The high density of Asian restaurants on Capel St and Parnell St has led to this area firmly establishing itself as Dublin’s Chinatown. My avid reading of the blog Stitch and Bear had left me eager to try the area out and I was particularly drawn to Hilan Chinese and Korean Restaurant. A few post-work drinks later and we were on our way, lured by the description of a spicy pork and squid dish.
We were greeted warmly and seated quickly in the bright and busy restaurant and presented with a menu so huge that it felt like we might be awarded some form of qualification for reading it all. Although lengthy, the menu is light on descriptions and it made it difficult to decide with confidence what we would order.
We had to try the pork and squid and one of the girls opted for sizzling pork and aubergine as it sounded light and healthy but other than that we were stumped. Thankfully our waitress sensed our predicament and volunteered a recommendation of the Spicy Fish complete with a sales pitch suited to Irish sensibilities of "white fish, no bones" which we gratefully fell upon. Along with a shared portion of prawn and avocado norimaki and some chinese beers that completed our order.
The norimaki was shared as a starter and were served with an unusual accompaniement of a spicy mustard mayonnaise. While they were fine, they were not a particularly outstanding example of their kind and I've eaten better elsewhere. More importantly, they were completely unnecessary as the only thing in Hilan as big as the menus are the portion sizes.
When our mains arrived we were each presented with a delightfully kitsch heart-shaped mound of boiled rice. The planned light and healthy option turned out to be neither as the menu had failed to mention the extensive use of both batter and deep fat fryer. It was an unusual dish as sliced aubergine had been wrapped around minced pork before battered and fried. It had a fragrant sauce and was very tasty but definitely a dish to be shared.
The spicy pork and squid was everything that it had promised it to be. Thinly sliced pork alongside soft squid with crunchy vegetables and a rich, vibrant, spicy sauce. It sounds an odd combination and I would never have ordered this just going by it's name on the menu but it really was excellent. It's always great to have all your blog reading time pay off by discovering a tasty dish!
The absolute star of the show though had to be the spicy fish (picture, top) as recommended by the waitress. It was spicy in an entirely different way to the pork and squid. It was very light and fragrant with the soft fish sitting on top of a broth containing lots of fresh crunchy beansprouts and pak choi. My only wish was that I had been hungrier so that I could have eaten more of it.
Everything we ate at Hilan was unusual, surprising and extremely tasty, however, my overwhelming memory of the meal is one of food envy. While we were impressed at our braveness, having ventured outside of the take-away favourites section of the menu, we were surrounded on all sides by people working their Korean BBQ and Hot Pots with skilled proficiency. Then there were the plates of simple fried greens that smelled like some kind of nectar of the gods.
I am certain that tasty treats await those who are brave with their ordering at Hilan. Even, as we happily discovered, for those who only manage to muster a teeny weeny bit of braveness. I need to go back and be extra-brave this time.
|Heart shaped rice - love the kitsch factor|
45 Capel Street
01 874 8677