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Monday, October 3, 2016
Gautham Iyer has been in the spotlight lately: Electric Picnic, a very successful pup-up at La Boheme, and a glowing mention from Tom Doorley. But he was back at the roots last week, in his small 14 seat cafe on the north bank of Cork’s north channel, serving up his by now rather famous South Indian vegetarian food.
The Cork cafe is simple. The food too is simple. Simply superb. There is a dedication at work here, a dedication that is not bounded by the four walls of Iyer’s Cafe. Even when he is at a football match he is thinking food. Do you know any other chef who comes home from a game with a bunch of mushrooms because he wasn’t just looking only at the playing field.
It reminds me of a very experienced photographer who, on being assigned a football game, would also come home with pictures of dogs and their walkers or an unusual bird on the wing. He also used to say: Don’t forget to look behind you!
Well, in Iyer’s, I did look behind me, all around me, but firstly at the menu board, and then mostly at my plate. No beer or wine here but they do have some lovely drinks. My favourite is perhaps the Mango Lassi, sweet and cool with a smooth creamy texture, ideal for the dosas and samosas.
The Dosas are pretty large thin pancakes or crepes and come plain or with various fillings. The Onion is one that is we enjoyed while the Masala also went down well. All are served with homemade chutneys (maybe tomato, maybe coconut) and sambar ( a kind of soup, maybe with a bit of spice).
You could also start with samosas, up to yourself really. If you are new to South Indian and unsure, just ask the friendly people behind the counter. They’ll put you right! Samosas, with various fillings, are always available here. They are beautifully made, light and delicate and, like everything else here, reasonably priced.
Last week though, CL asked for the Samosa Chaat, an enhanced version with chick pea chole, red onion, rice puffs and garnishes. Sampled a spoon or two of that and loved it, especially those rice puffs! Very tasty, crunchy and savoury and nicely spiced, very comforting on a cool day.
There are other variations. There is a Bhel Puri, an Utthappam (popular version of the humble dosa). And if you want a taste of virtually everything here then ask for the rice dish called Madras Thali.
And there are specials too. Gautham describes the Chilli gobi with an avocado and mint chutney as “a crowd pleaser”. The Green banana, peanut and panneer bon bons with Beetroot and mint chutney is one of his own favourites. Another recent one is Chestnut mushroom and walnut pakora, with a tangy chutney. So, no shortage of choice. Still, if you are a novice, maybe stick with the dosas and samosas for that first visit!
I don’t have that much experience of South Indian either but stepped out of the comfort zone and ordered the tamarind rice served with spinach kootu and poppadom. The rice had a gorgeous texture and flavour while the kootu was more serious, warming and filling. Quite a feed for just €6.95.
You just might have room for dessert. There are always a few cakes and cookies on the counter to tempt you. My favourite, the Pistachio and Rosewater, wasn’t on that day but there was considerable consolation at hand in a shared slice of the creamy Mango, Banana and Coconut Cake.
The bill for two courses each, a drink apiece, a Badger & Dodo coffee each, and a shared slice of cake, came to forty euro. Good food, good value.