85 Marlborough Street,Dublin 1
As you read this spare a thought for the thousands of hospitality workers that signed on this week as their restaurants have shut up shop. There is a small hope that restaurants will open again in April but it is impossible to know — in the meantime do please support your local restaurant by ordering takeout if it is on offer.
Rumour has it that Chinese restaurants were the first to feel the impact of Covid-19 but if this is a concern do remember that there have been no flights out of China for weeks and their staff are at no more risk of having the virus than anyone else.
It was partly as an act of solidarity that I decided to review Kitchen 85 on a Sunday in early March but in fact they were doing a relatively solid trade.
Kitchen 85 is a sister restaurant to the long established M&L Szechuan restaurant just around the corner on Cathedral Street (beside the Pro Cathedral). I first ate in M&L Szechuan in around 2008 (under a different owner I believe) and it was a revelation, utterly different to the Chinese food served elsewhere in the city and packed with young Chinese students just as it is these days.
Szechuan cuisine uses lots of fresh and dried chilli but more importantly it uses an abundance of the local Szeuchuan pepper which is more fruity and aromatic than hot, but does have a hugely pleasing numbing effect on the mouth.
The spice and rather joyous intensity to be found in M&L’s dishes can leave you sweating and your lips and tongue numb but that is part of the pleasure, you just fight through the pain with a slug of Tsing Tao beer or a gulp of tea and plough on.
Kitchen 85 focuses on Cantonese Cuisine which is milder and more familiar to most people as it has mainly been emigrants from Hong Kong running Chinese takeaways and restaurants here and elsewhere in the West. K85’s menu contains lots of familiar Chinese dishes interspersed with intriguing ‘authentic’ dishes like Pork Blood Hot Pot.
We began with supremely crispy fresh Spring Rolls (€4.50) served with a reasonably pungent hoi-sin style sauce. Salty & Chilli Squid were in a crisp crumb and enlivened by lots of sliced chilli and salt. Pork Ribs were perhaps a tad dry but once again lots of chilli and salt meant they disappeared quickly.
If I have one bit of advice for anyone trying a new Chinese restaurant it is always order the Aubergines. They have never failed me — I’ll never forget the fried version I ate in the House of Nanking in San Francisco in the mid-1990s and the hot and sour version served in M&L is equally a must order.
K85 serves an Aubergine Sweet and Sour Hot Pot (€11.90) and it too is memorable, slippery, juicy and fruity and brimming with umami flavours.
Fried Pork Belly with Fresh Chilli (€13.90) had lots of chunky (mild to medium-hot) green chilli peppers to counter the rich pork belly flavours and worked well.
Roast Pork in a Honey Sauce (€13.90) had been slow cooked and sliced and was covered in a meaty, sweet sauce. The sweetness from the honey added richness rather than anything cloying, and I loved the small soft layers of silky fat mixed in with the meat.
Salt and Spicy Flammulina was unfamiliar so I had to order it, it turned out to be a large bowl of deep fried enoki mushrooms which added a pleasing textural contrast to the soft rich meat and vegetable dishes.
Service was friendly and pleasant but a little chaotic as our server was on her own and dealing with a relatively busy restaurant. Shrill scratchy communication with the kitchen through a walkie-talkie at one point was deeply unpleasant but to be fair it only lasted 15 seconds and just once during our hour-long visit.
Kitchen 85 is a solid addition to the city and I can imagine myself going back occasionally for the roast pork or slippery fruity aubergine hot-pot, however I’m probably more likely to be found in M&L fighting through the chilli pain.
Dinner for three including three starters, four sharing main courses, rice, tea and beers cost €89.10
Open daily, 12pm to 10pm
In a sentence
Kitchen 85 serves a mix of familiar and unfamiliar Chinese dishes at great prices and is well worth a visit, more adventurous eaters should go to their sister restaurant M&L.