An outstanding Chinese takeaway with restaurant-quality food

Takeaway Review: Skillfully cooked food with loads of flavour from a car park pop-up

As we gear up for restaurants reopening, the scramble for staff is on. Chefs, kitchen porters, waiters and sommeliers, the pool of skilled workers has shrunk. Many have returned to their homes in mainland Europe, others have redeployed.

It seems that every sommelier in town is now working for the wonderful Neighbourhood Wine – which recently opened its second bottle shop in Dun Laoghaire – so it will be interesting to see how it all shakes out.

Wine sales in independent stores has been one of the lockdown winners, with people trading up; and Whelehan Wines, owned by David Whelehan, is one of the best independents in the country.

Before our world was turned upside down, there was a cracking restaurant there, and I have fond memories of dining on the sunny terrace three years ago, with wine legend Steven Spurrier and a handful of wine journalists after he had hosted a very memorable Judgement of Paris tasting. It is poignant, because Spurrier, a true gentleman, died in March this year.

The terrace has now been transformed by Kevin Hui of China Sichuan into what must be among the best pop-ups in the country. Hui had the foresight to keep on as many of his staff as possible, doing takeaways, meal kits, and sauces. In this impressive set-up, where everything is cooked to order, he has two chefs on woks, a commis chef, and a team of three to four people packing food and serving customers.

The food from this concise menu may come in compostable cardboard boxes, but it is a true taste of China Sichuan. Spicy “Man & Wife” beef slices, €9.50, is a stalwart. Adapted for Irish palates, it is beef fillet rather than the customary offal; but this dish, which is served cold, is all about the terracotta sauce, which is generously pasted across the meat. Nuanced and layered with a kick of heat from the ground roasted Sichuan pepper, there’s a bit of texture from the paste of ginger, garlic and sesame seeds.

Wasabi prawns, €9.50, come on a bed of mixed leaves which are not just a colourful after-thought, they’re a proper mix with real flavour. The prawns have been battered and deep fried until they’re crunchy. We get them steaming hot, the juices pouring out, and they are quite magical when met with a rasp of heat from the wasabi mayo.

For main course, tofu and green beans, €13.50, get the gan bian treatment, a Sichuan dry-frying technique. The beans are blistered, and the strips of tofu, which have been pressed before being dry-fried have a firm texture, soaking up the savoury, smoky flavours of oyster mushrooms and chopped Sichuan radish. It comes with steamed rice, as do all the main course dishes.

Our other main is prawns with hot ginger and garlic, €15, a bit repetitive you might think, but I fancy the way they are cooked, in Yu Xiang sauce. Fuchsia Dunlop explains in her book, Shark’s Fin & Sichuan Pepper, that this is the classic “fish-fragrant flavour” from the region, based on the seasonings used in traditional fish cookery, so it’s salty, sweet, sour and spicy, with the flavours of garlic, ginger, spring onion and black vinegar, built around the core seasoning of pickled red chillies.

For dessert, a Millionaire's Twix shortbread, €6.50, might sound simple, but it's an accomplished piece of pastry work by Karen Smith, who used to work in the Lady Helen in Mount Juliet. It is rich caramel, praline and chocolate on a very buttery shortbread base.

This is skillfully cooked food with loads of flavour. Hui and his team are well geared up for a return to indoor dining, but in the meantime, they’ll be at Whelehan Wines on Saturdays, which is most definitely worth a visit. And so too is the wine shop. Do grab a nice bottle of wine when you’re there.

Lunch for two was €54.

Where does it come from: China Sichuan at Whelehan Wines, Bray Road, Loughlinstown, Co Dublin, D18 VK37
Difficulty factor: No work, ready to eat
Food provenance: Irish and Chinese, including Asia Market, Kish Fish, Boylans Frozen Foods, Moy Valley Meats, Doyle's Veg Prep
Vegetarian options: Some vegetarian options
Delivery: Not available, from pop-up and China Sichuan
The verdict: 8.5/10 Very accomplished Sichuan food

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