I went to school in Dublin 1. Back then, on the verge of Celtic Tiger Dublin, it was colourful. Colourful in the ‘mind your wallet’ kind of way. This coming from a proud northsider. Back then one passed boarded up shop-fronts on the way to school. Dry cleaners and corner shops with grandiose names called after American cities. On a recent trip to my alma mater, with my food-blogger hat on, I was amazed and tantalised by the number of eateries on my old walk to school. One of which is M &L Chinese.
This came onto my radar on twitter a few months back- via Stefano over at WholeMeal. I was due to meet a school friend of mine for dinner- he is accustomed to good food- so I sought out recommendations of the ethnic and Dublin 1 variety. Many recommended this place, so I decided it was time to try it.
My dining companion, Dr. Food as he shall be known, was a little late arriving- no doubt a life needed to be saved (I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.) While I waited, I was seated and some very friendly staff provided water and menus and encouraged me to ask them for assistance in choosing my meal. A good start.
When the good doctor arrived, fashionably late, we ordered a variety of dishes with some guidance from the friendly wait staff. I started with pork dumplings. I think these were the highlight of the meal- delicious little things- packed with pork mince that left your mouth salivating after the bang of umami. The good doctor started with some prawns in egg yolk- these were eaten cheerfully- a little unremarkable and dry for my taste but they were far from unpleasant.
After this himself had chicken with dried chillies and peanuts. This was happily munched on. I had crispy duck with mushrooms and chillies and it’s not on the English menu. If I can digress for one moment- I find the best way to eat in these places is to ask the staff what to order. Often they take you off the beaten track with glorious results or indeed they suggest mythical dishes, not on the menu. This was one such dish. It was crispy, spicy and savoury all at the same time. It was also gigantic- to the extent that after the dumplings I was far too full- it made for a wonderful lunch the next day.
We didn’t bother for any dessert- we just lingered and gave a nod to the staff when we wanted to leave as they enjoyed a post work meal in the corner. They didn’t make even the slightest attempt to rush us out and let us chat away.
With 3 beers each and a side of fried vegetables the total came to €58. M&L is worth a visit- it came with good recommendations and didn’t disappoint. The staff are great and are eager to ensure you enjoy your meal. Can’t ask for much more.
People often ask me what my favourite restaurant is. If I had to choose, it’s a place I ate in on my J1 in New York. Nha Trang is a Vietnamese restaurant on Baxter Street, just off Canal Street. I talk about it in my New York food guide. It’s a NY institution at this stage. Dublin had been lacking places to get my Vietnamese fix, as the commute to Nha Trang is slightly prohibitive. Fear no more, as Pho Viet has opened on Dublin’s Parnell Street.
Prawns in a see-through number….
I ate with one of my regular partners in dining, the confirmed foodie. I must state at this point that the staff were very good. While I was waiting for the confirmed foodie to arrive, I chatted with them and they were very willing to explain what to order from the menu and how best to enjoy/eat certain dishes. The menu is compact- something I like to see.
I opted for Goi Cuon, fresh Vietnamese spring rolls. Prawns, mint and veg wrapped in a soft rice roll. This was a fresh and zingy start to the meal. Sarah had the Banh Xeo. A crispy rice pancake with pork, prawns and vegetables inside. This was served with some lettuce and mint along with a dipping sauce. It was very delicious.
For my main course I opted for Bun Bo Hue. A spicy noodle soup, with sliced beef and pork. It was a miserable enough evening in Dublin and this soup was the perfect antidote. It had heat, a variety of cuts of meat and was a very generous portion. Sarah had Pho Ga, a chicken noodle soup. Again she chose very wisely. Her dish was another warming soup. Richly spiced with delicate slivers of chicken, noodles and assorted greens. Our mains were served with a plate of bean sprouts, chilli slices and herbs if you wanted to modify your dish in any way.
Throughout the meal the staff flitted around and were very keen to make sure we were enjoying our meal. I had seen that they did Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk. I wanted to try it. After some teething problems (read: spilling the coffee) as I figured out how the filter worked- this capped off a great meal.
Pho Viet is another gem on Parnell Street and is fantastic value. The total for 2 courses each, a coke and a coffee was €33. My advice, go there soon. Before Dublin finds out.
Parnell street has transformed itself from what most Dubliners knew it as. When I first frequented it on a regular basis back in the early noughties, it was a bleak, desolate place. It now bustles as Dublin’s unofficial Chinatown. The vast majority of Chinese food dished up in this country is bland and non-descript. It is largely the same no matter where you go. Not so on Parnell Street I was told. Here you see the Asian community eating authentic Asian food. So recently I dragged a friend along to try The Sichuan House Chinese Restaurant (to give it its full title) a try.
I was comforted on entering to see not one single waving feline, nor was there fake bamboo or a fish tank to be seen. Equally we were certainly in the minority as Irish- a good sign. The surrounding s are basic. But I like that. We perused the menu and skipped over some of the intestinal and more unusual parts of beast on offer. We both went for the chicken satay to start. I spent two years of my life in Indonesia when I was younger- and they know how to do satay- Thankfully they did here also. The sauce was nutty, sweet and just a little spicy. Everything it should be. It was served on a bed of crispy shredded lettuce.
For mains I opted for fried shredded pork in a hot and spicy sauce. It was huge. It could have fed us both. It was a tasty dish. The pork was cut a little fine for my liking making for a slightly strange texture, but the sauce was vibrant and there was plenty of veg to liven the dish up. Mark’s Kung Pao Chicken lacked a little punch but was happily eaten all the same. The rice served with both was perfect and could easily be eaten with chopsticks.
The bill came out at just over €40. Which included a beer (€3 ish) and a few Cokes (€1.50). Overall it was nice. It was a hell of a lot better than most ‘Chinese food’ we know of. However it lacked the wow factor. There were dishes paraded by throughout the evening that definitely were not on the menu we were given and they looked delicious- so it could be a place to point and order.
In recent weeks, I have been on a quest to try Dublin’s newest eateries. I had grown tired of the usual suspects in town, and I took to twitter to seek tips from you nice people. It was very promptly suggested by a friend that I give one such newcomer a try.
I was meeting another friend for lunch in town and so we headed to Neon (He wanted to get a mention if I wrote about this- Hi Mark.) Upon entering Neon, you are greeted with a very sleek restaurant, with bench seating and counters at one end, behind which is an open kitchen (something I always enjoy seeing.)
We took a table while perusing the menus, on the advise of the very friendly staff. I opted for a Red Curry with prawns and Mark opted for Chicken, chilli and cashew nuts. The lunch deal is great value: a main and soft-drink for €9.95, and comes with a free DIY ice-cream cone (They have a mini 99-stlye machine in the corner!)
The dishes were served in takeaway containers, and for those of you who like eating from more refined receptacles there are dishes on every table. Sitting on top of my very generous portion of curry were a number of prawns. I wondered for a moment whether there would be any more lurking in the sauce beneath. I am delighted to say that my scepticism was misplaced, it was truly crustacean-filled, delivering a nice amount of heat. Mark was similarly pleased with his dish.
After just about finishing our lunches, we toddled over to the ice-cream machine to round off what was an excellent meal. Neon’s food, staff and surrounds are all likely to impress you- oh and the ice-cream probably will too.
Is there anywhere else in Dublin you think I should try?
Howth has regained one of its culinary institutions in recent weeks. El Paso is back, in a different guise, as it now resides above The Waterside pub.
I had a quick meal here the other night and hence I think it would be unfair to write too long a post, both on restaurant and reader. I had a chicken burrito and my dining companion had potato skins. The burrito (€15.50) was fine, tasty, served with a good dollop of relish and sour cream. The accompanying portion of rice was a little on the small side (clearly two scoops from a potato/ice-cream scoop) but tasted as promised of lime and coriander to be fair. However the chicken was a little stringy and there wasn’t much else in the burrito apart from re-fried beans. The potato skins were eaten and were fine apparently, but at €6.55 were a smidge pricey.
Staff were very friendly I have to say, while they seemed a little understaffed- a few people had to wait a while to be seated etc. they really were very pleasant.
Wine wise, it was nice to see a glass of white being served for under a fiver.
Given it was a Sunday evening, the place was very busy- which is always great to see. The décor is bright and there was a buzz about the place. Would I rush back? Probably not- I like a bit more bang for my buck in a €15 burrito, but overall it seems like a nice setting for casual dining and the staff are good. If they tweak the food- I would be back sooner. I wish them every success in their new home.