I'd never before sat in a Chinese restaurant in Ireland and been the only European in the place. And it wasn't a simple, tucked-away venue in some backstreet of what is, euphemistically, called our Chinese quarter -- around Parnell Street and Capel Street -- but smack in the middle of Dublin 2, in Wicklow Street, across the road from Brown Thomas.
You're not going to miss this place -- it has a red neon advertising board on one side of its front window. On the other side of the window is a faux waterfall.
Inside is every bit as bling, with crescendos of chandeliers worthy of the Forbidden City hanging above marble tables, and large, ornate dining chairs, complete with carved fish on the backs, upholstered in a bronze-and-gold leather.
Interestingly, Ka Shing's location is where I, and many a curly headed, be-jumpered student of yore, downed quantities of yellow curries with peas and large chunks of onion. This was many moons ago, in the then-legendary Universal Chinese Restaurant, which was in a back room, accessed down a long side passage.
It was subsequently the Imperial Chinese Restaurant, incorporating the shop to the front, until a year or two ago.
Curiosity made me walk straight through the restaurant where, lo and behold, I was in the back room of yore -- only it had been 'poshed' up.
Initially, we were brought a laminated menu that sported a large selection of all the familiar stalwarts, from chicken satay skewers and BBQ spare ribs to spicy Thai scallops, steamed king prawn with black bean sauce, and a curry and fried rice selection, written in both English and Chinese.
I was kind of wishing the menu was a bit more exotic, when my friend, Paul, asked for the dim sum menu. Then we were in business. Not only had it a large range of dim sum, but it also had a selection of traditional delicacies that had to be ordered in advance.
Dim sum, at €4-€8 per selection, was great value, but we chickened out, if you can forgive the pun, at Balyun-style pickled chicken feet when the waiter told us, pointedly, that they were bony. We squeamish westerners have no guts!
A quartet of shell-shaped shrimp har gow dumplings in translucent rice paper were more in our line -- and they were heavenly, as were four open-topped, perky bags of pork siu mai -- minced pork and mushrooms.
I was beginning to get bogged down by the time we had Chinese cabbage and pork dumplings -- our fault, as they were too similar to the first pork -- but I did like stuffed bean curd rolls.
The seafood selection offered lobster at a seasonal price, on top of interesting dishes, such as braised dried scallop, abalone slice and nostoc at €38, which had to be pre-booked.
Whole, crispy suckling pig (pre-book) can be had at €168, or €90 for a half pig, or €20 a portion. Shark fin soup, the waiter told us, is also available to order.
Marinated, sliced pork hock with shredded jellyfish sounded alluring, but the traditional-delicacies section of the menu proffered sticky, brown minced prawn, stuffed pepper, tofu and aubergine in black bean sauce (€13.80), which was plentiful while, at the same time, different.
A substantial portion of Malay king prawn salad (€18) was draped in a very mild sauce that tasted a bit like a cross between mayonnaise and white sauce.
The more familiar spicy Singapore vermicelli (€16) with prawns, pork and vegetables was ace.
It would take a year to go through all the interesting dishes at Ka Shing, and it was clear to me why there were so many Chinese people there who knew what they were ordering.
The Chinese New Year, the Year of the Horse, begins on January 31, which is a great opportunity to pay a visit.
With a bottle of Maui sauvignon blanc (€25) and attentive service, our bill came to €103.30.
12A Wicklow Street,
Tel: (01) 677-2580
THREE TO TRY: ORIENTAL EATS
China Sichuan Restaurant
Sandyford Industrial Estate,
Tel: (01) 293-5100
Kevin Hui's contemporary restaurant is destination dining for aficionados of top-notch Chinese food. The choices range from salt-and-chilli soft-shell crab to pan-fried rabbit, through Haozan black sole, to Sichuan spicy beef. Check out their Chinese New Year banquet
Mains, €12-€35, Early bird 2/3-course, €20/€24.50
Sichuan camphor-tea- smoked duck
YUAN MING YUAN
17 Princes Street,
Tel: (021) 425-4969
This eatery offers a totally exotic decor and an interesting menu, which includes dim sum and other stalwarts, but also 'emperor's feast' specialities of abalone, lobster and turbot (seasonal prices apply and 24 hours' notice is required for these). There's an authentic Chinese menu also -- in Chinese!
Mains, €12.80-€17.95, Early bird two-course, €16.80
Oyster tofu hotpot
Asian Tea House
Tel: (091) 563-749
This restaurant is said to offer the biggest range of Chinese teas in Ireland. The excellent menu includes fu chuk rolls; bok choy crab claws; aromatic duck; and siu yuk roasted pork belly
Jiong zeng sea bass -- steamed sea bass, served with a spicy yellow bean sauce, garnished with coriander and scallion