Fish Hot Pot in Parnell Street
A city centre restaurant offers fish, beef, tripe and vegetables for diners to cook in broth
The steamy windows of the Fish Hot Pot shop on Parnell Street in Dublin 1 are a clue to what is going on inside. It’s a cheerful-looking Chinese restaurant in Dublin’s most authentic Asian eating street.
Fish Hot Pot has a small blackboard on the footpath with Chinese characters and €15.99 per person written underneath. Inside there’s a fug of warmth like a hot damp towel. It’s typical of these small restaurants, simple and cheaply furnished. One wall is covered with bare-rock-effect wallpaper.
Say Hot Pot and I think of the lamb stew house speciality of barmaid Betty Turpin in Coronation Street. The last time my friend ate here the tables had burners in the middle with controls on the sides to adjust the heat. She got a pan of broth and a plate of raw meat to cook in the broth, sliced so thinly it was virtually a carpaccio.
Since then there’s been a name change and the cooking tables are gone. Now they bring a flat, briefcase-sized camping stove to the table if you order the hot pot. Two of us do. Our party of three includes a vegetarian with a possible shellfish allergy, so her choices are a little more limited.
The fish hot pot is the €15.99 per person dish advertised outside, but there are other Chinese dishes, including dim sum, wontons and wok-fried meals. There are three versions of the hot pot, our friendly waitress explains. The first is the “hot and spicy” version (in this neck of the woods this reads: lava-spewing flamethrower). Next is the Yu Xian or medium spicy and finally there’s a cabbage fish hot pot which is not spicy at all.
At the front of the restaurant there’s a dipping sauce table where you can put together your own formula. Juliana gets two bowls of soy, vinegar, garlic, chilli and spring onion sauce for the dim sum. The €6.80 basket of steamed dumplings is plenty for three to share and they’re delicious, the pork not too sausage-y and the salt, heat and tang of the dipping sauce a great foil to the dense glutenous mouthfuls.
Our vegetarian fares okay with a large plate of beans, fried and sprinkled with chillies and garlic. But her second dish is not good, cubes of soapy-tasting tofu in a brown sauce that would test the commitment of the most battle-hardened vegetarian.
On a better note there are several stages to the hot pot experience. Both the cabbage and the Yu Xian versions have a half fish (seabass I’m guessing) sliced tail to face and fried in a light batter before being put in the roasting tray of hot broth. My Yu Xian has a liberal sprinkling of lethal-looking dried chillies, including a bell-shaped one that bobs around with all the innocence of an unexploded grenade. When I start fishing some out, the waitress arrives with a slotted spoon to help.
The first stage is the fish, slippery to eat with chopsticks, but excellent. The second stage is the meat: two plates of sliced beef which arrive slightly frozen but defrost as the meal goes on. Held with chopsticks in the bubbling broth, the meat takes under a minute to turn from flat and pink to brown and curly. Another dipping sauce with peanuts, coriander and spring onion adds flavour to the beef.
The final stage is a fresh buffet with ingredients ranging from Chinese greens to potatoes, seaweed and raw eggs that you can cook in your broth. The seaweed, pak choi and mushrooms are all good. The tripe (picture grey strips of draught excluder), not so much. It’s not nasty but it’s not really nice either. We experiment with a raw egg, cracked into the cabbage broth for a quick poaching. It’s messy but good.
We’ve had two tasty Tsing Tao beers and Chinese tea in glasses. And by the end of the meal we have the strange sensation of having more food on the table than when we started. The true all-you-can eat diner would probably slurp the delicious remnants of the broth. We are not in that league. As the table burners are turned off the restaurant gets chilly. A dessert from the freezer isn’t appealing, so we call it a night.
You could come here and choose the lamb with the cabbage broth, add some spuds and take a stab at Betty’s hot pot. Hardcore ethnic or comfortingly familiar; the choice is yours. Dinner for three with two beers came to €64.08.
Fish Hot Pot, 139 Parnell St, Dublin 1, tel: 01-877 9666
The verdict: 6.5/10. A cheap and interesting Chinese experience
Music: Loud Chinese pop
Facilities: Basic and unisex
Food provenance: None
Wheelchair access: Yes
Vegetarian options: Limited