Hailan is a new Korean and Japanese eatery on Dame Street, near the Olympia Theatre. Nowadays, everyone knows good Chinese or Thai nosh from bad Chinese or Thai slosh.
e aren't so familiar with the subtleties of Korean food, but you soon will be, for it is now the hippest cuisine on the planet.
I guess you could say it's a bit like Thai or Indonesian food, with balls. It has been referred to as the culinary equivalent of tough love, but that's what New Yorkers are going wild for. Kimchee - fermented cabbage - is probably Korean cuisine's best-known dish; but that's a bit like saying Germany is known for sauerkraut and Ireland for bacon and cabbage. There is much more to Korean food. Not as sweet as Chinese or Thai food, the flavours are of a more intense savoury nature, using fermented bean pastes, with as much heat as your heart desires.
The restaurant is long and narrow, with booth seating on one side. As we made our way towards the rear, we liked what we were seeing on tables and the aromas emanating from lovely black stone dishes. A smiling young waiter whose name was Lei could not have been more helpful or attentive. My companion Paul and I scanned through the selection of sushi and sashimi, and decided we would leave those for another day.
Starters (€5.90-€8) included popular numbers such as spring rolls, chicken sticks and tempura of seafood or vegetables. We kicked off with king prawn tempura (€6.90) and pan-fried dumplings (€5.90). Both were top notch. The five lightly breaded prawns were large and chunky and served with a dip of sweet chilli sauce.
The dumplings were available with a number of different fillings, including lamb with carrots and coriander; pork with celery; or courgette with prawn. We had pork with chillies, which were delicious, crisply seared on one side, soft on the other.
Such was Lei's attention to detail that, when he saw me dipping my dumpling in sweet chilli sauce, he told me most Korean people like them with soy sauce or vinegar - handing me a bottle. Mains (€6-€11.90) had a wide selection of noodle dishes; Korean soups - which are stew-like; salads and bibimbap - 'mixed rice' topped with naumui (sauteed and seasoned vegetables) and gochujang (chilli pepper paste), a hard-boiled egg, and whatever you opt for by way of seafood or meat.
Between us we chose Korean fried squid and pork (€11.90), bibimbap with fly-fish eggs (€10.90) and cold Korean style noodles (€6.00). They were all absolutely delicious. The fried shredded pork was on a hot sizzling dish and had rolls of slashed squid mixed through. It was in a red pepper paste with pungent undertones, which kind of reminded me of yellow-bean paste.
Our bibimbap with fly-fish eggs arrived in a black stoneware casserole bowl, which keeps the food piping hot, Lei explained, while he finished the dish at the table for us by adding plenty of chilli paste and soy sauce and turning it all through.
Lei had kindly cautioned us about the cold Korean noodles, saying some people not familiar with Korean food didn't like them - we did. A ball of noodles sat in a bowl topped with slices of cucumber and boiled meat, with a boiled egg sitting in a 'special water' - a clear sweet sour vinegar-based consomme. He completed this dish by cutting through the noodle ball with a scissors to release them into the liquid.
We were happy campers chomping away, when the delightful young Korean chef, Jung Hae Back, known as Alice, came to see were we enjoying our food. She was left in no doubt that we were.
For those of you with a sweet tooth, they didn't have any desserts. With a delicious bottle of aromatic Alsace Zink Pinot Gris 2010 (€25) and optional service our bill came to €80 with five-star service.
Hailan, 65 Dame Street, Dublin 2. Tel: (01) 764-5722, facebook.com/HilanKang
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