Lunch for two to share for a fiver

Dublin’s north inner city is brimming with multi-cultural dining spots – and a French bakery, writes CATHERINE CLEARY

Dublin's north inner city is brimming with multi-cultural dining spots – and a French bakery, writes CATHERINE CLEARY

IT’S EASY TO feel like the youngest person in the room in restaurants. The mature euro is in force in places with linens and fresh flowers on tables. So it’s a refreshing change to walk into a restaurant packed with people half my age when I arrive at Madina, a small, cheerful Indian restaurant between a sex shop and an outdoors equipment store on Mary Street on Dublin’s northside.

The first thing to hit me is a smell of curry spices and the heat of the burners from the two kitchens, one downstairs and one upstairs. As I sit catching up on some reading, I hear the table of people next to me talk to their guests about how they love it so much they have eaten here once a week for two years. “Well maybe once every two weeks,” someone says. Still, that’s devotion.

From Jamie Oliver to Anthony Bourdain, street food has been lauded as the food of the gods, those lumps of fried stuff or bowls of gorgeous soup slurped in the fug of moped fumes and humidity.

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We’ve never really done street food well here, probably for climate reasons. But Madina is doing it indoors and in comfort. The menu is long and varied and so cheerfully cheap it’s obvious why students are packing this place out. Also, there are more vegetarian than meat options, which makes a nice change. The only thing they don’t do here is alcohol. Fruit lassis, juices and non-alcoholic beers are the only things on the drinks menu.

The house speciality is a dosa. These are thin, crispy fermented pancakes made from rice flour and cooked on a square hotplate the size of a flagstone and stuffed with spiced potato. They are huge – the size of an open umbrella – and if you weren’t too hungry you could share one, giving you a meal for two for under a fiver.

I’ve wandered in and chosen a table upstairs where a second, smaller kitchen is at work. My friend Carol has been here once. The decor is basic. The chairs are cheap black vinyl, the offspring of an office chair and a 1980s dining room set. The tables are veneer mahogany. Rotating beaten silver light globes give a disco-ball effect, in the places where the motors haven’t given up. A hand-painted fake tile fresco brightens it all up cheesily.

When we order we get a choice of mild, medium or hot in the sauces, which is a clever way to cater for spice-lovers and those who don’t much care for it. We’re given black shiny plates and a stoppered bottle of water. They’re out of mango lassis so I have a mango juice which comes in a small glass with a black straw and no ice. It’s sweet, thick and egg-yolk yellow.

I’m going veggie, with a tarka dal to start and a masala dosa, which comes with sambar (a vegetable stew) and coconut chutney. Carol’s having seekh kebabs and a medium chicken jalfrezi curry with boiled rice. My dal comes in a small soup bowl and is gorgeous. I could very happily eat two bowls of this as a main course. It’s got that thick, soupy texture that well cooked dried yellow split peas get. There is spice and heat, but nothing overwhelming. There are tiny pieces of carrot, spring onions and fresh coriander in it. Carol’s lamb kebabs look like skinless sausages and have an earthy, spiced lamb flavour, and come with a nice small salad with a minted yoghurt dressing on it.

Around us there is a babble of languages and chat. The table with the devoted fans has had two other groups come and go in the time that we linger. What doesn’t happen is a raising of the volume to the shouting that happens in places that serve alcohol. Midway through, I do get a pang for a beer to go with the spicy food, but it’s manageable. Downstairs we can hear families with small children eating.

“Okay, I hope you’re hungry,” Carol warns as she sees the size of the dosa coming for a main course. Her curry comes in a silver bowl with a lid and is very tasty, a medium-spiced version which hits the spice note perfectly. And the dosa? It’s been cooked beside me, stuffed with spiced potato and served with a small pot of vegetable stew and a tangy shredded coconut sauce. It’s spicy and filling and I manage roughly half of it.

Our dinner of hot, tasty, well-cooked food has come to €26.79 for two, with drinks. We will both be back soon.

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Madina Desi Curry Co

60 Mary Street, Dublin 1, tel: 01-8726007

Music: Eclectic mix of pop

Facilities: Spartan

Wheelchair access: Yes

Service: Good

Food provenance: None

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