still January night in Dublin. Pedalling through deserted streets, I picture people atomised in the glow of small screens behind their curtains. Then we push open the door of Pickle into warmth, delicious smells and the happy hum of a real restaurant, a form of conviviality that makes me feel better about life, even in the loneliness of winter. 

After the slew of seasonal sweetness, Sunil Ghai wants us to embrace the other side of the flavour wheel

There are new things on Pickle’s menu for that time of the year when it can feel like an effort to brush the Quality Street wrappers off your chest and rise out of the warm grip of sofa and slanket. After the slew of seasonal sweetness chef Sunil Ghai wants us to embrace the other side of the flavour wheel. The bitterer the better is his mantra. That means fenugreek and preserved lemon, pickled samphire and coconut and chilli yogurt to provide the astringent kick our metabolism needs to tweak the dial up from sluggish to sparky. 

If all this sounds like a detox in curry form, fear not. The only kale you’ll find here has been coated in batter, fried crisply brown and drizzled in a coconut and chilli yogurt that I’m determined to try to re-create at home. It’s on the chaat ki rehdi, a starter for two that comes in a glossy red and black box. In one compartment there are semolina bubbles – paper thin golf ball sized globes with tiny cubes of potato, pomegranate and coriander inside. Following the instructions of the great wait staff, we drip in a tiny teaspoon of glossy tamarind ketchup and pour a thin spiced mint broth from a jug before popping the lot in for a firework of heat, sour and sweet, crispness, chewiness and liquid. 

There are lotus seeds puffed to Sugar Puff size with skin-on peanuts to add crunch and a potato cake, or aloo tikki chaat, smothered in jammy pomegranate molasses and fresh watery shards of radish. The potato has a seam of green chilli heat that sears blowtorch-style through all the other notes. 

There’s a small nod to meat with a plate of duck three ways but the main event tonight is the vegetarian thaali. There’s much re-engineering of our small table to fit the silver platter with its clock’s face of small silver bowls on to the space. Its menu description is a masterclass in underpromise and overdelivery. So the “lentils” listed on the menu turn up as a bowl of dhal cooked for 36 hours so that the whole thing has melded to a velvety soup of rolling tastes spooned on to fresh puffy naan. It’s one of the best dhals I’ve ever tasted. I’d be happy to come back and order just a large bowl of it, one stack of naan breads on the side.

Pickle: After the slew of seasonal sweetness, chef Sunil Ghai wants us to embrace the other side of the flavour wheel. Photograph: Donall Farmer
Pickle: chaat ki rehdi, a starter for two, comes in a glossy red and black box. Photograph: Donall Farmer
Pickle Indian restaurant on Camden Street: Rounds of okra cooked in butter taste nutty like courgettes with muscle. Photograph: Donall Farmer
Pickle Indian restaurant on Camden Street in Dublin: rounds of okra cooked in butter taste nutty like courgettes with muscle. Photograph: Donall Farmer

Chunks of chalk-white paneer, or pressed cheese, are smothered in a thick spinach sauce. There’s a tiny bowl of avocado that has been melded with yogurt to become a cooling raita so smooth it could sell you a time share.

Rounds of okra cooked in butter taste nutty like courgettes with muscle. And there is cauliflower and potato here to ground all the dazzling bowls in humbler roots. We’ve turned the menu sideways and ordered the lentil and rice crisps with Sunil’s shrimp pickle to come with the main course. If you think shrimp pickle sounds odd, go and taste this one and wonder where it’s been all your life.

Our lovely server tells us he’s travelling home to India shortly for a cousin’s wedding. The thaali, or platters of food, will include more than 80 different bowls, he explains. Weeks of cooking go into the feast.  We are in the ha’penny place with our thaali count and even then we are struggling to finish it all. 

Pickle will be three years on the main street that is Camden Street this spring. It’s a restaurant that has grown into a very special place to eat. Yes it’s more expensive than a takeaway but the joy of its new vegetarian dishes is the less-but-better approach. When the food and restaurant experience is this good, it’ll take more than the dine-at-home convenience of a bike delivery to put a dent in it. 

Dinner for two, with two Galway Hooker IPAs and sparkling water, came to €83.90

  • Verdict A restaurant experience to put a spring in your step 
  • Music Nice
  • Facilities Upstairs
  • Food provenance None
  • Vegetarian options Excellent
  • Wheelchair access No