Review - M & L Chinese Restaurant: 'As an alternative to the Sunday roast, M&L is a winner'
M & L Chinese Restaurant, 13/14 Cathedral Street, Dublin 1 (01) 874 8038
Sunday can be tricky for eating out in Dublin. Because it's not a working day for most people, there's time to catch up with friends and family, but not as many eating out options as one might hope.
There are numerous places serving brunch, of course, but by and large I'm not a fan. Too many take a cynical approach, serving inferior ingredients that hang around for longer than they should between being cooked and put on the plate. There are honourable exceptions. For my money, the best brunch in the city centre is served at Meet Me in the Morning on Pleasants Street in Portobello, where the organic vegetables from McNally Family Farm in North County Dublin are the stars of the show, with some pretty fine supporting acts too.
I hear good things about the Thai brunch at Nightmarket in Ranelagh too but haven't managed to get there yet.
If you opt for lunch rather than brunch, the options are limited, unless the prospect of a carvery rocks your boat. Many of my favourite restaurants don't open at all on Sunday. (If Etto did, I'd be there every week.) Bastible is among those that do; it serves an excellent set lunch that books up well ahead.
On Sunday evening, Forest & Marcy offers a vegetable-centric tasting menu focussed on produce from - yes, again - McNally Family Farm. I haven't tried it yet but it sounds like exactly the kind of food that you want to eat on a Sunday evening to set you up with the best of intentions for a healthy, wholesome and delicious week ahead. Chef Ciaran Sweeney's menu uses meat and fish as garnishes and sauces rather than putting them centre stage; it's a way of eating that we are going to see a lot more of in the future as the influence of the reducetarian movement - which encourages individuals to reduce their consumption of animal products rather than commit to full-blown vegetarian- or veganism - filters down. Ar Vicoletto on Crow Street also has a devoted cohort of regular Sunday customers, as does China Sichuan in Sandyford.
Since I moved house last year, we've been operating with a temporary kitchen and some of the joy has gone out of cooking. It's hard to be enthusiastic when there's a layer of dust over everything and you can't find half your utensils because they're still sitting in a box waiting to be unpacked. I had gotten into a rut of Sunday roasts before we moved, and at one stage my children staged an intervention and decided it was time to tell me that they didn't actually want to look at a huge piece of roast meat every Sunday. Anyway, between the lack of a proper kitchen and heeding the voice of democracy, we've been shaking it up a bit in terms of what we eat on Sundays. Our numbers are depleted in the summer months, and there's none of the routine that comes with term-time, so we've been picnicking on good things from the Temple Bar Market (more McNally Farm deliciousness) and eating out more often than we would usually.
One of the things that I like most about the Sunday lunch at Bastible is that it is served sharing-style, which is a relaxed and convivial way of eating and seems particularly suited to the family day that's in it. Last Sunday we went to M&L Chinese for early dinner, my first visit in a couple of years. Chinese food is made for sharing, and the restaurant is full of Chinese families doing just that.
On M&L's website, there's a Chinese menu but sadly (and for obvious reasons) I can't tell you what's on it. I do think that the menu in English lists the majority of the same dishes, and in among the sweet and sour chicken and the beef in curry sauce options there are plenty of dishes that read as authentically Sichuan. There's also a board chalked with the day's specials in both English and Chinese.
In no particular order, we ate summery shredded pork with garlic sauce and garlic scapes, cumin with baby squid, deep-fried, spicy and tender, and stir-fried French beans with dried chilli that are worth going for even if you eat nothing else. Crispy duck with pancakes and fried soft noodles are good, comforting in their relative blandness, while steamed pork dumplings are richly savoury and deep-fried aubergine with soy sauce is a powerful dish of satisfying meatiness, great texture and depth of flavour. I'm a sucker for soft-shell crabs - they are menu kryptonite for me - so it was disappointing that the only dish that we didn't care for was the soft shell crab in egg yolk which was just too eggy. My fault.
Service was friendly, and although there's always a sense in any Chinese restaurant that you might be missing out on something really tasty that only the Chinese customers are being offered, I didn't get that here. It would be a shame to come to M&L and order only familiar dishes, so be brave, step out of your comfort zone and try the sea whelks with scallions and soy sauce and to hell with the consequences. With three soft drinks and two beers, our bill for four - and we ate an heroic amount of food - came to €98.30 before service. As an alternative to the Sunday roast, M&L is a winner.
8/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET
There's a set menu for two priced at €33.
ON A BLOW OUT
The most expensive dish on the menu is the softshell crab at €19.80, and scallops dishes are priced at €16.60. With starters, sides and a couple of beers, if you choose these bigger ticket dishes, the bill for two will be in the order of €80.
THE HIGH POINT
The green beans. I'm dreaming about them right now.
THE LOW POINT
The inevitable FOMO factor that always accompanies any meal at a Chinese restaurant.