It's easy to see why Asian street-food staples like dumplings, bao, ramen, or indeed Japan's beloved bento boxes, are sweeping the board when it comes to lunchtime fillers. They're quick, cheap, incredibly tasty, and put sambos firmly in the shade. From simple food trucks or stalls, to designated dumpling houses and even posh restaurants, Lucinda O'Sullivan gives her verdict on an eclectic array of Dublin's Asian eateries
BULLET DUCK & DUM
This Chinese street-food hotspot on Little Mary Street is an absolute humdinger. It's named for the bullet-shaped ovens, in which duck (plus pork and chicken) is cooked, hanging upright, delivering a delicious crispy skin and succulent, moist meat. A sibling of Little Dumpling next door, it also has six types of hand-made dumplings at €10; plus roasted meats - char siu, duck, pork, free-range chicken - served with steamed jasmine rice, also at €10. A whole duck is €26; a half duck is €15; a whole chicken is €18; a half chicken is €10; while 'meat only' pork - char siu, ribs or belly - is €13. Real low-carb carnivores will love the double or triple meat combos at €16/€18. We shared three dishes - all superb: Har Gau prawn dumplings, €10; a quarter roast duck with pancakes and hoi sin sauce, €10; and delicious fingers of succulent pork belly (€10) with noodles (€2.50 surcharge). To drink, we had an alcohol-free beer (€5) and delicious iced lemon tea (€3.50). This bullet definitely hit the mark.
Ranked No 12 in Europe's top Chinese restaurants, China Sichuan is Ireland's finest Chinese restaurant, and is in business for over 40 years. Kevin Hui moved the family business to a sleek, luxurious space in the Sandyford Industrial Estate a while back - it was originally in Stillorgan. The food, which is exquisitely presented and served, has captains of industry and rock stars regularly rocking up for a fix of their favourite dish, be it Man & Wife beef slices (€9); or soft shell crab (€12.50). Fresh Irish lobster is available all year round via the XO seafood special at €32; black sole with ginger and scallion is €42.50; while Sichuan aromatic half-duck is €25. However, the tip of the year is the China Sichuan's fantastic two-course (starter and main course) lunch, at only €17. On our visit, to start, we had a steamed bao bun filled with lamb shreds, crispy rice noodles and barbecue sauce - it was scrumptious, posh street food; while poached vegetarian dumplings oozed fresh brassica flavours, and were spot-on with the accompanying red chilli sauce. For mains, we had aubergines in hot ginger and garlic sauce; and big crispy prawns with ginger and scallion, adding an extra dish of Loh Ba Gao (€9.75) - cubes of Chinese turnip cake with XO and chilli. Try it, it's fabulous. There's also an a la carte lunch menu, with starters, €9-€12.50, and mains, €23.50-€36.50. Plus, we found a terrific non-alcoholic Leitz Eins Zwei Zero Riesling here. Set your sat-nav for Sandyford!
Emma Luk recently opened a tiny dumpling eat-in-or-out eatery in the Village Arcade in Bray, her home town, where her family had a Chinese restaurant. There's simplicity and there's simplicity, but on a freezing-cold day, the small premises, with its seating
at shelves and on low stools, seemed very stark. Frankly, we were disappointed in the offering of a choice of just three savoury dumplings, at €7.50/€8 for six pieces, or €12/€12.50 for 10 pieces. There was also a banoffee dumpling at €6.50 for five pieces. So, a six-piecer each of Joo-Yuk and Spice Bag Gung Po Gai it was. The Joo Yuk pork and Chinese napa cabbage pan-fried soup dumpling was the better of the two - the Gung Po chicken dumpling wrapped in home-made spice bag seasoning was unimpressive, with what seemed like a piece of dry chicken in the dumplings. With these, we had a vita lemon tea (€2.50) and matcha green tea (€3).
Kitchen 85, which is in spitting distance of the Pro-Cathedral on Marlborough Street, is the latest restaurant from Angie Wang of the popular M&L Chinese restaurant and The Vintage Teapot, both of which are nearby. Specialising in Cantonese roast meats, and hot pots - for which there's a vast choice of ingredients, including razor clams, duck, and char sui - it has more than a fair spread of other Chinese favourites too, from well-priced steamed black sole to Typhoon crab. It takes a while to get through the menus and, apart from set lunches (€8.90-€16.90), there were handwritten specials, including what turned out to be the star of the show - perfect moist scrambled eggs with shrimp (€12). A quarter aromatic duck (€9.90) which came with pancakes, julienned cucumber, spring onions and plum sauce, was good value, considering that it's €12 in my local takeaway; while char siu (€11.90) included soup, rice and greens - a no-brainer for my friend, who had a glass of Spanish Canallas wine (€5.50), while I had bottled water (€2.80).
With the days getting a bit warmer, it's an ideal time to explore the lunchtime food markets for great street food. Look out for Gunmoo Kim's Jaru Korean BBQ, which operates in different locations around the city on different days, including Spencer Dock on Wednesdays; Mespil Road on Thursdays; and Sandyford on Fridays. Using family recipes, his Korean BBQ bowls (€9.50) offer a choice of meats, rice, kimchi, salads, beansprouts, and great sauces like wasabi mayo, Korean chilli, sweet chilli or dead hot.
I'd been at this big restaurant, with its lavish marble staircases and decor, when it launched as Hanoi Hanoi. Five years on, and with a short-lived stint as Mr Dinh last year, the vast space and overall experience here seemed tired and charmless. A dish holding chilli sauce had blobs on the edges, and all-in-all, it felt a bit tatty. There's a three-course lunch menu at €15, plus various menus of Chinese and Vietnamese street food. From a two-sided laminated menu, with 'Mr Dinh' emblazoned on the inside, we went with the dim sum, and, from a selection of some 48 choices, we ticked three items on the proffered list, all at €4.50 each. Prawn and pork dumplings were OK; the cuttlefish cake had greasy fish nuggets; the deep-fried prawn in seaweed rolls was tasty; while a dish of Vietnamese soft-shell crab was considerably over-fried. (€12.95). With a glass of Sauvignon Blanc (€6) and a bottle of water (€6), we left unimpressed.
Tel: (01) 878-8798
Since I wrote of its opening last June, as a pretty new Chinese teahouse in Dun Laoghaire, Nunki has really evolved. A Chinese chef is now in the kitchen serving a menu of favourites, which doesn't just pander to European tastes. Pork tongue is served with cucumbers; braised tripe with black pudding is accompanied by chilli sauce; while pork trotters, and hot & sour chicken 'paws' (feet) feature, too. While we were there, a Chinese family party were sharing hot pots and plates from the pre-book menu - 24 hours' notice is required - and oh boy, we were curious. For lunch, all rice and noodle boxes are only €10, which includes a free soft drink. We tested the pork gyoza (€5.50) - a half-dozen delicious seared dumplings; squid on a hot plate with onions and pepper (€14.95); and fantastic sweet char siu pork (€13.95); along with a pot of Organic Gunpowder Green Tea (€4).
A rising star.
Recently rebranded from Ramen Kitchen, this Stoneybatter eatery is a haven for ramen freaks who trawl the city in search of the best broth. Ramen Co is concentrating solely on ramens and dumplings, for which there is an insatiable demand. I haven't found better than its Pork Tonkatsu Ramen (€12) with Japanese-style roast pork belly, black garlic, black fungus, pickled egg, and bamboo shoots; while its free-range chicken dumplings (€7.50) were excellent. ramenco.ie
A nice little Japanese eat-in-or-out restaurant in Blanchardstown village, where we had excellent ebi tempura of black tiger prawns (€7.50); delicious ebi gyoza dumplings with garlic and chives (€7.80) and a garlic soy dip; followed by Seafood Cha Han (€15.95). This was a big plate of stir-fried rice with prawns, squid, salmon, wok-fried peppers and onions, topped off with a fried egg, and served with a bowl of miso soup. Worth a detour if you're shopping in Blanchardstown. shibuyashi.ie
Sunday Indo Life Magazine