Hakkahan: The Man From Hakka Comes To The 'Batter
Lisa Cope - 12th October 2021
What’s the story?
Every now and then a new restaurant opens with no website, and no information (like pesky menus and openings hours) on their social media channels, and generally this is when our eagle-eyed readers slide into our DMs looking for the scéal. This is what happened in June when brightly coloured Hakkahan opened on Stoneybatter's main street, and other than a menu in the window potential diners had little to go off, but those brave enough to venture in sight unseen seemed to be leaving very happy.
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Hakkahan means "the man from Hakka" (where owner Ryon Wen is from), but head chef Terry Yang is from the Sichaun province, and they describe the food here as "purely Sichuan". This may be disappointing to anyone who knows their way around Chinese cuisines and who was expecting traditional Hakka dishes like salt-baked chicken or yam abacus - they say it's extremely difficult to find a chef from the region in Ireland.
Yang previously worked at China Sichuan and Mak at D6, and we were immediately impressed by their declaration of wanting to use the best local ingredients in their dishes.
Where should we sit?
Indoor tables are aligned against one wall, but there is more space at the back that presumably could be filled if things get busier. If you're still a bit Covid-cautious the outdoor tables are fine with the umbrellas up (they come down in windy conditions), although it does feel a bit treacherous to have your back to the traffic whipping up and down the road. You certainly wouldn't want to leave your bag at your feet - but that goes for all outdoor dining.
What's the food like?
Menus with too many dishes make us feel confused, indecisive, and like we're missing out on something, so we like Hakkahan's relatively concise menu, with 'house dumplings', 'small chow', mains and sides. Also, they had us at the whole section for dumplings. There's not much provenance information on the menu but they told us that duck is from Silverhill, chicken is free-range from Manor Farm, meats are from FX Buckley, and fresh fish is delivered each morning from Every Day Seafood. Most of their organic vegetables come from The Green Grocer next door, and at these prices, putting this much care into sourcing deserves a bualadh bos.
Of the six dumplings on the menu we tried three, and 100% would eat again. The scallop with yuzu soya sauce gained points for having proper juicy pieces of scallop in there, and lost points for having an ever so slightly slimy texture inside. The wrappers are thick but we didn't mind, it gave them more of a chew, and we liked the uneven, handmade quality of them.
We enjoyed the roast duck with hoisin sauce a lot (a crispy pancake in dumpling form), but our favourites were the beef siu mai, which were crispy and chewy in every bite - we're guessing some deep-frying may have been involved here, and wouldn't change a thing.
From the small chow we're still obsessively thinking about the salt and pepper fresh squid (note the used of the word fresh). Tender squid, a perfectly thin non-greasy batter, crunchy onions, scallions, chillies - it's the version of this dish you wish your local Chinese did, but they don't.
Sourdough prawn toast was another exemplary version of an all too often annihilated dish, with big chunks of prawns, crispy edges and yuzu mayonnaise for dipping.
Pork yuk sung is another dish that's all too often given a bad name by a greasy Chinese, but the one at Hakkahan is a world away, with fresh lettuce cups, fragrant pork and crispy rice noodles underneath. It has a decent amount of heat but nothing that will blow your head off, but we did find ours quite salty.
For a kick in the tastebuds, the Pai Huang Gua (spicy smashed cucumber) will numb your mouth and have you asking for a water refill, but you'll still keep eating it. There's garlic, sesame seeds, chilli oil and a lot of fresh chillies in here, and if you're a spice fiend don't miss this.
For mains we really wanted to try the black pepper short rib of beef, with ginger, garlic, onion, porcini mushrooms and chilies, but they'd run out. Devastating, but also a sign of freshness - if you try it let us know if it tastes as good as it sounds. We'd seen many a post about the Silverhill basil duck with scallions, garlic and chillies, and this is a must-try when you visit. Silverhill is amongst the best duck being reared in the country, and the very generous portion of tender, crispy meat with perfumed Thai basil, crunchy onions and chillis will bring us back to Stoneybatter again.
We also tried the Mala spicy lamb, which had the first notable signs of those lip-numbing Sichuan peppercorns. This was a bit of a table splitter. The flavours were deep and the lamb delicious, but there was a lot of oil and gloop as it sat, which may put some people off. Nice to try, probably wouldn't reorder.
For sides we went with steamed rice and Chinese scallion bread, the latter of which we were so interested to try but was a bit of a disappointment, the pancakes being hard and overly chewy, as if they'd been cooked earlier and reheated. Maybe it was a one off, as we've seen other people praising them online.
They also do fried rice with pork char siu and vegetables, and stir-fried noodles, and sides are free with mains at lunchtime every day, which is incredible value considering how well priced the food is already.
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There's only one dessert - hand-made Nutella rice balls (mochi) with vanilla ice-cream. It does the job and the mochi themselves are very good, but we're perplexed at how many Asian restaurants feel the need to jam Nutella into dessert, unless there's a big cocoa and hazelnut factory in Sichuan province that we're not aware of. We would have much prepared mochi filled with something fruit based and less cloying, but younger diners will probably eat their basil duck quicker knowing this is at the end.
What about the drinks?
It's a constant source of head scratching that the majority of Asian restaurants don't put more effort into their drinks list. Surely it's as important a source of income for them as it is for other restaurants? The offering here is predictably humdrum, with "house white", "house red", "rose" and "prosecco". Hard pass. They have said that they're expanding their wine list shortly and bringing a few more suppliers on board, so we hope there will be something to entice us next time.
And the service?
Friendly if a little restrained. The outside tables definitely had to do a bit more waving to get a menu/order food and drinks/ask for the bill, but that was most probably down to there being only one server for the whole restaurant.
And the damage?
Lunch for three (with no drinks) came to the bargain price of €60, but two sides were free because of the lunch deal. They don't do takeaway because the chef wants his food to be eaten fresh (respect), but they will give you containers for any leftovers.
Hakkahan is not in the same bracket as your local Chinese, it's a serious cut above. The food is fresh, the provenance is admirable, and you'll feel more invigorated than inactive after eating it. Bring a gang, over order, eat all the food, leave feeling great about life.