PLENTY OF STYLE AT FUN HANG DAI,
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE SUBSTANCE?
20 Lower Camden Street
Phone: 01 545 8888
Irish Daily Mail
17 February 2017
I don’t know why it has taken me so long to review Hang Dai, which opened just over a year ago. For a long time it seemed impossible to get a table there – not always a sign of great food, more of being the focus for fashionistas. And it’s still not easy, especially around the weekend.
Anyway, I eventually got there, with my daughter, early on a Friday evening. To cut to the chase, we had a most enjoyable evening despite having heard, from a number of Chinese friends, that this Chinese-themed ultra-cool establishment was more style than substance.
It certainly has style, of a kind. There’s a long cocktail bar with a brilliant, enthusiastic barwoman who reminded me that we need to see more women employing their superior sense of taste in the pursuit of mixology. She produced a classic gimlet from scratch, even though it’s not featured on the list. That’s style.
So is the main seating area which is designed to look vaguely like a subway carriage if you had taken certain illegal substances. That’s fun.
Others may tell you differently, but the key thing about Hang Dai is their Skeaghanore duck, those free-range, delicious ones from West Cork that deserve to be better known. You have to order your duck, or half duck when booking. Our half cost €40 and we wondered if it would live up to the price tag.
Seeing the ducks cooking above a wood fire, glistening with delicious duck fat, was almost an aperitif in itself. We ordered a few other dishes – almost too many, but not quite – as a prelude.
I’ll admit that I ordered prawn toasts because I thought they might be as greasy and unpleasant as the average version of this Chinese nod to Western tastes. I’m happy to say that I was utterly wrong. Crisp bread was topped with a thick, deep layer of seasoned prawn flesh and it wasn’t in the least greasy. Kitsch, yes, but who cares? It was lovely.
And then came pork dumplings which tasted intensely of pork, which such things rarely do. They are usually bought in frozen and they fill a gap. I keep some in my own freezer. But these were different: the exterior delicate and silky, the interior properly piggy, the soya-enriched liquid element intensely savoury and clinging just enough.
Hang Dai uses the fashionable menu shorthand that has some dishes reading like a telegram (does anyone remember those?) and we were not entirely sure what to expect from “Tofu Beansprouts Sesame Spicey Fish” (sic) but I’m happy to report that it was certainly spicy rather than otherwise. Two cylinders of silky tofu, encased in sesame seeds came on top of spicy wilted beansprouts and were topped with some trout eggs. It was good.
We stopped questioning the wisdom of dropping €40 for half a duck when we saw that this was a game of three parts. First there was a little duck broth, dark as treacle, fabulously concentrated, intensely savoury. Then came the chopped up leg – the tough bit that had got more cooking and become flawlessly tender – which, according to the menu is drenched in Cantonese-style soya sauce and duck juices.
Lovely as it was, I think a soft pedal on the soya sauce might help the flavour of the slow-cooked duck be heard.
And then the Beijing style duck, its skin crisp and almost varnished, the flesh pink, sliced thinly and served with the usual pancakes, scallion and hoisin – but with a difference. This was not the usual plum hoisin, but a cherry version. And the difference was apparent.
At this stage, we conceded defeat.
With two cocktails and a large bottle of Tsingtao beer, the bill for this feast – and it really was a feast – came to €100.
So, Hang Dai has a lot of style, plenty of substance and the prices are not silly. Sure, if you’re seeking authentic Chinese cooking, this may not be right for you. But if you like Chinese flavours and want to be well fed on a fun night out, Hang Dai is great.