Exceptional Indian and Pakistani dishes, striking decor and gracious hosts in Blackrock

Looking at the series of dusty aquamarine door frames with intricate motifs along one of the walls, it might be tough to decide whether Daata’s newest address is reminiscent of the animated bylanes of Lahore or the hectic bazaars of Old Delhi. No two corners of the restaurant are the same, and each artefact looks like it was hand-picked — whether it’s the tasselled lamps, ornate chandeliers, a whimsical fish sculpture above some of the shelves, frames hung on the brick pillars, or the copper jugs used to serve water.

The ground floor at Daata in Blackrock

As we find ourselves in awe and speechless for a good bit after having sat at our designated seats, we soon realise it’s because we haven’t seen a prettier dining room in Dublin. It might not captivate those with a preference for uniformity and stiff white tablecloths as strongly, but even old-fashioned formalists might find normative dining elements uninspiring soon after they visit this brighter haven. 

Elegance personified

There’s notable finesse in every aspect, be it the artistic embellishments, food or service. Head Chef Rahat Saeed, who co-owns the four Daata restaurants across Dublin and Wicklow along with her husband Waseem, comes out of the kitchen to greet us and we transition from English to a mix of Urdu and Hindi. With her poised demeanour and heartfelt welcome, she makes us feel as though we are friends that she invited home rather than guests at her restaurant. If Indians pride themselves on the age-old 'atithi devo bhava' (Sanskrit for “guest is God”) principle, it’s also widely known that Pakistanis outdo themselves with soft-spoken 'mehmaan nawazi' (Urdu for hospitality), which Rahat epitomises beautifully. 

Brunch seems more appropriate than lunch at the time of our visit, and we order the halwa puri and anda masala along with one glass of sweet and another of salty lassi. The drinks reach our table first, the sweet lassi garnished with a mint sprig and rose petals, and the salty version with berries. A stupendous thaali arrives shortly after, with two large puris skillfully balanced against a bigger-than-regular bowl of chhole/chickpeas cooked with masala, a smaller bowl filled with pickled red onion, and another small bowl with a happy yellow semolina halwa. 

Halwa, puri and chhole with pickled onion

Searching for halwa 

Each region may have given the sweet distinct names based on local customs and language, but culinary artistry with regards to halwa-making is a commonality that’s easily detectable in many parts of India: the North loves it sooji/semolina and atta/wheat flour halwa (the latter also known as kara prasad among religious Sikhs), the West its sheera, and most Southern states their kesari bath. Despite having ubiquity and classic status in its favour, halwa doesn’t make it to the menus of most prime Indian/South Asian restaurants. This might seem perplexing, but the explanation is really quite simple: chefs at fine dining restaurants (both on home turf and abroad) fear it’s too basic to appeal to those with theatrical tastes. 

Halwa is seen as being better suited to menus at comparatively modest establishments like Bille Di Hatti (now pretty much an iconic institution and the gold standard by which all other chhole-puri and halwa should ideally be measured) in Delhi. Some chefs might consider gajar/carrot halwa less rudimentary, but even that’s often gussied up with frills like ice cream (or worse, fruit) to ensure it’s gimmicky enough so an innocent, undiscerning diner might be tempted to order it. 

Unlike the way it’s taken for granted within the realm of performative Indian cooking, the halwa at Daata is cherished and treated with tenderness. Adorned with rose petals and varq (edible silver foil that’s typically used to garnish many South Asian sweets), it’s very delicate with subtle flavours of cardamom and saffron. I found myself eating it without the puri because it felt exquisite on its own. 

The spice is right

While the puri felt like it was overpowering the halwa, the deep-fried staple was a fit accompaniment to the robust, savoury chhole. Seasoned well enough to be just a bit spicier than moderate, the dish surpasses other bowls of chana masala that can be found across Dublin restaurants. 

Anda masala with lachha paratha

The anda masala is essentially boiled egg pieces in a very chunky tomato and onion gravy, served with lachha (layered) paratha. Intermingled with flavours of every spice you’d find in a desi spice box, it might just be South Asia’s answer to shakshouka. I’d also pick the flakiness of Daata’s lachha paratha over that of some acquaintances who struggle to follow through with plans.

Fare that fares well

I feel inclined to say that Daata is by far the only South Asian restaurant in Dublin that might be able to outshine others in the same category who have been around longer. Although the number of Pakistani restaurants in the city is currently fewer than Indian ones, they’re definitely more distinct in how they present themselves. 

It’s sad to observe most successful Indian restaurants in the city thriving on formulaic menus. If Dubliners are able to recognise genuine South Asian flavours along with customary Islamic courtesy and the value of tradition — all of which are abundant at Daata — the stubborn clique of upscale Indian restaurants (that’s mostly made up of differently named clones of each other) might finally have something to worry about. 

Daata Blackrock
Bill for two 
Sweet lassi€5
Salty lassi€5
Halwa puri€14
Anda masala€11
20-22 Temple Road, Newtown Blackrock
A94 YX72