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Sichuan to watch

Grub Spy Alan Kelly dishes the goods on Ireland’s tastiest dining destinations

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Hakkahan’s vibrant exterior.

Hakkahan’s vibrant exterior.

Some of the tasty dishes.

Some of the tasty dishes.

Cripsy duck being made.

Cripsy duck being made.

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Hakkahan’s vibrant exterior.

As I turned right off North King Street onto Blackhall Place on my way to Hakkahan Chinese restaurant in Stoneybatter – as usual overflowing with traffic and people and that boisterous buzz you only get north of the Liffey – I wasn’t even sure if the restaurant would be open.

The reason is, this crafty unassuming little Chinese eatery, which dared open its doors in the middle of a pandemic, has kept its online profile low-key.

There is a site (unfinished) which means there is no official way to check menus, opening times or bookings.

HAKKAHAN
32 Stoneybatter, Dublin 7
4.5 Stars
Food €26; Drinks €2.50

But I have to say, going by the tailback of expectant diners outside and the small number of seats already occupied inside, Hakkahan doesn’t seem to require online promotion.

The whole kit and caboodle – location, dining space and menu – is already wonderfully unpretentious, relaxed and successful.

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Some of the tasty dishes.

Some of the tasty dishes.

Some of the tasty dishes.

I love squid, I love dumplings and I love grazing on proper Chinese food. And until today my favourite Chinese grub-stop was M&L Sichuan over on Cathedral street (their steamed dumplings are legendary.)

Now I have Hakkahan.

Thankfully the menu is short, inventive and simple to navigate – House Dumplings, Small Chow, Mains, sides and desserts.

From the off everything is heading in the right direction. My aim had been to try maybe one dumpling, one small chow, one side and maybe a dessert.

The first mouthful of my La Zi Ji chicken dumpling changed all that. Four delicious parcels sitting in a pool of spicy oil are filled with such a rich aromatic and flavoursome filling I immediately order four more Prawn Har Gau dumplings. Vigorously laced with bamboo, hits of sesame and sweet apple, these prawn dumplings are so shockingly scrumptious I can hardly wait to come back and give the entire dumpling menu a proper lashing.

My ‘Small Chow’ choice is the Salt and Pepper Fresh Squid in batter – and boy, when they say fresh they really mean fresh. Topped with chopped onions, green scallions, red chili and a grind or two of pepper, the squid is deep-fried pretty much to perfection. The specialness of this substantial and surprising fish option is very nearly as successful as the dumplings (perhaps the batter could be a smidge lighter, and maybe a dip could be included on the side?) either way the subtlety of the squid is not overwhelmed by the seasonings.

The kitchen here has more going for it than just a passing acquaintance with authentic Chinese cuisine. It is, in fact, doing all the right things in the right order using top-notch ingredients and superb skills.

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Cripsy duck being made.

Cripsy duck being made.

Cripsy duck being made.

And while I would describe the food as lip-tinglingly spicy from the numbing zizz of pungent Sichuan peppercorns, you won’t be in pain and you won’t have involuntary heat spasms: but your gob will certainly not forget its visit to Stoneybatter.

And there are tempting-sounding deserts, like the Hand-Made Crispy Nutella Rice Ball with Condensed Milk and Ice Cream. Unfortunately my old taste-buds have been so pleasingly gratified, I reluctantly spurn the offer. Still, now I have one more good reason to call back to Hakkahan. And as plans go, that is tremendously reassuring.

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