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'Real authentic': The restaurants turning Capel Street into Dublin's most exciting food quarter

The street is known for its array of Asian restaurants. So is it ready to outdo the unofficial Chinatown around the corner?

OVER THE LAST few years, Capel Street has emerged as arguably the most exciting food quarter in the capital. The street is home to a diverse selection of restaurants serving food from across the globe.

In particular, the area has become known for its wide array of Asian restaurants. While nearby Parnell Street may be regarded as Dublin’s unofficial Chinatown, Capel Street is quietly serving up Korean, Filipino, Malaysian, Japanese, and Hong Kong food, to name but a few. Just think of it as a smorgasbord of cuisines.

With that in mind, we spoke to the people behind three of the street’s most popular restaurants to find out a little more.

Kopitiam

Back in 1986, Alvin Ong attempted to introduce Malaysian food to Ireland. Having arrived five years previously to study in Dublin, Ong wanted to bring a slice of his homeland to his adopted city. And so, he opened a restaurant on Camden Street.

However, it quickly became apparent that Irish palates were neither sophisticated nor adventurous enough for Malaysian food.

“At that time, I think it was too early to adapt to the cuisine,” he says in retrospect.

He went on to work in other restaurants in Mayo, Kerry and Dublin. (His brother continues to run Tamarind, a popular Asian restaurant in Tralee.)

Three decades on from that first venture on Camden Street, Ong felt that it was time to give it another go and opened Kopitiam, a Malaysian restaurant. The restaurant is named for traditional coffee shops found in Malaysia and prides itself for being authentic.

“This one is real authentic Malaysian,” he says. “Any Malaysian coming would say it’s real Malaysian food.”

He describes Malaysian food as a cross between Chinese and Thai food, and notes that many ingredients commonly used in Malaysian food weren’t available in Ireland up until very recently.

Since opening, Ong has garnered glowing reviews in The Irish Times and The Sunday Times. He says that Irish people are increasingly familiar with Malaysian cuisine and willing to give it a try, but notes that most of his customers are still Malaysian.

“I’m trying to get more Irish than Malaysian,” he laughs.

So what would he recommend for someone who hasn’t tried Malaysian food before?

“Rendang,” he responds. “A slow cooked beef in coconut and curry and lemongrass for maybe three hours. That’s one of the favourites.”

“Another favourite is the national dish. It’s called nasi lemak. It’s served with coconut rice, rendang chicken, anchovies, peanuts and rendang sauce. In Malaysia, we can eat this morning, afternoon, twenty-four hours. That’s the national dish.”

Mr Dinh

Once upon a time, Mr. Dinh was a Vietnamese restaurant known as Hanoi Hanoi. Last year, it reopened under new management and it’s now a pan-Asian restaurant of sorts with a particular focus on Hong Kong cuisine.

“There’s Malaysian food, Thai food, Japanese food,” says Martin Vu, restaurant manager. “But the main one is Hong Kong food.”

Vu originally hails from Vietnam and has been in Ireland for three years, but his staff are mostly from Hong Kong and China. He has been involved in the restaurant since the beginning.

The main menu is vast and includes everything from hearty hot pots to delicious dim sum. If you’re looking for no-frills, honest-to-goodness Asian food, look no further. In particular, Vu recommends the roast duck.

This is half a duck. Ordered with the side of your choice. But this is how it’s presented . No frills No fuss. They did ask if we would like it deboned ! And I remembered our trip to Hong Kong where the meat of the goose and crab we ordered was skilfully removed from the bones by our waiter. The bones whipped away with just themeat on the plate. My heart broke! My bones! I love the bones!! All the best meat is stuck to it! 🤪 Anyhow we politely declined and took it as it was and that SKIN, was as crispy and crunchy as a freshly fried spring roll wrapper! And we literally ate it just like that! The rice I didn’t bother with! The duck was the star of the show, hands down! Do try this if you get a chance it’s only €14! . . #food#foodie#foodstagram#eat#foodoftheday#foodieideas#foodiegram#foodlover#foodpics#dublin#dublinfood#dublinfoodie#instafood#instafoodie#instagood#ireland#eat#omnomnom#delicious#tasty#yummy#yum#asianfood#chinesefood#chinese#duck#crispyduck#skin#dinner

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Vu estimates that seventy per cent of the restaurant’s customers are from the city’s Asian community, but says that Irish people are beginning to get hip to it. “They really, really love the dim sum,” he says.

As a restaurant manager, how does he rate the food in his neighbouring restaurants?

“I think it’s better food on Capel Street than on Chinatown on Parnell Street,” he says.

There you go.

Musashi

Sushi for dinner #다내꺼 #마이쪙 #ireland #dublin #musashi

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Musashi is the type of restaurant that’s spoken about in hushed tones. If you want good sushi in Dublin, it’s widely regarded as the place to go – though you may struggle to get a seat.

The sushi and noodle bar opened its Capel Street premises in 2012 and has gone from strength to strength since. In fact, it has proven so popular that it now operates five different branches across the city.

Jay Chen is the manager of Musashi. Originally from China, he explains that the company is run by a Chinese couple. The head chef, meanwhile, previously worked in Aya, a long-running sushi restaurant that closed during the height of the recession.

Since opening, Musashi has proven popular among Dubliners who welcome its casual vibe and healthy offering. (The BYOB policy doesn’t hurt either.)

Chen says that it’s also extremely popular among office workers at lunchtime.”We get great support from our local neighbours,” he says. “People who are tired of sandwiches or chicken rolls.”

In recent years, more and more Japanese restaurants have opened in the city. Think Zakura on Camden Street or Eatokyo on the Quays. In an increasingly clogged landscape, what keeps Musashi going?

“I think it’s the quality of the food and the service that keep Musashi still busy,” he posits. “Also, TripAdvisor. We get a lot of tourists here just for Musashi. People traveling from different parts of Ireland. If they’re in Dublin they’ll come here as well probably because they’ve seen a review online.”

Chen concedes that they’re also blessed by the location and says that Capel Street is now a hub of sorts for those craving Asian food.

If you ask anyone about where to go, they’d probably say, ‘Asian food? Capel Street.’ Not only for the decent price, but also for the quality of food and service. It’s well worth the money.

His own personal recommendation? The new and improved ramen soup.

The best of the rest…

Brothers Dosirak

Packed as usual Thank you!!

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Hidden at the back of the Asian supermarket is Brothers Dosirak, a Korean eatery that has rapidly become the stuff of legend. While it may look modest at first glance, this restaurant is doling out some of the most authentic Korean food in the city. Next time you’re stopping through, try their signature bibimbap. You won’t regret it.

Makati Avenue

Tastes like home.

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Named for one of the main thoroughfares in Manila, Makati Avenue is a Filipino restaurant. It serves up genuine pinoy fare and buffet-style meals. Take it as a ringing endorsement that it’s popular among the Filipino community. Sample the halo-halo, the traditional Filipino dessert.

Arisu

Established by a Korean couple in 2010, Arisu is oft cited as one of the best Korean restaurants in the city. If you’re partial to Korean barbecue, this place is a must-visit. They also have an extensive sushi menu as well as other traditional Korean food. Wash it all down with a bottle of Hite and you’ll forget you’re even in Dublin. *chef’s kiss*

About the author:

Amy O'Connor

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