Perhaps I’m just indecisive but I find it very difficult to pick my favourite anything.
I have no favourite colour, season, city, restaurant, wine, beer, composer, band or book. I could name a few of each that I like just as I could probably (after some thought) name some TV programmes and films to take to a desert island. but then who gets notice that they are going to be shipwrecked?
Blade Runner would always make the cut I think and so would the HBO series Deadwood, so when I read that Chef Karl Whelan had opened a Chinese Bar/Restaurant (with dancing) that took inspiration from these masterpieces I was intrigued and not a little excited.
I’m wary of themed restaurants but this is Karl Whelan who is currently best known as the Executive Head Chef at Luna, a restaurant highly praised by me on this page a year ago. Luna is still packing them in and it was jammed on a recent Tuesday when I stopped in for Salumi with Lardo Toast, one of the finest things to eat in Dublin city – a desert island dish in fact.
Whelan is still overseeing the menu at Luna and has linked with Luna’s owner John Farrell and an old school friend with a music background to open Hangdai on Upper Camden St. near Delahunt and Sunil Ghai’s Pickle. The name comes from a phrase meaning “partners” as used by Mr. Wu in Deadwood when he joins forces with saloon owner Al Swearengan.
We began our meal with a couple of the house cocktails from a list that of course includes a “Deadwood” and various references to movies including the Fifth Element (“Diva Plavalaguna”) and Pulp Fiction (“Everybody be Cool”). My delicious sweet-sour-bitter Back to Back was a mix of whiskey, sake, pineapple, Lillet Vermouth, lime and bitters and a Watermelons was a refreshing mix of tequila, watermelon and aloe vera juice.
As we sipped our cocktails our starters and bar snacks began to arrive – pickled oysters to wake the palate along with some sweet crispy prawn toast enlivened with yuzu mayo. Lacquered Aubergine with black garlic and miso was rich and satisfying and the fried crispy roast duck dumplings were outstanding with the pork dumplings a close second.
The most intriguing flavour of the night was my first experience with thousand-year preserved duck eggs. The fruity H2S tinged aroma and the translucent brackish coloured whites had a fermented character while the lime green yolks were pungently eggy and creamy – well worth a try if you are feeling adventurous.
The apple-wood fired oven-cooked Peking Duck menu is the signature here and we had pre-ordered- €40 for a half duck between two.
The first element was a cup of light umami and sesame oil tinged duck broth, followed by the most perfect duck skin I’ve ever tasted - immaculately crunchy and packed with flavour from the hoi-sin basting.
The duck breast was tender and delicious and as you would expect eaten in light pancakes with some greens and a smear of cherry hoi-sin.
I’ve had Peking/Beijing duck many times in different European and US cities but this was easily the best yet - and some of the credit must go to the good people at Skeaghanore Ducks in West Cork.
The wine list is short and useful but on my two visits I drank cocktails and a selection of beers including Tsingtao, Cuvee des Trolls and Timmermans Kriek (to match the cherry hoi-sin sauce for the duck). My second visit was to try the wok and steam menu but I have no room for details except to praise the Roast Cod with ginger and mostly praise the Kung Po Chicken although I would have preferred more ‘ma’ Sichuan pepper flavour and less fresh chilli.
I shall return to try some of the other things I missed such as.the beef hotpot and maybe the dry-fried porkbelly or the pork cheek in chilli bean sauce.
As for my desert island dishes list I now have to remember to add Hangdai’s Super Noodles – rich, satisfying, perfectly cooked noodles with oyster sauce, miso mayonnaise, duck, prawn, pork and beef. This is a dish you will fight over (we did), so next time I’m ordering two.
One Shared Half-Duck menu with a selection of six starters, two cocktails and a beer cost €100.50. There is no charge for sparkling water.
Tuesday-Saturday - 5pm til Late