51 Fields Terrace, Charleston Road, Ranelagh, D6
Tel: 01 4060006; www.mak.ie
Chinese more than dim sum of its parts
It's a brave man who opens a restaurant in Ranelagh. The Dublin 6 enclave has a huge amount of choice when it comes to food, from Pakistani to Indian, Spanish to old-school Italian, to name just a few. And all of them well established.
The latest restaurant to join the melting pot is Mak, a Hong Kong and Chinese restaurant that might have a chance on the basis that it is the only dim sum specialist in the village.
Tonight my partner in dining comes from the drama community. And that's not a euphemism for anything; it just means he works at making plays for a living.
I didn't think he had any sort of dramatic streak in him until he suggested that we called him Brick for the purposes of this review.
It's a Monday night, and the place is about one-third full, which is not bad for a slow night in a town full of restaurants. It's a freezing cold night and when I arrive a waitress shepherds me towards the back, so I'll be warm, she reassures me. I am touched. I sit in a window seat, which means I get to engage in my favourite pastime – having the gawk – as I wait for Brick to arrive.
The restaurant manages to be cosy, despite a lot of hard, bare surfaces (although there are very comfy-looking nooks and a sort of split-level that looks snug). I'm a bit of a comfort-over-style person. There are days when I think the pyjama girls are absolute geniuses, but I digress.
The wooden tables and chairs, wooden floor and funky lighting all offer a stylish and modern setting, although the restaurant lighting is brighter than I like. I think there is a critical point in lighting in a restaurant that, if you cross it, can suddenly transform the loveliest room into a canteen and it can happen to the best restaurants (I remember being in Guillbaud's about 10 years ago and feeling positively exposed by the bright lighting).
Mak offers plenty of familiar Chinese dishes, but its specialty is dim sum. What is dim sum, anyway, Brick and I wonder. It's essentially Chinese tapas. These delicious, bite-sized meals date back to the tea rooms that sprang up along the silk route to refresh weary travellers.
The menu is one page but extensive and we're a bit bamboozled as to what to order because there are three columns of dim sum to choose from.
Kudos to the waitress, who diplomatically asks us if we have any questions about the menu and explains the portion sizes of the dim sum servings and suggests ordering from these to start with and then perhaps a main, which we do.
I am momentarily tempted to order simply all dim sum – the menu looks that good.
It is divided into steamed, pan grilled or 'crispy', which I presume is a more palatable term for the disenfranchised word 'fried'.
Being thorough (or greedy), I suggest ordering one from each category. Scallops in ginger and scallion (€7), spicy chicken potsticker (€6) and salt and pepper calamari (€6.50). We devour everything. More importantly, as Brick points out, when you eat a proper bite to include the ginger or spring onion, the simple flavours perfectly complement each other.
The restaurant's stated philosophy is good food combined with good times and great company, and there is a little sort of bar area when you arrive that has filled up with an elegant-looking group who are very well behaved. There's no shouting or drunkenness, just good times with what looks like great company.
The restaurant is run by brothers Ricky and Julian Mak (Julian is a second generation of restaurateur in Dublin) and combines the aforementioned dim sum with authentic Chinese cuisine in an atmosphere and seems to be geared towards families and friends and the relaxed youth market of Dublin 6.
For our mains, I order prawn with ginger and scallion (€17.50) and Brick goes for chicken with cashew nut (€16.50). We order noodles and rice to go with it, which, as is the case with all Asian restaurants, we are charged separately for. It's always been a bugbear of mine, maybe because I come from the school of thinking that dictates a meal is not a meal without a complementary serving of potatoes on the side.
The mains are presented in such a way that it is easy to continue sharing your dishes, which is very social and a nice idea for families or groups of friends. Both dishes are very good and I liked the simplicity but they struggles to keep up with the inventiveness of the dim sum. At the same time, these mains are all popular dishes, particularly to the Irish palate.
Chinese food is not renowned for its desserts and the offerings here are very simple – sorbets, ice creams and a couple of dishes that I suspect no self-respecting Chinese man or woman would be caught dead eating (a pineapple fritter and a banana spring roll).
We order the banana spring roll served with chocolate sauce and ice cream, out of a duty to our job here tonight, but we are both very pleasantly surprised as it is perfectly prepared, the spring roll pastry thin and crispy and the flavours, again, perfectly complementing each other. It brings back a Parisienne memory of eating banana and chocolate crepes in Montmartre.
The service is excellent and the food is very enjoyable (although I would stick to the dim sum the next time as it is really excellent). At this point the conversation has moved on from favourite cities to whether a monosyllabic secular name or a Greek God's name is the better start to give a child in life.
If I didn't know better, I'd say it's time to go home. Cinderella-style, I notice with a start, the time on Brick's watch. We've been here three hours! That's what happens when you mix good food and great company.
Recommended: Pot stickers, salt and pepper calamari
The damage: €92 for one bottle of wine, three dim sum, two main courses, two sides and one dessert
At the table: Groups of friends who look like extras from IKEA ads
On the stereo: Simple (but great) pop hits