Páng: Fast food, but not as we know it
Review: It’s Vietnamese food put through a western shrink wash, and it’ll have you craving more
- 6-11 Kevin Street Lower, Dublin 8
- (01) 563 8702
- Thai/South-East Asian
The paper on these rice rolls feels more like skin than paper. It melds to fingers with a needy tug. Could we throw one at the window and watch it sucker down like a crawler toy or narrate the view like Allison Janney’s starfish from Finding Nemo? It’s just a passing thought thrown out there by my brother. The window is too gleamingly clean in Páng on Dublin’s Kevin Street and these rice paper rolls are too delicious to be throwing them anywhere other than into our mouths.
You can tell on first look that the owner of this small place has skin in the franchise game. It’s a fully-formed startup, gleaming turquoise tiles and pink lettering, squeaky clean as toothpaste packaging with a fast food menu of rice rolls, Vietnamese baguettes or bánh mì and two kinds of pho. As my colleague Marie Claire Digby explained recently, Páng is the brainchild of serial restaurateur Barry Wallace and “former chef turned entrepreneur Colm O’Brien”. Wallace co-founded Hook in London and a fish and chip shop chain in Belgium, along with a burrito bar and bao burger restaurant in Brussels.
Nothing about that back story makes me think I’ll like Páng. Another slick concept sighs my jaded inner snark in her gloomy all-is-lost tone. But I’m wrong about that. There’s no denying it’s fast food. The menu seems aimed at people who can only drag their eyeballs away from their phones for the briefest of seconds. But it smells like a place where real food is being cooked. There’s a brothy warm fug with a gingery green edge to it.
We take our lunch to the small window counter and settle on the comfortable stools to eat.The packaging seems a bit much. Do I really need a plastic container to transport my rice rolls seven feet from counter to counter? Later I read that their plastic is compostible and (like all virtuous things these days) made from plants so that’s better, but still the nice wicker baskets could do the job just fine. Likewise I have to look hard to find out that the chicken is free range. These are two important credentials I would like to see front and centre on the menu.
Final kick of flavour
The mood improves on first bite of a rice roll. My Peking duck has been rolled with a sprinkling of pale sesame seeds, hair fine glass noodles, fresh coriander and greens with strips of daikon. Dipping its nose into a mud-coloured soy garlic sauce adds the final kick of flavour to a rolled-up salad where every ingredient brings something to the party.
Gavan’s satay chicken has the same mix of meat, with black sesame seeds and the satay in the form of a sauce which is tangier than this peanut heavy sauce can be. A side of edamame beans could do with a bit more sea salt but otherwise hits the spot. Squeezing these slippery babies out of their slightly furry pods is one of the tactile pleasures of eating.
The bánh mì rolls may have “taken the world by storm”, according to the menu, but eat like pretty mild versions of the classic. The pickles could be more sour and the mayonnaise could definitely be more fiery but they’re better than most sandwiches, especially with the toasted crushed peanuts sprinkled along the outside and the freshness of every single element.
As I write the rain is battering the blossoms off the cherry trees so I pedal to Páng for their pho. They use charred ginger as the base for their chicken stock and Thai basil with star anise which is pretty much Lemsip in food form.
“Hope it warms you up,” the guy says as I head out the door. It does, although I’d prefer threadier bits of brown meat than the regulation chunks of breast in this soup. There’s an art to pho which I began to learn from my sister in law recently. I tried to replicate her chicken broth with lime which shored us up for a long flight home, ended up putting the lime in too soon and turning everything bitter. Layering flavours and knowing the precise time to drop each element into the pot isn’t easy to get right. Páng might be Vietnamese food put through a western shrink wash but if that’s what it takes to get us craving this kind of healthy food fix, then I’m all for it.
Lunch for two with a kombucha came to €25.
Music As cheery as the decor
Food provenance Manor Farm free range chicken, Silverhill Duck and Claire (sic) Island organic smoked salmon according to the website
Vegetarian options Good
Wheelchair access Yes but no wheelchair-height table