Street food and Shanghai cocktails at Hang Dai's little sibling
What’s the story?
A summer of outdoor dining you say? We may have collectively raised our eyebrows when it was announced that the despite the likelihood of this summer being like almost every other summer, we'd be spending most of it eating and drinking outdoors. We pictured rain in our risotto, wind blowing our wontons down Wicklow Street, but walking around town at the weekend, tables and chairs lining what felt like every street, pavement and car park space, we thought why didn't we do this years ago? Yes the Santorini-style weather helped things, but after the past 15 months we'd take a wonky table on the Maumturk Mountains with a monsoon fast approaching.
Adding nicely to the city centre's holiday feeling and general "we can't believe we're allowed out of the house again" vibes is Hawker, the new street food and cocktail set up outside Hang Dai on Camden Street. They've taken out the window, applied to take over part of the footpath and car parking spaces (the latter still pending), and put together a menu of Asian street food, inspired by markets in China, Hong Kong and Thailand.
Where should we sit?
First things first, there's no reservations - see "typical Irish summer" and "uncovered footpath dining" - so you'll take what you can get. At the moment there's three tables and a few more seats at the window, but if that permission to use the car parking spaces comes through there's going to be more steel-top tables on beer crates and plastic stools for all of us, so come on Dublin City Council. If there's nothing available when you get there you can bum a drink wherever you can find space and they'll call when they have seats for you.
What's the food like?
There are few things we like more than menus that make you want to order one everything, but one of those things is when the prices and numbers of diners and dishes perfectly aligns so that we actually get to say "one of everything please", which is what we did here. It's such good value that you'll easily cover it between three or four, but even if you're a two we recommend it - if there's anything left you can take it home for the next day.
There's an obligatory salty edamame order (got to get those greens), perfect for warding off any building hanger, and the Buddha's delight salad was the only other vegetarian/vegan option when we visited, but you can order off the main menu inside too. Said vegan salad had interest swinging at every taste bud, with vermicelli noodles, veggies, nuts, seeds, herbs, chilli and a tangy sweet soy and black vinegar dressing.
They've been going back and forth between pork dumplings in sweet soy and chilli oil and pork dumpling soup depending on the weather, but they brought us both, and while soup in 20c might not sound ideal, whatever way they're on the menu when you visit order them. The ones in soy and chilli sauce were so good we summoned a second portion, but both were generously filled and flavour-packed.
Cod and crab wontons could have tasted of non-descript fish, but Hang Dai don't roll like that. Both cod and crab were discernible in their shatteringly crispy coats, with a (homemade tasting) sweet chilli sauce for dipping.
Stir-fried noodles with prawn and XO was another one of those dishes it was just hard to stop eating, even though egg noodles aren't our favourite of the noodles. It was smoky and savoury with crunchy vegetables and just the right amount of heat.
Two dishes in particular have been playing on repeat in our brains since we visited. The BBQ beef skewers with satay were perfection on a stick. Beef so tender it was almost falling off the skewer, finished on the barbecue for that smoky char, then lovingly drowned in satay sauce and topped with peanuts, spring onions, sesame seeds and chilli. We're talking last supper territory.
The other is the cheeseburger spring rolls, not a dish we ever thought would grace the pages of ATF. Being the unapologetic food snobs that we are, Maccy Ds is not somewhere we frequent these days, but some kind of kitchen witchcraft here has made these taste EXACTLY like a Big Mac (okay better), with none of the corporate fast food ick factor, or the concern about exactly what part of the cow went into your "100% Irish beef" burger. Even if you're passing Hawker on the way to somewhere else, just grab a portion on the go. You'll thank us.
Dessert of deep-fried ice-cream with butterscotch sauce was the only thing we didn't love, but it was probably a victim of its impressive size. The deep-fried ball of ice-cream was still ice hard in the centre, with the inside of the batter under-cooked, so something had gone amiss with cooking times/temperatures. A smaller (albeit less-Instagrammable) ball might have solved the problem and allowed us to savour that buttery sweet sauce a bit more.
What about the drinks?
Cocktails are the draw here, and something Hang Dai have always done very well. While a lot of takeaway cocktails in Dublin over the last few months have been unforgiveable (lest we forget the Pornstar Martini that tasted like watered-down vodka with cheap orange juice), the ones at Hawker are worth your time and money, and you can even get a Fat Frog to go with your Big Mac for the ultimate in early noughties nostalgia.
Unlike the ones of our youth, this is a step more sophisticated, with vodka, limoncello, kiwi, bergamot, spiced cloudy apple and ginger, and we also loved the Shanghai spritz with gin, rose, pomegranate and prosecco. The wine list has also had a step up in interesting options from the last time we visited - we even spotted a rosé txakoli by the glass.
And the service?
So warm and welcoming, with everyone seeming buzzed to be back serving actual humans instead of answering the phone and packing food into boxes. We'd asked for the food to be paced which they might not have heard as it all came out very quickly, so if you want to enjoy a few dishes before moving onto the next ones, it might be worth ordering in stages, rather than excitedly insisting you need every dish from the get go.
Hawker is exactly what we want to see more of in Dublin right now. Fun, fresh, phenomenal value and reminding us why we love going out to eat so much. We'd like to see the menu play with some more unusual Hong Kong/Singapore street food dishes (like curry fishballs), but this is a kitchen that's doing everything so well that whatever's on the menu we're quietly confident that you'll enjoy it. Our summer of outdoor dining is off to a bright start.
20 Camden Street Lower, Dublin 2 www.instagram.com/hawker_dublin