Restaurant review: 'The dumplings were a delight but avoid starting off on the wrong foot'
12a Wicklow Street, Dublin 2. (01) 677 2580, kashing.ie
In preparation for my lunch at Ka Shing, I did some homework. The Dim Sum Field Guide by Carolyn Phillips (published by Ten Speed Press) is a handy little book that you can order on Amazon.
New York is the city where I first experienced dim sum. When I lived there, the tradition of Sunday brunches in ballroom-sized restaurants in Chinatown, craning our necks to see into carts piled with all manner of enticing, fragrant delicacies, waylaying servers as they emerged from the kitchen with fresh possibilities, was always more appealing than Eggs Benedict and a pitcher of watery mimosas.
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In London, everyone has their own favourite gilded dim sum palace - the Royal China on Queensway and the Phoenix in Marylebone are two traditional options; A Wong and Din Tai Fung in Covent Garden, the first UK outpost of a chain that originated in Taiwan, the upstart arrivistes.
The best dim sum I ever had was at the two-Michelin star Imperial Treasure in Shanghai. (Sorry, did I just drop something?) That was in a different league entirely.
There's a theory that, in order to have fabulous dim sum restaurants, a city needs a large population of middle class Chinese people. It's to do with volume: for a restaurant to present a good number of choices, its turnover needs to be fast and furious.
We visit Ka Shing for lunch on a Tuesday, and are surprised to find the restaurant almost full. Next to us there's a table of a dozen men in high spirits who look as if they might be a syndicate celebrating a win at the races. Although it seems a little early - that might have been the previous day and this is a curative breakfast.
Sadly there isn't the drama of carts laden with different dim sum dishes, but in their place a handy menu presented as an A3-sized, double-sided, laminated document with photographs to illustrate all the options.
The menu is no work of art and the photos aren't the best, but it sure beats trying to remember your Siu Mai from your Char Siu without pictorial help.
The Cantonese form of dim sum (in Cantonese, the word means "to eat a little something") was, according to my guide book, born in the tea-houses of southern China, specifically the capital city of Guangzhou that straddles the great Pearl River, about two centuries ago, although jiaozi-like dumplings were discovered in a Tang dynasty tomb dating from 1,300 years ago.
There's a tendency to lump all dim sum together and call it 'dumplings', but there's more to it than that, according to Carolyn Phillips.
At Ka Shing you can, for instance, should you so wish, partake of sweet vinegar and ginger pork feet - but I'm not sure that I'd venture down that particular road again, although the large pieces of ginger were perfectly pleasant. You could also feign insouciance and nonchalantly order a portion of braised chicken feet in abalone sauce - but we did that so you don't have to.
Our favourites were the crescent-shaped Chinese cabbage and pork fried dumplings, the stir-fried mooli (radish) cake with shrimp, pork, white radish and Chinese sausage in XO sauce, and the pillow-y chiu chow fan gor - minced pork 'crystal' dumplings filled with prawn, pork, celery and nuts, glistening in translucent wrappers, the textures delightful.
Other successes included deep-fried minced cuttlefish cakes, and the Tianjin Goubuli buns stuffed with pork ginger, spring onion and vegetables.
Honeycomb taro croquettes were less pleasing, with a mushy filling, and the green beans with minced pork weren't spicy enough.
Provenance scruples had to be parked at the door too, and there is no sourcing information on Ka Shing's website. We ordered 14 dishes in all, which turned out to be too much food, and drank tap water. Our bill came to €93.80 including 10pc service.
ON A BUDGET
A light lunch for two of three dim sum dishes would cost €20.
ON A BLOW OUT
Two people sharing 10 dim sum dishes - a lot of food - would spend around €50 before drinks or service.
THE HIGH POINT
The 'Chinese Cabbage Pork Fried Dumplings' should not be missed.
THE LOW POINT
The 'Sweet Vinegar and Ginger Pork Feet' was mainly bone, with an undisclosed egg lurking in the depths.