Bowlsby Kwanghi Chan, 56 Marlborough St, Dublin 1
Chinese New Year is Tuesday, February 5, and if you are in Dublin in the coming weeks you should check dublinchinesenewyear.com for Chinese New Year events and make a plan to visit one of Dublin’s regional Chinese restaurants.
Here are just a few:
The area between Parnell St and Capel St has the largest concentration of Asian restaurants in the city — Bowls by Kwanghi Chan is a brand new arrival. Kwanghi was born in Hong Kong but raised in Donegal and trained in many of Ireland’s best restaurants (for example, Chapter One).
The menu in Bowls is short but inviting with a selection of dim sum dishes which change daily plus signature bowls with meat or tofu and a choice of noodles, rice, vegetables, and dressings. There is no drinks licence yet so we brought our own beer.
We began with Wo Tip chicken and scallion pot-sticker dumplings (€7). Their skins had been crisped briefly on the pan and inside the delicate minced chicken was an excellent contrast. They worked particularly well drizzled by Kwanghi’s ChanChan black garlic sauce.
Siu Mei steamed shrimp dumplings (€5.50) wrapped in cabbage also had lovely texture and flavours and the six crispy prawns with XO sauce and Chinese sherry (€8.50) atop vermicelli noodles had excellent contrasting textures and flavours. Baked Char Siu buns were good but perhaps the least interesting of the dim sum starters due to a rather light filling of pork in proportion to their size — perhaps I was just disappointed there wasn’t a steamed version.
Now to the bowls, the main reason you will likely be visiting. We tried three different versions, two with rice and one with noodles. The signature bowls are €12-13 but custom bowls can cost as little as €9.45 so this is perfect lunch fare.
Charred Hong Kong 5-spice pulled beef brisket bowl with rice, kimchi, purple kale, and roasted miso sweetcorn was rich and satisfying. Lovely complex flavours in the beef were lifted nicely by the kimchi and Asian pickled vegetables. The BBQ rubbed pork with black garlic and miso-roasted aubergine was also excellent, with a gorgeous smoky character from the pork.
The best of the bowls we tried was a custom one which had soy and Shaoxing (rice wine) flavoured free-range chicken thighs, kimchi, pickled enoki mushrooms, chilli sauce, and mixed seeds on a wheat noodle base with a generous dollop of chicken broth. The meat was good quality and packed with complex umami flavours that were enlivened by the chilli and kimchi and rounded out nicely by the noodles and broth. While the rice bowls worked well, the noodles and broth added a wonderful extra dimension to the other flavours. This is what I will be ordering on my next visit.
We finished with three Pastel de Nata Portuguese custard tarts, enough of a reason to visit Bowls on their own. A little deeper than is usual with a generous custard filling, luscious, creamy, and rich with good pastry. Kwanghi makes them fresh every day and be warned: They often sell out given they cost a mere €2.80 each. Their connection with Asian street food may seem strange at first but these are ‘Macau-style’ and developed from a recipe Kwanghi picked up in the former Portuguese territory which is now connected to Hong Kong by a 55km bridge. Incidentally there is one other spot I’ve found good ones in Dublin: The Cupcake Bloke’s Bakery on the South Circular Rd in Rialto, a must-visit if you are ever nearby.
Bowls is open breakfast to teatime and is warmly recommended. Kwanghi’s classical training shows through in the quality of ingredients and balance of flavours in the dishes — if I had a spare million, I’d set up a chain of them.
A generous dinner for three with four dim sum starters, three main course bowls, three custard tarts, and three espresso cost €80.80
Monday-Friday: 8am to 8pm; Saturday: 10am to 8pm
In a sentence: An excellent addition to Dublin’s casual dining scene, mixing quality Asian street food with a classically trained chef’s intuition for flavour.