I visited the Sichuan region of China a few years ago and was blown away by the food. What we typically get here in Ireland is a second-rate, Westernised version of the true cuisine of China, of which there are many regional variations. In Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan region, a resilient palate is required of adventurous diners as heat, in the form of garlic, chillies and the infamous Sichuan peppercorn, imbues almost everything that’s good to eat there. In addition to the heat, you’ll also find flavours of clove, cinnamon and star anise, in abundance.
Good Sichuan food is even harder to find here in Dublin, but the most authentic I’ve found on my Asian culinary travels through Dublin 1 is at M&L on Dublin’s historic Cathedral Street, just around the corner from the Pro-Cathedral. We arrived for a ‘big Chinese lunch’ recently, having been away from this particular restaurant for a while and were thrilled to find it just the same as we’d left it. In fact, there is still an Irish Times review by yours truly, pasted in the window, circa 2008. I wish I could say my hairline was just as I’d left it too.
The dining room was filled with Chinese punters tap-tapping chopsticks and chatting with family and friends – always a good sign to find ex-pats in an ethnic restaurant. Service can be patchy but is, generally, genial and accommodating, particularly if you’re inclined to go a little off-piste with the menu.
To start (you can order all the food at once, or get it in courses, European-style. I recommend getting it all at once and then ramping up the sociability factor by letting everyone tuck into different dishes and sharing alike) we had squid, deep-fried in egg yolk and a half dozen steamed pork dumplings. Both were excellent.
The main event was a portion of M&L’s (addictive) French beans in garlic and roasted chilli peppers; eight steamed razor clams with vermicelli noodles and a thick oyster sauce; and a meaty, deep-fried sea bass in a China-red chilli sauce, served on the bone. We also had a bowl or rice to counter those big, brash flavours. Nothing disappointed. A couple of bottles of TsingTao (the Chinese Budweiser) took some of the heat out of the chillies too. Of course, and as per usual, we had ordered way too much, although a nice doggie bag is always a happy take-home.
Note: M&L is not in any way luxurious. You are there for the food rather than the decor … The bill came to €57.20. Ps, another fearless eater tells me M&L’s “cumin beef dish is … amaaaazing” – another great take-home for next time methinks.
Visit M&L at Cathedral Street, Dublin 1, or click visit their website here mlchineserestaurant.com.