Lucky Tortoise
Hobart’s Café
55 Ranelagh Village
Dublin 6

Irish Daily Mail
7 April 2018

It’s almost a year since I wrote here about a weekly pop-up in a Ranelagh pub, the dim sum experience that was Lucky Tortoise version #1. Anyone who can recall what I said at the time will know that I was pretty excited about it.

This was the creation of Thom Lawson who used to be at one of London’s coolest, most informal places to eat, Smoking Goat which has just moved from Denman Street off Charing Cross Road all the way to hipster heaven in Shoreditch.

But Thom is still in Dublin where he confirms my suspicion that it’s a lot more difficult and more expensive to open a restaurant here. I think we should occasionally pause and give thanks that we have so many people who are prepared to give Dublin great restaurants when it would be so much easier to up sticks and open for the 9 million people who live in London.

Anyway, I’m back in Lucky Tortoise because it’s no longer quite a pop-up but an evening fixture in Hobart’s Café in the heart of Ranelagh village, Wednesday to Saturday. They are still seeking a proper permanent home, the food is better than ever and the value is exceptional.

My menu cost €20. If you want wine or beer, you need to bring your own. I got the last bottle of the stunning O’Leary Walker Polish Hill River Riesling 2010 in the wonderful Redmonds of Ranelagh. At €21.95 it cost less than house wine in most restaurants and there’s no corkage.

Don’t go to Lucky Tortoise if you’re default idea of a restaurant is Patrick Guilbaud’s or even Roly’s. What you will get here are dim sum, with some riffs on the theme, served with a minimum of ceremony and with a soundtrack that will make some of us feel their age.

My €20 menu started with a bowl of “Lucky Miso”, a fabulously savoury broth pumping out umami, consumed, as advised, by drinking it. At the bottom of this body-and-soul-warming bowl were some cubes of silky tofu.

The scallion pancake that followed will probably divide opinion. It’s crisp, highly seasoned and quite oily. This didn’t bother me, as it tasted almost buttery but I can imagine some sensitive souls baulking a little.

Okonomiyaki is another Japanese idea, essentially a savoury omelette featuring Savoy cabbage, and a lattice of squeezed Japanese mayonnaise and a savoury (Lea & Perrins?) sauce criss-crossing the surface. I had to stop myself from finishing as I knew I’d struggle with my appetite thereafter.

Everything here is made from scratch and if you need proof, consider what came next, the siu mai dumplings which are (a) much, much better than the frozen ones we seem to get in most other places and (b) used as a medium for varying flavours. On the night, one was pork and cabbage (classic combination), and the other Thai green chicken curry (bizarre but lovely). This is another thing to love about Lucky Tortoise: great respect for proper cooking allied to a sense of fun and adventure.

A crisp half-moon dumpling came with a punchy chicken stuffing (which I dipped in scallion and ginger relish) while a steamed one, silkily textured, contained pork and chive.

A triangular parcel of pork, deep-fried and puffed to ethereal lightness, was flavoured with the old-fashioned curry on which some of us grew up and was a delightfully nostalgic few mouthfuls. Arun Kapil of Green Saffron Spices would have conniptions, but I loved it.

And then, the best came last. I love the fact that Thom Lawson has a mind that can conceive of a pot-sticker dumpling (which is something that the Chinese have, essentially, taken from the Japanese), filled with smoky, savoury, salty, slightly sweet pancetta. Oh my goodness, this multicultural exercise was brilliant!

Okay, I’ll admit that I didn’t stick religiously to this €20 menu. I also had the savoury fried rice (best in Dublin, I reckon), some kimchi (good, if not great, but nicely cumin-scented) and cucumbers cured in soya sauce with sesame oil. Each of these added €3.50 and, frankly, amounted to too much for me. In the best sense.