I’m optimistic. It’s too early to predict anything, but watching the creative ways restaurants have reinvented themselves has been invigorating and inspiring.
A great example is Hang Dai which has not just launched a brand new and brilliantly creative menu (currently available in its tiny new outdoor space) — it has also created an adaptable street food pop-up called Hawker. Hawker is currently located in the two parking spaces in front of the restaurant on Camden St. but I gather that it may also be going on tour. Trust me, there will be queues.
Hang Dai was created in 2016 by chef Karl Whelan (ex head-chef at Chapter One and Luna) and his old friend, Will Dempsey, who came from an events and music background. Whelan left during lockdown and the head-chef is now Australian born Adam Dunn. The fine quality, properly crafted Sichuan, Cantonese and Mandarin dishes served in a fun atmosphere crossing Blade Runner Dive Bar with 80s disco was a hit — attracting everyone from young Chinese businesswomen to cocktail-loving Millennials, to chefs on their day off. (‘Hang Dai’ loosely means ‘partners’ or ‘brothers in arms’ and is said frequently by Mr Wu to Al Swearengen on the cult TV series).
The Engineer is the organised one... so, as soon as it was possible, she booked one of the three tables in the new Hang Dai outdoor eating space on their balcony. Shamefully, one table didn’t turn up (despite phoning to say they would). I’d name them if they would let me.
The new menu is a mix of classical Chinese dishes (Ma Po Tofu, applewood fired Roast Skeaghanore Duck) plus fun fusion (cheeseburger spring rolls) and dishes familiar to anyone that has ever ordered a takeaway (Kung Po Chicken).
We began with some chilli fried peanuts and cocktails — cocktails are an absolute must in Hang Dai. Bloody Mary (Hawkers Style — €12) was relatively traditionally flavoured but with pleasing extra edges thanks to the addition of ruby port, lemongrass, blood orange, paprika and Tom Yum (the Thai soup presumably).
The Engineer’s Pandan Colada was a fine Asian twist on a Piña Colada with fragrant pandan leaves and cinnamon. And the Death Proof Chinese Zombie (€15) is a citrus and spice flavoured Asian twist on the Zombie cocktail. The ‘2 per person’ limit on this particular cocktail will give you some idea of its potency.
The wine list is a little short and functional but the Summery 12% Mario Primo Toscana red worked well and I liked that it was served cool (€29). An obligatory bottle of Tsingtao also worked well as did Cockagee Cider (€7.50) — the exceptionally well-made cider from Louth that just goes with everything.
Cheeseburger Spring Rolls (€10) have been a bit of a social media sensation since Hawker opened. And for good reason — what’s not to love about creamy cheesy minced beef encased in spring roll pastry with a Sichuan Ketchup dipping sauce. Pork Dumplings (€10) with sweet soy sauce would satisfy any Chinese granny (a laudable prerequisite for a dish making it onto the Hang Dai menu according to their website). And Salt Cod & Crab Crispy Wontons (€11) were deliciously crispy, salty and moreish.
Kung Po Chicken (€18) might be on every takeaway menu but this spicy intensely flavoured version with extra heat from three kinds of chilli was in a different league. Hot & Spicy Wok Fried Prawns €20 were properly lip-tingling and intensely savoury while Iberico Pork Secreto shoulder (€30) was tender and delicate with a perfect sweet-savoury Char Siu glaze.
No Chinese family meal of course is complete without a big bowl of Green Beans (€8) — here mixed with minced pork, chilli, and numbing sichuan pepper. As my wise son observed: ‘all vegetables should come mixed with meat just like this!’
Despite being created in the same kitchen the Hang Dai and Hawker menus are not interchangeable and so to order the Hawker Deep Fried Bourbon Vanilla Ice Cream with Butterscotch Sauce (€8) we moved to the outdoor space and ordered an extra cocktail and Tsingtao beers. Ice cream encased in sponge cake, deep-fried in batter and slathered with butterscotch sauce is exactly what you want to eat in the sunshine with a cold beer this summer.
Our meal for three cost €207.50: perfectly reasonable given the cocktails and how stuffed we were. This is properly creative, brilliantly cooked, flavourful and focused food — get there.
- 20 Lower Camden Street, Dublin 2.
- Tel: 01-5458888
- Instagram: @hangdaichinese & @hawker_dublin