Cross-cultural tastes at Dublin's first Uyghur restaurant
11 Jul 2023
What should we know about Afanti?
The latest arrival on Dublin’s rapidly diversifying food scene, Afanti brings with it Ireland’s first taste of Ugyhur cuisine. The Turkic group of some 13 million people, the vast majority now situated in north-western China’s Xinjiang province, is a living embodiment of the Silk Road’s culinary cross-pollination, with a blend of Middle and Far Eastern flavours and styles.
Uyghur sisters Eleanor and Halnur Halmurat wanted to share some of their culture’s best-loved dishes with Dublin, and the menu reflects the fascinating Turkish/Chinese fusion style to be found there.
Where should we sit?
The Parnell Square East building, formerly home to Lily’s Café, looks small from the outside but opens up impressively on entry with a high-ceilinged open space dominated by an ornate oriental chandelier.
Further to the back there’s a more intimate area decorated with a handmade wall-hung carpet and a mural of the restaurant’s namesake mascot. Head here if you’re planning to make a night of it; out front is ideal for a quick bite on the go.
What’s on the menu?
We started with the naan, which is less light and airy than the more familiar Indian iterations. Its dense and doughy texture is softened by dipping it in a salted milk tea, the bread’s natural sweetness offset by the salted richness of the drink - it's thankfully better to taste than it is to look at. It’s an odd and intriguing combination of flavours, a good shared start to a meal that feels equal parts familiar and unique.
The samsa - a distant spin-off from the samosa - is an Uyghur street food specialty, and one item on offer we suggest you don't pass up. Its crisp, hot crust-style pastry is a flaky, fatty shell for beef steamed to a delicate juiciness inside. The subtle sweetness of sliced onions rounds out a very satisfying mouthful of food. These come in ones, but you will be wanting more.
The manti that came next make for an interesting contrast, and a valuable lesson in Uyghur cuisine’s hard-to-pin-down diversity. Stuffed with the same filling as the samsa, there’s more of a touch of Korean mandu to these steamed dumplings. The result is a succulent, moist meat filling with a thinner, drier, more low-key wrapping flavour. It’s a question of taste, but the samsa’s more ours.
Kawap skewers play it straight and simple - chunks of lamb barbecued after a dry spice rub. The light kick of chili is a perfect accompaniment to the meat’s charred surface, though some of the cuts proved a little too lean to offer enough of the rendered fattiness we love in a skewer.
One of the things we were most intruiged to try was the spicy bean jelly, a cold dish of mung bean “noodles” - the texture of silken tofu - swimming in a flavour-filled chili oil broth. It’s a fun game for friends to see who can make the least mess trying to eat these with chopsticks - the jelly is so delicately soft it’s as likely to be sliced open as scooped up. The base broth has a real depth that plays off the blandly squidgy noodles, but overall we found this one more curious than compelling.
Staff were very happy to help with the Sophie’s choice that is picking between the bigger plates, and while we’d have loved to try the sharing chicken stew (we’d watched wide-eyed as the enormous bowl was brought to another table as we came in), the word was both noodles and pilaf needed to be tried if we were here for the most essential flavours. And weren’t we glad we listened.
The hand-pulled udon-esque noodles, made fresh every morning by the Halmurat sisters’ mother, are one of the highlights here, chunky and chewy and perfectly shaped to soak up sauces. They came with leghmen, a kind of Cantonese-style stir fry that’s an Uyghur favourite. Afanti’s uses beef rather than the more common lamb. Paired with bell peppers and the deep umami intensity of black fungus, it works a treat.
Ample carrots brought a surprising sweetness to the pilaf, but it worked against the gaminess of lamb, a leg so tender it practically peeled off the bone on sight. This is a heavy plate of food in its own right, never mind on top of what came before, and if you’re not full-on famished coming in, this alone will see you satisfied.
We finished with a baklava that steered clear of the cloying sweetness you still get in many around town. This is a more subdued, almost savoury affair of pressed, coarsely chopped hazelnuts with a light spice flavour from cinnamon syrup. It’s a light finale - needed after all that.
What are the drinks like?
We were too caught up with the milk tea to try any of their others, but they come in ornate little pots and with a real air of ritual about them. A shared one over a baklava would make for a particularly nice cap to a meal. In terms of alcoholic options it’s just a simple beer on tap offering with Tiger and Asahi.
How was the service?
Considerate and quick - all of the food came in very short order after we’d asked for it, and all together. If you’re looking to space things out, be sure to coordinate upfront. Staff were happy to chat through the menu and keen to sell it too, but once everything was delivered, they very much left us to it.
And the damage?
All of that (which would happily feed three or more) and two Asahis came to a very reasonable €90.68. From the €2 baklava to substantial mains circa €15, you're definitely getting value for money in here. You could happily stuff yourself and stay on the right side of a €20pp spend.
What’s the verdict on Afanti?
Those culinary thrill-seekers always out to try something new should add Afanti to their check list, a rare arrival on the Dublin scene that can legitimately claim to be niche and novel. Not all of the dishes here are great, but all are worth trying for a cross-cultural cooking experience most won’t have had before. Whether popping in for a quick few samsas at lunch or indulging in a cheap feast on those divine hand-pulled noodles, there’s lots to discover here.
3a Cavendish Row, Dublin 1