Tag Archives: dim sum

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 ****

 

READ Ernie’s reviews on Thursdays in The Dubliner, FREE with The Evening Herald

 

 

 

 

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