On happening upon the new Harbor House Chinese restaurant in Dún Laoghaire, our critic was captivated by the fabulous food and cool vibes
A lot of the time, going to a new restaurant is a bit like buying a pig in a poke, as the old expression goes. But that’s the job of the critic — to test the restaurant or hotel on behalf of the reader, without fear or favour, so you can decide whether you want try it or not. You don’t tweet them in advance, as is the habit of many social media bods, blithely letting them know of their impending arrival in hope of a complimentary meal or stay.
Reviews on that basis aren’t worth the time it takes to read them. Often, as a critic, it goes the other way too, as I’m regularly inundated with press releases for new restaurants that gush about the chef, the ‘amazing’ food, and offer lavish descriptions of everything from the colour of the wallpaper to the heritage of the knives and forks. Unfortunately, PRs can get carried away with enthusiasm for their clients.
Escaping this vicious cycle recently, I was passing through Dún Laoghaire with ‘the fashionista’ on a Sunday evening, when I spotted the grey-fronted Harbor House Chinese restaurant with its sandwich board outside.
It particularly caught my attention as it’s situated close to where Lotus House was many years ago — a fashionable, upmarket Chinese restaurant, once owned by the parents of Kevin Hui, who nowadays has the fabulous China Sichuan in Sandyford.
As we entered, a smiling meeter-greeter rushed forward, as other cheery faces, including chef Ton Le Shi, could be seen behind the counter of a very fine kitchen. On the counter, by a bowl of fresh flowers, a little blackboard proclaimed: Chef Special — Fresh Irish Lobster, €45; Monkfish, €27.50. We couldn’t sit down fast enough and were quickly brought a tasty chicken wings amuse bouche and prawn crackers.
This is not a restaurant with 1-100 iterations of dishes. It’s what they describe as a Cantonese Fusion with a menu inspired by cuisine from Sai Kung, a quaint fishing village situated on the peninsula in Hong Kong. They said produce is sourced from local suppliers they trust to ensure they are always cooking with the freshest ingredients possible. With dishes from Southeast Asia and mainland China, their mantra is simple food, full of flavour, seasoned with soy, sugar and ginger.
The variety of dishes is excellent and reasonably priced, and features everything from bao with roasted duck (€9.60); spicy squid with salt & chilli (€10.80); to lettuce yuk sung (€13.90); and crispy aromatic duck (€14.50/€27.50). Mains are listed and priced by the principal ingredient (vegetables, €13.50; chicken fillet, €16.90; beef fillet, €19.50; Cantonese roast duck, €18; fish, €18, sea bass, cod fillet, grilled salmon; king prawns, €19) each with sub sections detailing sauces and style of cooking. They also have a great set-dinner format with 2/3 courses at €27.90/€33.90.
Well, one decision was made before we even sat down — the lobster. We also ordered one two-course dinner (€27.90), with a scallops starter and king prawns main, plus a dim sum platter (€10.90) — all of which we shared.
The scallops proved sublime. We got four good-sized queen scallops set between two shells; they were beautifully steamed and served with garlic butter, chilli rings and spring onion. The dim sum platter was terrific; a lovely presentation of pork and prawn dumplings in various shapes and textures. The king prawns main with baby broccoli, spring onions and a little bowl of rice was fresh and nicely cooked.
But of course the star of the show, the lobster, was suitably stunning — it was served broken into sections and coated in finger-licking ginger and spring onion. A real treat, and there is an option to have it with other sauces.
We passed on puds — chocolate ganache pudding; ice cream; and ‘cake of the day’.
With a bottle of delicious pale blush Provence rosé from Marius Peyol 2021 (€29.50), coffee (€3.60 each) and service, our bill came to €132.55.
A real find.
60 Georges Street Upper,
Tel: (01) 564-8712