South Indian specialities come to Inchicore
What should we know about Kari?
We first spotted the signs of a restaurant fitout in the ground floor of one of Inchicore’s new apartment buildings back at the start of the year, but word was hushed on just what Kari might be - though a little digging on a planning permission notice showed up some connection to Clanbrassil Street’s Konkan.
It’s almost twenty years since husband and wife team Bala Nayak and Nidhi Joshi opened those doors, and over ten since a second branch sprung up in Dundrum. With Kari, named from the Tamil word for sauce, which gives us the English word curry, they’re looking to trade on the reputation they’ve already built to bring us something a little more specialised.
Where should we sit?
The bright, spacious room has been nicely kitted out with a gold-grey colour scheme, consistent from ceiling to walls to even the padded leather seats.
The large, partly-frosted windows which face out onto Inchicore’s main street bring the right mix of light and privacy, while the geometric mirror wall to the rear spreads the brightness through the space - you can’t go wrong no matter what table you land at.
What’s on the menu?
There’s a general focus on the cuisine of India’s south and south-western states here, Goa and Kerala chief among them. Nayak and Joshi are loathe to use the word “authentic” given the wide variety of styles between and even within the country’s many regions, but the menu’s very much informed by their own experiences and memories of home - with a few concessions to more familiar dishes.
We got started with poppadoms, as is only right and proper - these crispy appetisers are hard to get wrong, but done really right the little differences can often stand out as a strong statement of intent. At Kari they came served with a lightly-spiced creamy tomato sauce, and a punchy, fruity chutney we were shocked to learn was turnip - our server, beaming at the surprise, said they aim to incorporate Irish ingredients wherever they can (we’d just missed a rhubarb chutney, gutted).
Just as standout a fusion foodstuff were pakoras of kale and samphire, a real showcase of Kari’s Irish-Indian instincts. Lightly-battered shreds of the two veg are deep-fried to a fragile crisp, dolloped with a tangy tamarind-ginger chutney and scattered with pomegranate seeds. Kale’s ragged surface area lends itself especially well to a perfect pakora crunch, and if samphire’s thicker strands can make for some uneven mouthfuls, it’s a fair price to pay for the salty satisfaction of an inspired take on the street food treat.
Gobi 65 is another south Indian street food favourite that’s made its way onto Kari’s starter selection: blanched florets of cauliflower are tossed in a thick, richly-spiced batter before being fried to a dry finish. Pooled pockets of sauce caught among crisped cauliflower branches make for a great clash of textures in every forkful - this is one of those plates you start off sharing but wish you could keep to yourself.
Each of the main dishes’ grill options can also be ordered in starter form, so we ordered a smaller serving of Chicken Angarey and were not long regretting it. These bone-in chicken thigh tikka are given a spell in a fiery yogurt marinade before a roasting in the high temperature of a tandoor oven: the result is an otherworldly balance of blackened extremities and tender fatty flavour, cut through with a powerful spice kick. If tikka is your thing, don’t make our mistake - go all in on making this a main.
If you can forgive the mild annoyance of the same limp side salad scattered across multiple plates, the only damp note in our selection of starters was the Goan crab and prawn kebabs, three soft cakes of seafood laid out over a sauteed cabbage and coconut slaw. We can’t fault the flavour but structurally these were a mess, crumbling under first touch of a fork - good luck dipping them by hand. The accompanying coconut chutney seems a mismatch for this flavour profile too, its cooling effect hardly called for in a dish that’s all about subtle spicing.
The batting average came in just a little lower across the mains we tried, though it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility we were just starting to fill up by then - a light bite to eat Kari is not. The cauliflower and potato ghassi skewed slightly forgettable: a vegan twist on a classic Mangalorean chicken dish, we couldn’t help but suspect those absorbent subbed veggies had dulled all the heat of the dried chili and roasted coconut base.
The flagship chicken kari was always going to need a look-in and we’re glad to say it stands on firmer feet. The base sauces between this and the ghassi aren’t actually all too different, only fresh coconut and an earthier spice character setting this aside, but it’s enough to make for a standout difference. Generously chunky chicken breast pieces help too: the slight resistance they offer before yielding to the bite is worlds apart from the cauliflower’s sodden softness.
Kari’s care and attention to detail comes through best in the dum biryani: this traditional technique of slow-steamed layers of rice and meat gives a delicate depth of flavour and deceptively light texture to the rice that plays well off the fatty excess of the lamb. If not exactly a showstopper dish it's still a showcase of the instincts that underlie the place. Many restaurants striving for speed and scale will just go ahead and do this in an oven, and it’s often quite good, but taking the long way round here is a testament to the place’s core mission statement: sharing good home cooking, the way it ought to be done.
Most mains (the biryani is an understandable exception) come with a choice of turmeric and ghee or plain basmati rice, but as far as sides are concerned, the bread is where it’s really happening.
We could not get enough of the date and coconut naan. In essence a pimped-up peshwari, its deeply sweet taste is the perfect pairing for the spicier of the curry choices, and could happily serve as a dessert in its own right (we're not ashamed to say we kept picking away at it long after there was nothing left to mop up). We took a tip from the staff and threw in a paratha too, the flaky, dense dough an ideal vessel for the lighter dishes.
What are the drinks like?
The wine list is broadly functional, with a mix that feels more tailored to catch-all crowd pleasers than any particularly interesting pairing options, but everything comes in at under €50 a bottle. Cocktails are curious, with the rioja, raspberry and peach schnapps of the “Indian Cobbler” a little too assertive against the food - the elderflower and hibiscus prosecco spritz managed to mingle more discretely. Beers are basic, with Moretti and Tiger on tap, while non-alcoholic options are impressively broad and range from assorted Irish producers to an in-house mango lassi we wish we’d had the stomach space to sample.
How was the service?
One little bugbear with Kari is the way the space is set out, with the dining area distinct from a service and reception section - we get the zoning, but when the staff retreat there it can be tough to catch an eye until they’re already en route to another table. There’s no fault though when you do get their attention - from walking you through that one flavour you can’t quite place, to offering advice on what to order, every server in here was brimming with knowledge.
And the damage?
Dinner for a greedy three with one drink each clocked in at €133 - we might easily have fed another for that were we less eager to get a taste of everything around us. There’s a more pared-back, street food oriented menu available for lunch on Fridays to Sundays and it’s very reasonably priced at around €15 a head - we’ll be back in to try that.
What’s the verdict on Kari?
A very welcome addition to a part of the city not exactly awash with great Indian food, Kari’s menu strikes a balance between quality classics to draw in a crowd, and lesser-known dishes that should help it stand out from the crowd. It seems admirably intent on building a neighbourhood restaurant rep, and a kid’s menu that’s both fairly priced and not patronising in its options speaks especially to that - we saw several families drop in while we visited. Inchicore locals are in for a treat; those of us further afield won't regret travelling.