GIVEN the dark January days and my relative lack of funds I required some cheap eats this week, preferably at a restaurant that would cheer me up and remind me of the brighter days to come.
The answer was obvious; I was craving heat and spices and contrasting flavours, such as those found in the food served in Madina.
Madina Desi Curry Co, to give the restaurant its full title, is a family-run Indian/Pakistani restaurant at the Capel Street end of Mary Street, in the heart of what has become Dublin's largest ethnic quarter.
Most Indian restaurants in Ireland are content with identical menus offering little variation from the standard chicken and lamb dishes in a selection of sauces ranging from mild (korma) to medium (rogan josh) to hot (vindaloo).
While Madina does have some of these dishes on their menu, they also offer a range of regional specialities, many of which they have made their own.
When myself and my (curry aficionado) guest entered early on a Friday evening we found an almost-full restaurant and eager, friendly staff who urged us to sit wherever we wished. Indian food is all about contrasts so we chose a selection of dishes with various flavours, textures and levels of heat.
We ordered lamb vindaloo, potatoes and aubergines, coriander naan bread, a spicy moong dal and a mixed sizzling platter from the tandoori oven, which included spicy seekh minced lamb kebab, lamb and chicken tikka chunks and barbecued chicken leg.
No visit to Madina would be complete without their signature southern Indian dishes so we also ordered a masala dosa pancake and a portion of idli -- a spongy textured steamed rice cake. Both dosa and idli were served with a coconut chutney and samber -- a mild vegetable stew.
Our crispy masala dosa pancake was stuffed with tasty sauteed potatoes, onions and warming spices such as cloves and cardamom. The rather bland idli, while dull on their own, offered a good contrast to the spices in the other dishes.
Our lamb vindaloo was hot but not searingly so, with good use of spices and a nice tang of vinegar. Potatoes and aubergines were spicy and light and our dal was creamy and rich.
As Madina is an alcohol-free restaurant I ordered a mango flavoured lassi, a traditional cooling yoghurt drink -- the Indian version of a milk shake. The sweet mango pulp mixed with refreshing yoghurt was an excellent foil for the spicy and savoury dishes.
The atmosphere in Madina is more casual cafe than fancy restaurant, so this is perhaps not a first-date restaurant. A mix of Bhangra and Bollywood (or possibly Lollywood) soundtrack music on the speakers added to the authenticity, and it was also reassuring that a significant number of our fellow diners were from India or Pakistan.
This was an incredibly good-value meal and could easily have fed three adults or a family of four. Staff were happy to let us box up the leftovers and we left Madina feeling utterly sated with warming spices in our nostrils and lingering on our palates.
We paid a quick visit to the Asian supermarket next door for two of their fantastic pistachio kulfi ice pops, and we headed for home.