IT IS difficult to avoid alarming news from the USA these days and while I’m fairly sure I would never want to live there, I am a little envious of one particular US citizen.
Restaurant reviewing is already an enviable job but for what it is worth the person with the job that I envy most is Jonathan Gold who reviews restaurants for the Los Angeles Times.
I suspect most people would rather the gig at the New York Times but I’m not so sure. Everyone slags off Los Angeles with its sprawling disconnected neighbourhoods, Scientology, pet séances, and general craziness but the mix of food cultures in LA cannot be beaten.
In New York the ethnic restaurants cook mainly for New Yorkers while in Los Angeles whole communities seem to congregate in specific areas and they aim their food at their neighbours. Gold has tracked the migration patterns of Los Angeles better than any sociologist and written of the joys of finding a clutch of Persian Jewish restaurants just a few blocks from a Salvadorian area filled with Pupuserias (serving stuffed corn bread pupusa), both of which are not far from Little Ethiopia, Little Armenia and Little Tokyo.
There is a Chinatown, a Filipinotown and a Thai Town not to mention three million Mexicans representing every region from Oaxaca to the Yucatan, from Baja to Jalisco. Taco Trucks park beside Nicaraguan Tamale stands in front of Korean Barbecue joints and delis serving noodles and Nems.
Koreatown in LA has more than 900 restaurants, Dublin has about five Korean restaurants and most offer Chinese or a mix of other Asian food. I have gotten to know a number of young Koreans in recent years (we rent rooms to English language students) and their restaurant of choice is generally Hailan on Dame Street.
Hailan bills itself as a Korean-Japanese-Sushi restaurant as I suspect sushi is a much easier sell than Kimchi. The head chef is Korean I was told but there is also a Chinese chef.
Authenticity is considered important in an ethnic restaurant but to be honest I don’t much care about the nationality of the chef if the dishes are well executed. Having said that we eschewed the ramen and sushi and went for less specialised dishes from the three cuisines available.
We had to order Bibimbap of course as this mixed rice dish is the equivalent of your mammy’s stew in Korea. Various vegetables are cooked (eg, carrot, beansprout, cucumber) along with meat and placed on top of warm rice with either a fried egg or a raw egg. A good dollop of sweet spicy gochujang chilli sauce is added and the whole lot is mixed together. Seafood, eel, and vegetable versions were available but we stuck with traditional beef which was solid and comforting and given pleasing pungency by the chilli sauce.
Korean Fried Pork with onions and red pepper paste arrived sizzling on a platter and was probably the best dish we ordered — sweet umami rich pork and onions with sinus-clearing but perfectly bearable spice flavours and an extra kick of sweet chilli on the finish.
Japanese Tonkatsu is the Japenese version of Wiener Schnitzel and dates from the 19th century when Japan first opened up to the west. The crispy breaded pork was tender and sweet and I didn’t even mind that it was served with ketchup rather than the usual tonkatsu sauce or mustard (ketchup is also considered exotic in Japan).
We asked for our selection of Chinese Dumplings to be fried rather than steamed and these too were excellent and great value with a dozen for a tenner.
From a small but serviceable list we ordered a decent off-dry Gewurztraminer from Dom de la Vielle Forge (€32) which worked well — I like richer wines like this with spicy Asian flavours.
Dessert isn’t an option in Hailan thankfully as we could barely eat half the food we ordered, with the remainder coming home in neat little boxes.
I freely admit I haven’t been to Korea, China or Japan but I have eaten and cooked with citizens from each of these nations a number of times so I’m happy to warmly recommend Hailan.
So Dublin doesn’t have a couple of thousand Asian restaurants like they do in LA but Hailan will do very well for now.
HaiLan Korean, 65 Dame Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2; Tel: 01-7645722
Lunch for two including four large dishes to share, extra rice and a bottle of Alsace wine (€32) came to €76
How to: Open daily from noon – 11pm
In a sentence: An excellent and good value Korean/ Asian restaurant serving tasty and reasonably authentic food at great prices.
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