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A new meaning for ‘Georgian’

Last update - Thursday, May 7, 2009, 00:39 By Metro Éireann

Nikala, a Dublin restaurant started by Georgian migrants, has had to adapt to the tastes of the Irish dining public, its owners tell Viktor Posudnevsky

Nikala – the only Georgian restaurant in Dublin, and possibly the whole of Ireland – was launched two years ago by friends George Motsonelidze and Mikhail Kandelaki. Both moved to Ireland from their native Georgia (the former Soviet state in the Caucasus, not the US state) around the year 2000.
“When we started we counted mostly on people from the former USSR who are familiar with Georgian cuisine,” says Motsonelidze. “And that was a big mistake.”
The restaurant is based in Dublin’s north inner city – an area officially recognised as being the most ‘immigrant’ part of Ireland. It’s also a place dominated by euro shops, takeaway joints and rough-looking pubs. As such, it is not normally on the radar of Dublin’s wining and dining public, who prefer the allegedly more refined southside locales.
Moreover, the name ‘Georgian restaurant’ is confusing to many, as Motsonelidze admits.
“Especially in the beginning, a lot of people thought Georgia in our restaurant’s name referred to the US state, or the Dublin style of architecture.”
Sadly, it seems it was the conflict in South Ossetia last August that introduced many Irish people to this little nation in the Caucasus.
“It’s bad, but since then we became more recognisable,” confirms Motsonelidze. But he adds that the restaurant has always had a small band of loyal followers.
Georgian cuisine is renowned throughout Russia and the former USSR. “A lot of Irish people worked in Russia, in the Ukraine, or had business there,” says Motsonelidze. “And many of them tried Georgian food and liked it. When they’re in Dublin they come to us and they bring their friends along.”
As word spread, Nikala attracted more and more Irish customers. Much of this business comes from the nearby headquarters of the Irish and Sunday Independent, with editors and journalists popping in for lunch, according to Motsonelidze. And a recent favourable review in The Irish Times has brought even more customers, with the phone ringing “non-stop” for bookings.
The restaurateurs were keen to capitalise on this new customer base. Whereas previously there was live entertainment catering to Moldovan, Russian and Georgian revellers, now there will be a piano playing calm music for guests to relax, feel more comfortable and have a conversation.
The menu has also been changed. Most of the traditional Georgian dishes are still on it, but there is now a new emphasis on steaks, which are loved by both Irish and former Soviet customers. Motsonelidze has also hired a new cook with experience in Europe – all this in a bid to draw more Irish diners in.
“We lost some of our Russian-speaking customer base due to the economic crisis,” he says. “But thanks to the inflow of Irish customers, the business is good.”
On an early Saturday evening, the restaurant is almost full. This is a far cry from how Nikala started. “It was very difficult in the beginning,” says Motsonelidze. “We weren’t known. There was a period when we had no customers. We had to change everything, but we never closed, except for refurbishment”.
Now, he reveals, he and his business partner Kandelaki are planning to open another restaurant, this time on Dame Street – a location more familiar to Dublin’s fine dining circles.

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