From China with love
For centuries, adventurers have travelled far and wide for exotic flavours and spices, says Lucinda O’Sullivan, and Karl Whelan has done just that for his new Hang Dai eatery on Lower Camden Street
For years, the Chinese have been coming to Europe and the US to open restaurants which are dumbed down for the delicate palates of Westerners! Now, we have Westerners heading East on a mission to bring back the ‘authentic’ Chinese experience.
We have a funny relationship with food. We bleat on about wanting to experience the real thing, but balk at the idea of choosing a live snake to be cooked for us, as they do, while thinking nothing of eating an equally slithery eel, served with horseradish. Would we eat scorpions? I think not, but we’d drop a live lobster into a pot of boiling water in the blink of an eye, and luxuriate over lobster thermidor. It’s all relative.
Before opening the new Hang Dai on Camden Street, Karl Whelan, executive chef of the hot, hot Luna on Drury Street, took himself off to Hong Kong and Beijing, immersing himself in the cuisine, while searching for the best Beijing roast duck. His business partner, Will Dempsey; and restaurateur John Farrell, of Super Miss Sue and the aforementioned Luna, who was involved in the design area, also journeyed.
You won’t find any snakes or scorpions in Hang Dai either, but what they’ve created is a contemporary Chinese eatery with great food, lots of glam cocktails and a Suzie Wong sassiness. It’s like something out of a Bond movie, with only a simple takeaway desk on view from the street and a couple of Chinese nodding-dog toys; once you are led through the strip-curtain, you are in another world. For Bond, they would have had the ‘triad’ playing mah-jong, but here you have a busy kitchen and an open, wood-burning oven with ducks hanging vertically behind the flames. It feels like being on a poshed-up Shanghai Metro, with a great cocktail bar, booths with red formica tables, overhead illuminated advertising, and grab bars for alighting.
As we took in the menu, Paul kicked off with a Hang Dai Sour — At Lee Kee, it really does feel like being in downtown Hong Kong, with the cosy atmosphere, friendly staff and authentic food. Think Xiang-style griddle-cooked frog’s leg; spicy razor clams; marinated duck tongue; Peking duck; Schezuan salt and chilli pork fillet; or maybe some steamed duck turbot. Price: €7.50-€22.80 Try: Xiang-style — Dry pot green peas served with king scallops, €15.80 Drinks: Wine, beer Kites was the first to bring upmarket Chinese food to Dublin, and over the 20-odd years that it has been in operation, it has never wavered. It still delivers on high-end Oriental food in buzzy surroundings. Think jumbo prawns, fillet of beef, black sole, sea bass and scallops served in myriad fashions. Price: €5.50-€28 Try: Steamed black sole served with ginger and spring onion, or with black bean sauce, €28 Drinks: Wine, beer Duck is a Hong Kong-style barbecue meat deli where duck, pork, and chicken are hung upright and cooked in a traditional torpedoshaped ‘Bullet Oven’, giving them a spectacular shining skin. Hop up at the counter and chow down, or take home boxes of crispy pork belly, pork ribs or boneless roast duck in various sizes and combos. Price: €3.95-€22 Try: Roast meat deal — regular box of char sui, two duck spring rolls, soft drink, €14 Drinks: Bubble/Chinese tea Bulleit Bourbon, green tea, pistachio and lime (€10); while I had a Dry Vermouth (€8.50) which consisted of elderflower, rose, lemon and egg white. Snacks or small plates (€1.50-€14) included lotus root crisps; duck steak tartare; scallop
soup; and lacquered aubergine with and black garlic. We kicked off with three starters to share — preserved duck egg (€3.50) which was drenched in pickled soy and black vinegar; prawn toast (€6); and soft-shell crab (€14). Paul flinched a tad at the preserved duck egg but ended up loving its deep, dark flavour. The prawn toast was to die for — thick and luscious — while the crispy, crunchy typhoon shelter soft-shell crab was ace.
The choice then was either to move on to the “wok & steam” selection (€11-€26), which included dry-fried pork belly with leek; squid ink noodles; Kung Po chicken or go for the star of the show — the duck, served in three elements and priced at €40/€80 for a half/whole duck; we went with the half portion. An intense duck broth was first up, with a little tub of sharp Chinese pickles. The next element had the duck leg roasted, chopped on the bone into chunks, and drenched in Cantonese style soy sauce. We tend to like our food boned, but if you watch a Chinese person eat, you’ll notice that they revel in sucking every tasty morsel off the bone. So, don’t be shy!
The had the duck breast carved in delicious pink slices and served with little pancakes, julienned cucumber, spring onion and a cherry
sauce. We washed the mouthwatering dish down with two glasses of Les Fumees Blanches Lurton Sauvignon Blanc (€6.75 each). Service was lovely, and our bill, with service, came to €105.50.
ton miso piece de resistance hoi sin et al, yuzu, yuk sung; ceviche; won Szechuan
Hang Dai, 20 Camden Street Lower, Dublin 2. Tel: (01) 545-8888 hangdaichinese.com