WHEN LUCKY TORTOISE FIRST POPPED UP IN RANELAGH -
WITH ADDED GOOD NEWS:
THEY'RE BACK AND OPEN FOR LONGER...
Still looking for a permanent place but now have a residency at:
55 Ranelagh Road (Hobart's Café during the day)
Wednesday to Saturday, 5pm to 10pm
Irish Daily Mail
20 May 2017
Two of my favourite places to eat in London are the siblings Smoking Goat off Charing Cross Road and Kiln in Soho, both of which do very authentic oriental dishes, all from scratch and none from the freezer. Kiln is quite theatrical as you sit at a long bar and watch the kitchen team cook over charcoal.
You can imagine my delight then when my London wine expert friend, Zeren Wilson (whose blog Bitten and Written is well worth a visit) told me that a little part of Smoking Goat was going to start operating in Dublin. By this he meant that Thom Lawson, who was front-of-house there was to start a weekly Sunday evening pop-up in The Hill pub in Ranelagh doing dim sum.
Now there’s dim sum and dim sum. Most of these Chinese tapas, as I like to think of them in a confusingly multicultural way, in the sense that we’re talking small dishes for sharing, come frozen. They are then brought back to life in the microwave or the steamer and, to be honest, if they are cheap and right in front of you, there’s nothing wrong with them. I keep some frozen dumplings in my freezer on the basis that it would be foolish not to.
However, dim sum that are made from scratch are utterly and completely different even if they may, purely visually, seem vaguely similar. They are, in fact, from different planets.
The key point about Lucky Tortoise, for that is what this terrific Dublin 6 pop-up is called, is that everything is made from scratch. A secondary but important point is that, while the food is made with the greatest of care, it’s designed to be consumed in a spirit of fun and casually messy eating. Lucky Tortoise can get quite raucous, but that’s the sound of food (and, it has to be said, drink) making people happy.
All the dim sum are €6.50 but you can have all nine of them for €20 per head which has to be one of the best deals in the country just now.
Oh, and you get the three €3 sides thrown in too. Let’s start with them. There was dark, deeply savoury “Lucky rice” and batons of courgette in crisp tempura batter and crackingly good kimchi involving big, crisp slices of cabbage fermented in a zingy chilli bath. I’d go back for this alone, having had some utterly awful versions in allegedly authentic places in town.
And there were three dips: a potently fiery chilli affair which came across as a kind of oriental harissa; a combination of ginger and scallion minced finely together; and an exercise in intense umami in the form of soya sauce with mysteriously lovely additions.
These were all employed with the scallion pancake which provided a delightful vehicle while being very good – in a comfort food sense – in its own right.
Next, in the order in which we ate, came the best prawn siu mai that I’ve ever tasted. These little prawn dumplings will be familiar to anyone who has toyed with dim sum: they are round and open at the top.
As the menu proudly states these were “made from scratch” and you can tell. It’s the delicacy of the texture with no hint of rubberiness and the freshness of the prawn with no touch of fishiness. The chicken version was every bit as good, perhaps even more savoury.
Pork, ginger and scallion pot stickers – gyoza if you prefer – were hand-crafted, impeccable in texture and packed with flavour. Certainly the best I’ve had to date in Dublin.
Char siu bao, those bready buns filled with slow-cooked and earthily spiced pork, were exceptional, the size well judged, the texture lighter than usual, the filling intense.
And there’s more. A remarkably delicate prawn cheung fun, the prawn almost merging with the rice paste wrapper and a big okinomiyaki, a Japanese savoury pancake drizzled with a dark sauce and mayonnaise, Jackson Pollock style.
The bill for this feast – and it was a feast in every sense including the fact that my trencherman companion was full at the finish – came to €68, including two pints each of IPA.