I love reading restaurant reviews. If I have eaten at the venue under review, I compare notes, while for unvisited venues, I make mental bookmarks to visit or avoid. It's fair to say that restaurant reviews are a subjective business and wars have been fought over lesser matters. You have to find a restaurant reviewer whose opinion you trust and with whom you feel an affinity. In Ireland, I am a fan of Tom Doorley, currently with the Irish Daily Mail, while in the UK I enjoy reading Jay Rayner from the Guardian, and reviews from blogger Chris Pople (Cheese and Biscuits). Just like Jay Rayner, I have a great love for spicy chinese food and thanks to his reviews, I have visited some great London Sichuan restaurants.
I do think that Sichuan (and Hunan) food can constitute an addiction. I literally find myself craving that chili hit, with intense garlic and salty bean flavours. It took me a while to become accustomed to the numbing sensations of sichuan pepper and prickly ash, but now I would sit through a Hollyoaks omnibus in order to satisfy my cravings. (For reference, I think Hollyoaks is possibly the most absymal television ever made).
Here in Dublin, I think it's fair to say that Chinese food has been up and down. I ate in the first wave of authentic Chinese restaurants that opened their doors on down-at-heel Moore Street. Undoubtedly, the Health & Safety inspectors were pleased when some of those venues were closed, but the food was a revelation. The next wave of restaurants opened on Parnell Street, near Marlborough Street. It was clear to see that general restaurant standards were increasing, but in parallel with this was the increasing westernisation of the menus. Restaurants started opening on Capel Street, extending the availability of real chinese cuisine.
My favourite restaurant for a long time has been the Hilan Chinese & Korean restaurant on Capel Street. Friendly and pleasant staff combined with some amazing dishes has kept me coming back for years. But I think it's time for a new favourite. Let me introduce you to the Mandarin House on Parnell Street.
The restaurant itself is straightforward and plain (a lot of Chinese restaurants don't go for style) with utilitarian wipe-down paper tablecloths. The menu lists a combination of authentic Chinese food, "regular" Chinese food and there's even a Thai section. Some specials are taped to the inside cover of the menu, along with a value evening menu that includes a glass of wine. On previous visits I've enjoyed the belly pork slices with butternut squash, which can probably be described as a Chinese version of roast dinner. It's a unique dish, not very spicy and well worth a try if you want to experience something different.
On our recent visit we ordered crispy dumplings, served with soy sauce (5 for €4.50). These actually arrived last of our food order due to the longer cooking time, but they were fat and tasty, full of prawn mixture, with a crisp, pan-fried coating. Black vinegar and chili oil is also available on request to add some extra flavour to the dipping sauce
|Crispy dumplings with soy sauce|
Fried spicy green beans came piled on a plate mixed with deliciously crisp slices of fried garlic, dried chilis and minced pork (€10.00). If you've ever eaten alongside Chinese people, you will know that fried green beans is a very popular dish and this was a great example. The mixture of fresh and dried chilis provided different layers of heat and smokiness and I found myself picking out the garlic slices and savouring them with my eyes shut.
|Spicy fried green beans|
Our other dishes included cumin lamb (€10.00), listed as Northeast Supreme (I think?) on the menu and Chili chicken (€9.00) with fried rice (€2.50 per portion). The chili chicken was moderately hot with a bean-flavoured sauce. The use of thigh meat meant that the chicken remained soft and moist. The lamb was spiced as opposed to spicy through the use of cumin seeds and a smattering of the ubiquitous dried chilis.
|Northeast lamb supreme (Cumin lamb)|
Mandarin House, 179 Parnell Street, Dublin 1
Tel: +353 (0)1 878 3146