Tag Archives: chinese

RESTAURANT REVIEW – M&L/The Imperial/The Good World

This week has been Chinese all the way, kicking off with a trip to M&L, a down-home unpretentious restaurant catering primarily for Dublin’s Chinese inhabitants, who now number close on 60,000. Latterly, the tastiness of the food and the reasonable prices, coupled with portions bordering on the humongous, have attracted an Occidental clientele. A couple of days later my omnivore buddy Foodmad and I embarked on lunchtime road tests of dim sum at two of Dublin’s longer established Chinese restaurants – The Imperial, which seems to have been here forever and the Good World on Georges’ Street, favourite of most of my Chinese friends.

The Gaffer and I rocked up at M&L bang on 8.30 and I was glad I’d taken the trouble to book. Nigh on every seat was taken and the buzz of happy dining conversations downed the Chinese pop music a treat. Initially, they ushered us to a table for two, near the door. The waiter taking our order showed alarm at the number of items we’d selected. “It’s okay, we have big appetites”, I said. As it turned out, this wasn’t the focus of his concern. “Table too small”, he sighed. He indicated that there were two options, either make the most of our cramped surroundings or wait a bit, until a larger table became free. He left us in no doubt that the second option was his preference, so we complied.

Eventually we were re-seated, along with glasses of that Chinese beer I have so much trouble spelling, Txingao, Tsingdao? Also a large pot of jasmine tea. The cooking style at M&L is predominantly Szechuan, a two-pronged sensory attack deploying chillies, generally little vicious beggars that should maybe come with a “handle with care” sticker and the Szechuan peppercorn – actually not a pepper at all. This reddish-brown fruit, a key component of five spice powder, is the berry of the prickly ash. While not as hot as chili pepper, it does have a unique flavour and is famous for its seriously mouth-numbing capability. In comparison to Cantonese, Szechuan comes over as a one-shot culinary style, at least to Western palates but sometimes plain is what you want.

One of the challenges in dining at this sort of establishment is to get behind the Westernized menu. Chinese at adjacent tables always seem to be tucking into some dish that looks twice as exciting as the one in front of you. Moreover, the waiters want to protect you from your own excesses, perhaps believing that if you are on the receiving end of an unaccustomed taste you’ll bad mouth the restaurant to your friends. The Gaffer and I are both adventurous eaters and come with fire-blankets pre-installed so were unlikely to be fazed but your man was not convinced. In our quest to push the frontiers of acceptability we were only partially successful, managing to acquire the soft shell crab but not the razor clams. He did allow us the whelks.

Soon the food started to arrive and it became apparent that, quantity wise, we’d over done it. The whelks were super – I’d wholly commend these ‘sea snails’, similar in texture to squid but with a more pronounced flavour – as were the soft shell crabs, coated in an egg yolk and spice dip and deep fried. We crunched them like crisps, savouring the succulent meat and there was such a mountain of them we didn’t bother with the extremities, leaving them to litter the plate. We ploughed on, working up to the chicken dish you could maybe describe as ‘death by a thousand chillies’ via a plate of steamed bok choi combined with those caramel-flavoured  rubber-textured mushrooms, a Chinese cousin of the shitake. The food was all glorious with one sad exception – a beef hotpot. I’ve eaten this dish from Glasgow to Hong Kong. Usually it comes in a tightly-sealed earthenware pot; delve within  and you pull out big hunks of long-cooked brisket, slices of ginger and whole scallions, all in an involving, rib-sticking gravy, yum double plus! M&L’s version was straight off the babies’ menu as interpreted by the waiter – bland beef the texture of a wet blanket, hammered into submission then, I’d reckon, dipped in cornflour and fried before drowning in a bland broth.

So it goes. You win some you lose some. One poor dish on the debit side, some exciting gastro treats for credit. Authenticity by the bucket load and portions to match; cheap too – it cost under €70 for everything including tea and copious beers.

The Imperial v Good World face-off was the conclusion of a two-year quest to find Dublin’s best dim sum, those tasty Chinese tapas equivalents. There are few better ways of lunching than to enjoy a selection of these with a pot of Chinese tea. Foodmad is also a fan and together we hatched a plan that would involve trying a similar selection at both restaurants. We decided on prawn cheung fun, a wide rice noodle roll, filled and served with a sweet soy sauce; siu mai, a steamed pork and shrimp dumpling  and the crispy squid. In addition we sampled a further dish at each restaurant  – fried turnip cake at the Imperial and  fun quoi  which, from the look and taste, I’d guess, is minced prawns in a crispy torpedo-shaped pastry.

Food wise, The Good World shaded it, earning plaudits for the succulence of the squid, cased in ethereal  batter and  for the delicacy and the surplus of prawns  in the cheung fun. Pricewise, there was nothing in it – around €24 for the selection, including tea. Service-wise, though, it was a different story. At the Imperial we were grudgingly given a table by one of the two waiters. Both bore the demeanor of pile-crippled undertakers who’d just read that the elixir of life had been discovered and made us feel we were lucky indeed to get any service at all.  Contrast with the Good World where we were civilly ushered to a communal round table which we shared with some jolly Chinese ladies and looked after by caring staff. This is where we’ll be doing our dim sum in future.

M&L, 13 Cathedral Street, Dublin 1, Tel: 01 08748038

Food ***

Wine *

Service ****

Ambience ***

Overall ***

Imperial Chinese Restaurant

12A Wicklow Street Dublin 2 Tel: 01 677 2580

Food ***

Wine **

Service *

Ambience *

Overall **

The Good World

18 South Great Georges Street Dublin 2 Tel: 01 677 5373

Food ****

Wine **

Service ****

Ambience ****

Overall ****

 

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RESTAURANT REVIEW – China-Sichuan

The China-Sichuan is unique among Dublin restaurants. Firstly, for its uncompromising culinary credo. Secondly, for the clean-cut way in which it divides the dining out fraternity. The China-Sichuan you either love or hate, it seems. Extreme foodies, the sort who rattle their Globals on my website forum, are in the former camp. They agonised when the restaurant shut down earlier this year and rejoiced when, phoenix-like, it reopened. Many others, particularly people who relish Chinese food of the sticky toffee sauce variety are dismissive of the China-Sichuan and I can see why.

The food we’ve got to know and love as Chinese comes from Canton province. It was brought to the western seaboard of the USA by Chinese sailors and labourers, whence it got re-exported to Europe. Canton, in the south of China, enjoys a sub-tropical climate, giving two crops of rice a year and all manner of vegetables and exotic fruit in addition to an abundance of fish, fowl and meat. The variety of foodstuff available allows its culinary artists to paint with a rainbow palette and produce food that’s as beguiling to the eye as it is tasty to eat. The Cantonese are the poster boys for Chinese cuisine.

In contrast, Sichuan, in China’s western interior, has an altogether more austere culinary take. The main feature is an assault on the taste buds via a two-pronged attack using the tiny, russet berries we know as ‘Sichuan peppercorns’ which give a tongue–numbing sensation combined with dried red chillies, more potent than in their fresh state. This violent assault has to be curbed to suit Western palates and it may well be that Sichuan food, throttled back in this fashion, comes over as a tad monochromic, impeccably fresh ingredients notwithstanding.

Another controversial aspect of the China-Sichuan is its relocation to Sandyford, not so much a love/hate vibe as “Can I be bothered going there at all?” I can see the advantages of this non-City centre, non-Ranelagh dining strip location. There’s plenty of parking, easy accessibility via the LUAS if you want to have a jar or two.  It works in other cities – for instance in Adelaide, South Australia, where locals are happy to hike out to a nondescript shopping mall in the boonies because of the existence of a good restaurant. Yet there are many who would find the lack of external ambience depressing. A trading estate is only a trading estate, no matter how much it was bulled up as one of the seven wonders of modern Ireland during the Tiger Years.

Sibs and I rocked up on a Thursday night to find the China-Sichuan agreeably busy. Kevin Hui, proprietor, greeted us at the door and took our coats. The split dining room is decently got up in a restrained contemporary fashion. Chairs are comfortable and tables far enough apart to allow for intimacy, or at least the feeling that your bons mots won’t be repeated at someone else’s breakfast table. It was the first chill autumn night of the year so I kicked off with a hot-and-sour soup, made in Sichuan style with chicken shreds, not the typical mock-Cantonese assortment of pork, prawns and tofu. Greedy guts me also had a second starter, the chili soft shell crab, of which I could have eaten a mountain. Sibs, frugal darling, had opted to eat off the two course early evening menu (€20). Something of a connoisseur when it comes to spring rolls, she pronounced the China-Sichuan’s just about the best she’d had in Dublin.

Next came a complimentary dish on which Kevin asked for feedback. “It’s not quite on the menu,” he said. It was another starter. A roll of sea bass, cooked just a point, into which was stuffed spears of green asparagus and slivers of daikon. We gave it an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

For a main course I took the ‘spicy’ aged rib-eye, coated in three peppers, a dish a friend had eulogised about as “better than the similar dish at Hakkasan”, praise indeed. Taking his tip, I asked for it a little spicier than the norm. More than anything else, this sophisticated dish gave a clue as to where the China-Sichuan is at; it’s now a restaurant that’s combining top-class ingredients and thoroughly modern cheffing, going upmarket to make the most of a relatively restricted culinary tradition. Unlike Cantonese cooking, where the saucing steals the show, Sichuan stands or falls on the quality of the raw materials and this was a top drawer steak, sensitively treated. Sibella was more than happy with her fried prawns with ginger and scallions, the prawns springy and flavoursome. The China-Sichuan is one of the few restaurants in which I’d be happy to eat fried rice, all too often the real culprit for the next morning malaise that’s normally laid at the door of MSG. We also took a side dish of perfectly cooked bok choi.

It was heartening to see the ever-more widely adopted practice of making wine available by the glass, carafe or bottle. Kudos to the China-Sichuan for a wine list that included the excellent Alsace gewürztraminer of Meyer-Fonne We drank it, by the way, not because gewurz is the best partner for Chinese food, a  daft old saw you often hear, but simply because that was what we fancied drinking.

To sum up, we were happy with the €91.50 ex-service, including wine and Chinese tea, we paid. Ireland needs some high end Chinese restaurants to remind us just how good the cuisine of that country can be. The China-Sichuan is working very hard to take pole position and I’d like to see a Cantonese emerge that has equivalent aspirations.

RATING

Food ****

Wine ***

Service **

Ambience ****

Overall ***+

China-Sichuan The Forum, Ballymoss Road, Sandyford, Dublin 18. Tel: 01 293 5100

Restaurant Review: M & L

The burgeoning Chinatown in the hinterland of O’Connell Street has thrown up a good many restaurants, some worthy of a visit, some less so. These places are a world away from the Chinese restaurants we grew up with, a happy land of paper globes, toffee sauces and waitresses clad in whatever the Chinese equivalent of ‘kimono’ is called. The new eating houses exist principally to fuel the Chinese community. The dining rooms are frill-free. There is little English spoken. Many of them seem uncomfortable with the very concept of feeding occidentals, though some have adapted by providing pictorial menus, akin to those in Spanish or Greek seaside resorts. Whenever I go to one of these places there’s always a party of Chinese at the next table. The Chinese love to eat – a Chinese equivalent of “how are you?” is “have you eaten yet?” – and they’re deadly serious about it. The food they are eating looks different to the fodder in front of you. Chopsticks clicking away, they swoop at a bejeweled plateful of something-or-other or dive into an enormous bowl of broth to pluck out a morsel. “My God,” you think. “I’d love to try some of that.” Trouble is, how to acquire it. Well, I’ve tried the Harry-met-Sally gambit and it doesn’t work. To compound the difficulty the waiters frequently go to great lengths to inform you that what you are trying to order either doesn’t exist or, for some reason, is unavailable. I think they want to protect you from yourself. Dining in London’s Lisle Street I tried in vain to procure the honey-roasted sausages I’d heard so much about. “You won’t like them” said the waiter. I riposted “Let me be the judge of that”. He gave me the politest blank look I’ve ever encountered. Somehow my words must have got through, though, for after a brief trip to the kitchen he returned, saying “Chef made some this morning. They not good. He not serve.” The chef came out of the kitchen to support this claim. I gave up. There’s no arguing with a man who wields a big cleaver. The other day a friend told me of this restaurant where they sold ‘egg yolked soft shell crabs’. “I don’t think they really want you to have them though”. That did it. The very next night found Foodmad (who better?) and me trekking past the Bertie pole in the autumnal gloom. M & L, next door to the Pro-Cathedral, is a plain but scrupulously clean and tidy place, right down to the ‘offices’. We were glad we’d booked for, at 7.45, the dining room was packed with Chinese – couples, business quartets and families. The pleasant young waiter brought the menu and a big pot of jasmine-scented tea. “About these crabs…” I said. Initially, he denied its existence. Then he relented, willing-if-not-quite-happy to provide crab with ginger and scallions. Though I consider it one of the world’s great dishes it wasn’t what I wanted. We were after the soft shell variety, the mange tout of crustaceans. The words “egg yolk” seemed to do the trick. Afterwards he was on our side. With the exception of a plateful of Cantonese roast duck of which I am excessively fond we left the rest of the meal to him. He brought us chilli squid, melt-in-the mouth, clad in a whisper-light batter; a spicy beef dish in a broth; chicken for heroes, bite sized pieces, surrounded by peanuts and an arsenal of chillies. We drank Chinese beer, an effective fire extinguisher, along with the tea. It was a monumental meal and the crabs were the crowning glory. Not stewed till squishy as I’d had them before in Hong Kong but coated in an egg-yolk and spice dip and deep fried. You could devour the lot, carapace, legs and all, crunching them like crisps, but there was such a mountain of them we didn’t bother once the novelty of doing so had worn off. The crab meat within was terrific, full of flavour, worth going through the whole rigmarole to acquire. Only disappointment was the duck. The Chinese themselves eat this plain dish “as it comes”, hot, lukewarm or cold. Good hosts, they assume that Europeans like their food hot and their duck crispy and off the bone, so they fillet and re-fry, which robs the flesh of its succulence. It was my fault. Though I did manage to get them to leave the bone in, my appetite for confrontation wilted at this point. I should have persevered. Relaxed, once he had seen we were happy with his choice, our new friend confided “Next time ask for ‘original Chinese menu’”. We certainly will. We’d consumed a mountain of food, having ordered through enthusiasm and natural greed what was probably enough for five people. He produced some plastic boxes and Foodmad happily carted the leftovers home. M & L – never did find out the origin of the name – is undoubtedly the best of the new breed of Chinese restaurants. It probably won’t be well-received by Dame Street devotees although I’m sure sweet-and-sour something lurks somewhere on the menu. But any foodie with a taste for ethnic authenticity and an ability to climb out of the comfort zone should beat a path to the door.

Verdict: Clean, friendly, affordable, authentic, grab the crabs

Rating ***1/2

For all the above we spent just over €70 and it would have fed 6!

M & L Szechuan Chinese Restaurant, 13 Cathedral St, Dublin Tel: 01 874 8038

Victoria

Gentle reader, indulge me. I’d like to dedicate this review to one Graham Proctor, my oldest and best mate, now deservedly putting his feet up after a lifetime spent in teaching and politics, including a stint as Lord Mayor of Chester.

During a period when my life was about as stable as a butterfly on speed, Graham and his wife Sue used to put me up and feed me at their house in Chester every Monday. This went on for a year or so, a navigational fix at a time when my personal compass was in a state of constant gyration. Towards the end I took the two of them out for a slap-up meal as a “Thank you” for their hospitality. Graham proposed we went to this new restaurant that had instituted an ‘eat as much as you like, for a fixed fee’ menu.

With the devil-may-care enthusiasm of the young we climbed in, devouring ham, beef, pork, salmon, cheese… oh, and roll-mop herrings. I love roll-mops, I must have wellied down nigh on a dozen of the rascals. Afterwards we went to a country pub where some friends were running a folk night. The Main Man spotted me in the audience and asked me to sing, my bag in those days. I borrowed a guitar and climbed onto the stage. As I warmed up with a few sotto voce tra-la-las, the roll-mop balanced atop the stack inside my stomach jumped up and tickled the back of my throat, causing me to feel felt decidedly queasy. “Give us ‘Shoals of Herring’!” shouted Graham, from the audience. And by God, I nearly did.

There’s a lesson to be learned from this anecdote. It’s ‘Eat as much as you like’ is only okay if you don’t. And, as a rider, I’ll add that ‘Eat as much as you like’ is only okay if the food is any good’. Never forget – ten kg of crap is still crap. Nowadays there are quite a few restaurants in Dublin now operating this policy and many of the offerings are abjectly substandard.

One cheering exception is Victoria, a pan-Asian restaurant in Monkstown where, the other night, Ruby, Pearl and myself marvelled at a gargantuan buffet set out on a ‘Lazy Susan’ for us to rotate and enjoy. Egged on by the need to get my €25 a head’s worth, I undoubtedly ordered more food than was necessary, or, indeed, sane. I had to have the hot/sour soup (it’s a family tradition thing) and managed to consume a big bowl of it while R & P were loading their second crispy duck pancake. I joined in the ritual. Besides this we had a bejewelled plateful that included spring rolls, crispy wan tons, barbecued pork ribs and skewered chicken, all of which came accompanied by bowls of sweet-and-sour and satay sauces. If I have a criticism it’s that the satay tasted a mite thin and bland. The charming young maitre d’ arrived at table to offer us more duck, which we declined.

From the surprisingly good wine list – Cusumano’s fine Sicilian Insolia at €24 is a real bargain – we selected an Aussie Riesling, St.Hallet 2006 (€27) which was crisp, faithful to type and very good value for money. Lovely wine, with a weighty mouthfeel coupled with typical Eden Valley bracing minerality.

For my main I took an Indonesian fillet of beef Rendang, a dish often wrongly categorised as a curry. In the traditional version, the beef is long-simmered in coconut milk and spices, deriving a background spike of heat from ginger, galangal and chillies. Pearl took the sweet and sour prawns and Ruby, chicken with a sweet sticky coating, speckled with sesame seeds. We accompanied the feast with egg fried rice and a dish of pak choi, which Pearl, never one for Chinese cabbage when I cook it, pronounced as delicious.

We couldn’t manage dessert but they sent over a huge plate of assorted fresh fruits, which we demolished. The bill came for 3 came, as promised, to €75 plus the drinks. Victoria, in the same building on The Crescent that used to house Wong’s, is as very smart restaurant, with a tasteful black wood interior set off by smart white linen and sparkling glassware. The food is as good as, if not better than 95 per cent of the Chinese restaurants in Ireland. The dishes we chose were from the a la carte menu and only very expensive items like lobster and black sole are excluded from the set price buffet. Alas, I didn’t notice the scallops with scallion and ginger until we were full to bursting. If you had totalled up our meal using the menu to price each dish the food would have cost easily 50 per cent more. A special mention for the staff who were courteous and efficient throughout.

Verdict: Not to eat at Victoria would be a no-brainer.

The damage: £107.50 ex-service for all we had, including a bottle of decent wine and a Bacardi & Coke.

Rating: ****

Victoria, Asian Restaurant, The Crescent, Monkstown, Co Dublin Tel: 01 230 1212

Zen

‘Zen’ is one of those words we’ve all heard but nobody seems to know what it means. A bit like ‘zeitgeist’ or ‘drisheen’. We usually find it coupled with Buddhism. Zen, that is, not drisheen. What the difference is between zen Buddhism and plain, unvarnished, bog standard Buddhism I have simply no idea.

Wikipedia (slogan: ‘Never Wrong for Long’) is not much help, telling you that zen “emphasises experiential wisdom – particularly as realised in the form of meditation known as ‘zazen’ – in the attainment of awakening, often simply called the path of enlightenment”. (Any the wiser? Me neither.)

Next, I turned to a book called ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ by one Robert Pirsig. It’s been on my shelf for years, unread. Published in 1974, it sold over 4 million copies in twenty-seven languages, most widely read philosophy book ever. ‘Zen and…’ was initially rejected by 121 publishers and, after ploughing through the first forty pages, I came to the conclusion that the 122nd must have been a real soft touch.

The book describes a 17-day motorcycle journey across the USA by the author and his son, joined for the first nine days by two friends. The trip is punctuated by numerous philosophical discussions, which the author calls ‘chatauquas’, on riveting topics like epistemology and ethical emotivism. (Still with me? Oh, do keep up!)

By now you are entitled to ask “Where is all this leading?” At this point I should reveal that, last Monday night, I ate in a restaurant called ‘Zen’; a Chinese located in a bijou redundant church in Rathmines. Via the above pseudo-philosophical rambling I was simply trying to establish whether the pithy three-letter word had any possible connection with some of the worst food I have eaten in the past five years.

To give Zen the Restaurant its due, the welcome is warm and the room, lovely although the ‘world’s longest railway carriage seat’ that splits the dining area into two takes a bit of getting used to. Throughout the meal I kept peering beyond the great divide, trying to ascertain whether diners on the far side were eating from a different, nicer menu.

Zen, like many, has created a recession-ready USP – “Eat-in food at take-away prices”. The deal holds good Monday-through-Thursday. It was only afterwards, perusing the menu out front, I realised that what the proposition actually offers is “Eat-in from the take-away menu at take-away prices”. There is a difference.

Certain dishes were excluded from the menu we were presented with at table. There was some overlap, however, enabling me to make a true value-for-money appraisal. If I had paid the full €18.50 for the ‘crispy king prawns’ I’d have been mightily pissed off. The (mere) seven crispy prawns were not crispy. They had shrunk, too. ‘Flaccid queen prawns’ would have been a more accurate description. They tasted of absolute zilch, merely emphasising the revolting gloop they came bathed in.

For starters Bangles and I had spare ribs, barbecued as if to an order of ‘well-done to cremated’, accompanied by a small dish of an unspecified icky-sweet commercial jar-sauce; also, what we dubbed ‘the creatures from the black lagoon’, four gristle-filled dumplings, ponderous as elphants’ testicles, swimming in a swamp of soy sauce. The pastry skin, coagulated and adhesive, could have been pressed into service as an emergency tyre. Mains were no better. I am a bit of a duck tifoso and get quite misty eyed at the thought of a brawny Chinese chef in London, Manchester, Hong Kong or indeed, in the Imperial in Exchequer Street, taking a cleaver to a moist, springy, succulent honey-basted roasted Silver Hill’s finest and whopping it on a plate. The Zen version was but a cartoon of the real thing, vapid, warmed-over. The sauce surrounding the ‘beef in hot bean sauce’ was not hot in either sense of the word. As Bangles observed, taste-wise it was the identical twin of the viscous gum that enveloped the prawns. The beef, cut into shreds, had been tenderised to the texture of liver; only with less flavour or, more accurately, none.

The wine list was as dull as by now you’d imagine. Our modest Anjou Chenin Blanc at €23 (a 2004, they mustn’t sell much of it) had, in the words of wicked old Churchill, “much to be modest about”. The final tally came to €70.50. Had we paid the full menu price I’d suspect it would be up somewhere near €110 and very poor value indeed.

The sheer bloody-minded laziness of the average Chinese restaurant never ceases to amaze me. Let’s fling it back at the cooks. Canton, Sichuan, Fukien, Hunan, whatever province, these are all simple cuisines. As the French and Italians know, peasant cooking only works if the ingredients are pristine and the cooking precise. At the same time, why aren’t the younger generation of Chinese chefs more inventive? Why aren’t they, like their Indian counterparts, rolling back the frontiers, trying novel combinations that bring a touch of pizazz to table? Why, for sweet Jesus’ sake, aren’t they even making their own sauces? Or is it not arrogance or laziness but contempt? Do they despise the Irish diner because we want every bloody thing ‘crispy’ or ‘barbecued’ or ‘sweet-and-sour’ with prawn crackers and egg fried rice? Do we just get the Chinese food we deserve?

The damage: €70.50, ex-service, for 2 starters, 3 mains plus rice, bottle of house wine.

Verdict: Nice people, nice place, awful food. Robert Persig deemed the concept of quality to be undefinable. But then he never ate here.

Rating: **

 

Zen, 89 Upper Rathmines Road, Rathmines, Dublin 6, Tel: 01 497 9428

The Ming Court

 In Hong Kong and in parts of Southern China many of the Chinese restaurants start serving at five in the morning. The clientèle, at that time of day, consists largely of ‘people of mature years’, who, having done their exercises and read the papers, have decided it’s time to eat.

Me, I’m not quite that virtuous. It’s 10.30 by the time I’ve rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, shuffled downstairs, found my glasses, done my statutory twelve minutes dancing on the rebounder to The Kinks or Bob Marley’s ‘Legend’, showered, dressed and glanced at the post mortems on Man City’s latest capitulation. But as the Ming Court, the restaurant designated for this week’s review, doesn’t open till 12.30, what’s the hurry?

 

The Ming Court is located in the middle of the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre. It’s above Xtravision, housed in a building that looks like an afterthought, certainly not the sort of edifice that would have been included on any retail development’s original plans, the ones with swards of green and ranks of architect-drawn mature trees drawn for the purpose of gulling the planners and luring the punters. Unprepossessing, is that the word?

 

The plan was to meet Foodmad for an assortment of dim sum, washed down, in the traditional manner, with Chinese tea. Foodmad was ever so slightly miffed ‘cos he thought we were going to Mint, but he got over it! For those unfamiliar with the delights of Cantonese cuisine, dim sum are small portions of light dishes, a sort of Chinese tapas if you like. These may include meat, seafood and vegetables dishes, as well as fruit and small cakes. Dim sum may be steamed or fried usually served in a small steamer basket or on a small plate, three or four items to the portion. It is customary to order family style, sharing dishes among all members of the dining party. Chinese families typically like to gather at Chinese restaurants for dim sum at weekends and on special occasions such as anniversaries, significant birthdays and Chinese New Year when the consumption of dim sum becomes akin to ritual.

 

In years past, dim sum in Dublin has been largely the province of three restaurants; the Imperial, on Wicklow Street; the New Millennium adjacent to the Gaiety Theatre and The Good World on South Great Georges’ Street, each with its own set of adherents. In all three, the Chinese community starts to filter in after what we would consider a normal lunch hour has expired. Latterly, the word on the street is that the Ming Court is becoming the dim sum house of choice among the Irish Chinese community, a phenomenon Foodmad and I were keen to investigate.

 

Dim sum menus, for the devotee, will contain few surprises. At the same time, being forced to choose will bring consternation, even panic, to anyone whose experience with Chinese food does not stretch much beyond sweet-and-sour. Here are some of the standard dishes: gow (also written as ‘gau’ or ‘goi’) are made of ingredients wrapped in a translucent rice flour or wheat starch skin and then steamed. They are considered difficult to make, a test of the dim sum chef’s skill. If the skin is too thin the gow falls apart; if too thick, eating one is like munching your way through one of those jellified bathing shoes. Siu mai is another steamed confection, seasoned minced pork, sometimes with a prawn or a Chinese mushroom on top, the whole wrapped in a cabbage leaf. These are my favourite and I reckon myself a great judge of siu mai. Bau or bow are buns, filled with a variety of goodies, the most common of which is char siu, barbecued pork, before steaming or baking. Cheng fun are rice noodle rolls with vegetables, meat or seafood inside, usually slathered in a sweetened soy sauce. Other goodies include spring rolls, roasted meats – chicken, duck and various kinds of pork – and pastries, some of them sweet. Among the more exotic varieties of dim sun (not for the faint-hearted) are items like spicy chicken’s webs, tripe, and curried sea snails (read ‘whelks).

 

As with other culinary styles, the devil is in the delicacy. The steamed dim sum, in particular, do not benefit from raucous seasoning or extended cooking. Wrappers should be thin and filling plentiful. Fried items should be crisp and not greasy. From the edible evidence Foodmad and I decided that the Ming Court’s chef is a fairly good, though not outstanding exponent of the art. The next day, wandering around the Chinese supermarket on Abbey Street and glimpsing the spellbinding variety of dim sum in the freezers I did wonder if everything, or indeed anything we ate was the work of the chef. But at the end of the day, does it matter? Probably not. I doubt that any restaurant kitchen in Ireland would see the need to employ a dim sum specialist – contrast, say Hong Kong or even London or Manchester where large Chinese communities force the pace and keep standards high.

 

As a neighbourhood Chinese, the Ming Court is up there. I’d be happy to have it in my neck of the woods. I’m inordinately fond of roast duck and the plateful they brought us to augment our dim sum had Foodmad and me fighting over the last piece. The spiced noodles, as recommended by the waitress, were excellent too. In fact the staff, energetic, helpful and friendly are the Ming Court’s prime asset; in contrast to other restaurants where the refusal to give more than token service to ‘foreign devils’ is a given. As a dim sum diner, however, it doesn’t knock the Imperial off its perch.

 

The damage: €56.15 for 7 dim sum, plate roast duck, portion of noodles, lashings of Chinese tea. Service included.

 

 

Verdict: Better than average Chinese neighbourhood restaurant in search of a neighbourhood, set down, tardis-like, in Blanchardstown shopping centre.

Decent food, wonderful staff, unremarkable ambience. Clean, plain toilets.

 

Ming Court, Unit 453 Blanchardstown, Dublin 15 tel: 01 824 3388

 

 

Oriental Seared Tuna Salad

A great dish, easy and so tasty, originally cooked as one element of a 10-course dinner party at my house, devised and cooked by our good friend Chung Yin. The full menu detailed at Chinese Dinner Party
This recipe, together with those for the duck and the melon salad, is reproduced with Chung Yin’s permission.

2 thick tuna steaks
4 tbsp Sharwood’s Wok Soy
Oil for deep-frying
10g Sharwood’s Rice Noodles
Salt and white pepper for seasoning
4 tbsp oil
6 thin slices fresh ginger, approx 1x 2cm
for the dressing
1 tsp roasted sesame oil
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
Juice of 1/2 a lime
1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
1 x 150g pack salad leaves
Serves 6 as a starter or 2 for a light meal

Delicious as a starter to a banquet or as a special lunch for two.
Marinate the tuna in 4 tablespoons Sharwood’s Wok Soy for half an hour. Heat the oil in a large saucepan or deep fat fryer to 220°C/425°F/gas 7. Drop half of the rice noodles into the hot oil; the noodles should cook and fully expand simultaneously. Remove and drain on kitchen paper. Repeat with second batch of noodles. Heat the oil in a large frying pan add the ginger and fry for 3 minutes. Remove the ginger and three quarters of the oil and leave to one side for the dressing. Heat the frying pan till very hot, fry the tuna for 1 minute each side or until is seared but not cooked all the way through.
Set aside for 5 minutes then slice. To make the dressing mix together the ginger oil, sesame oil, soy sauce, lime juice and fresh coriander.
Place the leaves in a bowl and lightly toss in the dressing, reserving a teaspoon for serving. Arrange the salad leaves on an individual serving dish, layer with noodles and top with the sliced tuna. Serve immediately.

Hoi-Sin Five Spice Duck

6 duck breasts
2 tsp five spice powder
1 tbsp shredded fresh ginger
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine
1 jar Sharwood’s Hoi-Sin sauce
1 x 250g pack medium egg noodles
1/2 cucumber – halved lengthways, remove the seeds and slice diagonally
100g asparagus – cut in half diagonally
Salt to taste
A few drops roasted sesame oil to taste
2 tbsp vegetable oil
200g beansprouts
4 spring onions – shredded
White pepper, light soy sauce and roasted sesame oil to season

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4.
Puncture the duck skin with a fork and rub the five spice into the duck skin. Mix together half the ginger, light soy sauce and rice wine, spoon over the duck and leave to marinate for 30 minutes. (For best results, marinate overnight.)
Place the duck in an ovenproof dish, cover tightly with foil. Roast for 45 minutes. Turn the oven up to 200°C/400°F/gas 6, remove the duck from the dish and coat the duck with hoi-sin sauce. Return to the oven and cook for a further 10 minutes to glaze. Meanwhile, cook the noodles as directed on the back of the pack, drain and cool under cold running water. Plunge the cucumber and asparagus into boiling water for 2 minutes, drain well and season with salt and a little sesame oil, keep warm. Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or deep sided frying pan, stir-fry the spring onions and remaining ginger for 1 minute, add the noodles, continue stir frying for 2 minutes. Add the bean sprouts and stir-fry for a further minute. Season with light soy sauce, white pepper and sesame oil.
Arrange the noodles on an individual serving dish, scatter the vegetables around the outside and top with the duck. This dish makes a delicious centrepiece for a celebration meal.

Recipe courtesy of Chung Yin