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

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - APPETITES -

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.

All aboard!

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 hang­daichi­


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