Taste of the east
She'd kill for the potstickers, and she's not the only one, says Lucinda O'Sullivan, who waxes lyrical about a little slice of Asia that's to be found in Kinsale
'Have you tried the nasi goreng at the Shanghai Express in Kinsale? I would get up in the middle of the night and drive down from Dublin for it," said a voice in my ear at a recent industry awards bash. I get many things said in my ear, particularly over the course of a long, boozy day in a room full of disgruntled, non-winning restaurateurs, smiling from the teeth out as they shake my hand!
This was not just any voice: when a recommendation comes from Ross Lewis of Chapter One -- a Michelin-starred chef and a regular winner of Ireland's best chef and best restaurant awards -- you might perk up and listen. As Kinsale and Jean-Marc Tsai's Shanghai Express are regular haunts of mine, I was able to counter "Oh my God, I would kill for their teriyaki beef and the Vietnamese pork belly potstickers." I guess Ross will be back again soon, if not next weekend for the 34th Kinsale Gourmet Festival, sponsored this year by Bollinger. It starts on Friday and runs through until Sunday -- don't miss out, it is the best of fun.
The trouble with sharing the good word on fantastic little places such as Shanghai Express is that when you arrive yourself, the place is stuffed with first-timers sitting in your favourite seat! However, Jean-Marc closes every year for a couple of winter months and does a recce around Asia, picking up fresh ideas, and this year a new room was added upstairs. Anytime we turn up on a Saturday night, we are seated beside a delightful Kinsale couple. "We are here at 6.45 every Saturday. We used to be in a race with another couple for this table, but now there is more space we can all relax, but we never know what to do with ourselves for the period Jean-Marc closes," they laughed.
In Kinsale 25 years, Jean-Marc Tsai is a Paris-born Franco-Chinese chef. He previously had Le Bistro, and served excellent French food, but Jean-Marc is ace in any medium. I always feel he is somewhat ahead of trends. Three years ago he opened his Asian tapas Shanghai Express in a little wine bar, with great prices. His use of spices and herbs is second to none, and it is great to be able to get this variety of dishes from all over Asia in one place. Tapas prices range from about €6-9, and now Jean-Marc has added a range of mainliners (€16.50-€19) such as spicy beef Sichuan, twice-cooked crispy chicken, chilli prawns and so on, for those who prefer a larger portion to a variety of dishes.
On this visit, we had a fantastic Peking hot and sour chicken and vegetable broth (€8.50), laced with dark soy and egg drop: a dish that would take your breath away. We then crunched on Mandarin pancakes (€7) filled with succulent roast Peking duck, spring onions and cucumber, embraced in a hoisin sauce -- to die for. Thai-style grilled king prawns (€9) were tossed in pad Thai flat rice noodles with chilli, basil, garlic and lemon butter, and sprinkled with peanut nibs. Lamb rendang (€7) from Malaysia was cooked with coconut milk. It was succulent and tender with undertones of star anise, and it sat in a little bowl with a scoop of rice topped with spices and fresh herbs. Vietnamese-style pork belly (€7.50) -- slow-cooked melt-in-the-mouth belly flavoured with star anise -- was outrageously good. Finally, seared beef teriyaki (€9) was divine, rare sirloin on a hot wasabi and spring onion mash. Don't miss out, either, on the Shanghai chips (€4.50) with wasabi and garlic mayo. You won't be surprised to hear we passed on puds! With a bottle of New Zealand Te Waka Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2009 (€24), our bill with optional service came to €84.50 for a veritable feast.
Race you down the road, Ross, but don't take my table!
Lower O'Connell Street,
Tel: (021) 477-7100
34th Bollinger Kinsale International Gourmet Festival 2010, October 8-10, contact Maria O'Mahony, tel: (021) 477-3571, or see www.kinsalerestaurants.com