The Dublin Asian scene has some absolute dining gems, Ali Dunworth picks her top seven
We shouldn’t need an excuse to explore the brilliant, burgeoning Asian food scene in Dublin but with the Chinese and Lunar New Year being celebrated from Feb 15th right through to March all over China and Southeast Asia we thought it was apt to highlight some of the exciting spots to join in the celebrations which often revolve around food. Here is our delectable, border hopping selection…
China Sichuan, The Forum
Chinese food is one of the most ancient and varied cuisines in the world but we are so often presented with a bland, mellowed out version, far removed from the real thing – neon, orange sweet and sour chicken balls anyone? Forget these imitations and seek out China Sichuan where the food is anything but bland and mellow. The piquant Sichuan aroma hits you as you walk in the door to find a vast menu, loaded with flavoursome garlic, ginger and of course Sichuan peppers. The only trouble here is what not to order. Baked Wicklow rack of lamb with Sichuan Pepper, Chinese herbs and Shaoxinag Chinese wine is a delight. A dish I dream about is their Sichuan Camphor tea smoked duck – half duck, smoked over jasmine tea and camphor wood – the fresh, juicy duck is divine doused in just the right amount of delicate flavours. Whatever your order, make sure to add on the Sichuan Dan Dan Noodles, a divine tangle of noodles, chilli oil, vinegar, pickled and peanuts. This is the place to go all out and celebrate this fascinating cuisine.
As Korean food and kimchi, in particular, continues to have its well deserved moment in the sun, I find myself going back again and again to Arisu Korean. It’s a great option for a tasty, casual dinner serving dishes packed with flavour that (mostly) tick the health conscious box too. I always order plenty of kimchi, this slightly crunchy, vinegary, spicy side dish just seems to lift everything it accompanies. The menu can veer into areas you may not want to go like Irish Sushi (with mozzarella and chicken?!) but stick to the three B’s – bibimbap, bulgogi and barbeque and you will enjoy. Dolsot Beef Bibimbap is my go-to dish of rice, beef, vegetables and spicy Korean sauce served in a hot stone dish, a wholesome and umami-packed choice. Bulgogi is marinated meat, fast cooked and served with crunchy vegetables. All the BBQ dishes are great fun, the meat arrives raw and is cooked on a grill built into your table, then you build your own bites with crunchy lettuce shells and scoops of kimchi. The steamed dumplings are also worth a side order.
On the same street, you’ll find a small, busy, canteen style Vietnamese spot, Aobaba. This place is generally packed full of people and flavour, serving up Bahn Mi and steaming broth-filled bowls all day. It’s my belief that Bahn Mi might just be the perfect sandwich – a crusty white Saigon baguette loaded with slow braised pork, Vietnamese ham, pickled carrots and chicken liver pate. A must-try. Then there’s the extensive soup and noodle menu full of bright, fresh, deep flavours. The Beef Pho is a delight, as is the Wonton Soup, both need to be slurped to be enjoyed. And I find it hard to resist the char siu steamed buns, pillowy pastry stuffed with sweet barbecued pork. Don’t be put off by a queue these are bites worth waiting for. Good for lunch, a fast supper or a takeaway.
Hang Dai stands out in Dublin by serving Chinese food that priorities interesting flavour combinations and ideas over our typical expectations of an Irish Chinese. You’ll still find your favourites – prawn toast, fried noodles and roast duck but not as you know them. Lip smacking prawn toast comes with yuzu mayo, spring rolls are filled with asparagus & spicy bean curd served with hollandaise trout caviar. And the duck. The duck is slow cooked in an apple fired wood oven and served in two parts starting with duck broth and Chinese pickles then rest is served. Legs taken off the bone, crispy skin, thinly sliced duck breast all with pancakes, cucumber and cherry hoisin. And a shout out for the very tasty super special noodles. Enjoy the uber-hip Hong Kong style train carriage interiors, the dancefloor and an irresistible cocktail list that plays with flavour combos in the same way the brilliant menu does. Best for a big night out.
The Vintage Teapot
Great dumplings can be hard to find so I was very happy to discover The Vintage Teapot recently. Across the road from the much-lauded critics darling M&L Chinese, this is its quieter, unassuming sister venue acting as a tea house, cafe and generally a great spot to chill out North of the river. Wade through the pages of cakes, quiches and standard lunch options on show, to find Chinese teas and dim sum. It’s a short menu but has everything I want. Steamed shrimp ha-kao and siu-mai are delicate dim-sum with smooth transparent pastry and just the right amount of bite. And they also have Guo Tie, pan-fried dumplings with chicken, pork or vegetables. The star of the tea menu is the Pu’er, an aged earthy tea that’s fermented in its production meaning it’s a powerhouse of health. And it happens to go down a treat with a few steaming baskets of dumplings.
As the name suggests Duck is the focal point in this Asia Market offshoot, which is probably the closest thing we have to a Hong Kong style hawker food in the city. Inside the cosy, red, lantern-filled room the roast meats are displayed in all their glistening glory beside the all-important Bullet Oven, where they are slow cooked with specially crafted spices and sauces. The dish to eat here is the BBQ duck, served hawker style with the meat on the bone, cut thick for maximum juiciness and encased in crackling skin for crunch and savour. Meaty and fatty in all the right ways. Eat it simply with boiled rice or noodles and sweet soy dipping sauce. All the duck used in the restaurant is Irish and they do a brilliant takeaway service of whole duck – these are perfect for serving at home and for parties, you can thank me later.
6-11 College Court, Kevin Street Lower, Dublin 2
Anyone who’s been in Melbourne or Sydney the last few years will no doubt have tried the fantastic Asian street food offerings these cities do so well and Pang looks and feels like it could have come straight from Melbourne’s CBD. A bright turquoise tiled counter dishes up a funky take on the traditional Vietnamese offering with colourful, punchy rice paper rolls as the headline act. A light rice paper wrap encases zingy, fresh ingredients – vermicelli noodles, carrots, cucumber, herbs, spicy cooked meats and served with homemade dipping sauce. Light to eat and photogenic, these are going to be a big hit. There is also a creative Bánh mì menu featuring lemongrass chicken, beef brisket and roast sweet potato. Two traditional pho’s come with chicken or vegan and both flavoured with charred lemongrass, ginger, onions, slow-cooked star anise, fresh coriander, mint, sweet basil and lime juice. Great spot for a fast lunch or dinner (they open until 9pm) and they also do a healthy delivery business, a great alternative to the usual takeaway.