It’s hard to believe that just a generation ago it would have been inconceivable that Dublin would one day be home to an authentic Sichuan restaurant. Such is the explosion in the quality and variety of the Dublin food scene in recent years that we now almost take it for granted to have access to top-notch international cuisine that brings faraway flavours to our rainy, windswept isle.
In terms of Sichuan (or Szechuan as it’s sometimes spelled) cuisine in Dublin, one name has rapidly risen to the top of the pile – Hakkahan restaurant in Stoneybatter. As far removed from your local Chinese restaurant as you can get, Hakkahan serve up some mean spices and fantastic flavours straight from the heart of Sichuan province in China. The man behind it all is Ryon Wen, a member of the Hakka people of China, who lend their name to the restaurant. Head chef Terry Yang hails from the Sichuan province of China and is the driving force behind the restaurant’s authentic Sichuan flavours.
Sichuan cuisine is dominated by the use of the ubiquitous Sichuan pepper, a spicy hot pepper that has one rather unusual quality aside from its fragrant, citrusy flavour – it’s slight numbing effect. Shortly after eating the pepper, a tingling, numbing sensation spreads over the palate, which has the added result of transforming other flavours that are tasted alongside the pepper. As well as the Sichuan pepper, hot pot style dishes with rich, spicy broths and the world famous Kung Pao chicken also feature heavily in Sichuan cuisine.
Not content with presenting authentic Sichuan flavours, Hakkahan don’t mess around either when it comes to to the quality of their food – they make their dumplings from scratch and proudly reference their sources on their menu.
We visited Hakkahan in early July 2023 to a warm welcome. The Stoneybatter restaurant is small but cosy, with no fuss furniture and kooky art pop decorations on the walls. The menu is helpfully split into two sections, one catering more towards the Irish palate with restrained levels of spiciness, and another that unleashes the full fiery heat of the Sichuan pepper.
First of all, from the short drinks menu, we skipped over the selection of beers and wines in favour of a cocktail, namely the TikTok famous popping bubble tea cocktails. We went for the Screwdriver bubble tea, a delicious and fun mix of passion fruit, strawberry boba toppings, and vodka with a green tea base. There is also a strawberry daiquiri bubble tea cocktail. An ice cold fruity cocktail proved to be just the thing to counteract the spices that followed!
Our server was more than happy to guide us through the food menu, and helpfully guided us to dishes that suited our varying levels of spice tolerance. Any dishes that specifically reference Sichuan peppers are very hot, so choose accordingly if you have a stereotypical Irish palate.
Sourdough Prawn Toast
Our party of four ordered a selection of starters and mains to share from both sides of the menu. To start we sampled the prawn har gau dumplings, which were mouthwatering morsels of prawn, watercress, and apple sauce. The extra effort the Hakkahan chefs go to in making their dumplings from scratch more than pays off as the dumplings simply melt in your mouth.
We also tried the sesame prawn sourdough toast. This came with a miso paste-based sauce, which wasn’t too sharp but provided a lovely tangy contrast to the sweetness of the prawns. If you’ve tried prawn toast before and weren’t a fan, you need to get this dish at Hakkahan to try the real deal. We rounded out our starters with the Chinese scallion bread, which was warm, filling, and delicious.
The Main Event
Clockwise from top left; beef fillet, squid, sea bass, and kung pao chicken
For the mains, we chose the kung pao chicken from the front menu with the less spicy dishes, and the squid, beef fillet, and sea bass from the back menu. The kung pao chicken had a mild heat with lovely garlic and ginger flavours. We had asked the serve for the milder version of this dish as it does contain Sichuan peppers. Make sure to ask your server if you want to try milder versions of each dish as the chefs are happy to accommodate.
The sea bass (Suan Cai Yu on the menu) was a delicate and flavoursome bowl of broth with vegetables, glass noodles, and chunks of perfectly cooked sea bass. While this dish was spicy and a touch numbing due to the presence of the Sichuan peppers, the heat was far from overwhelming. The squid was a sizzling blend of tangy flavour and slightly crunchy texture. We rounded out our mains with the beef fillet (Shuan Jiao Niu Liu on the menu) which was made with fresh chilies instead of Sichuan peppers and was mild, juicy, and extremely moreish. Our table shared two sides of boiled and fried rice. We loved the fried rice which featured delicious chunks of pork char siu – it felt like a main dish of its own.
Three starters, four mains, two sides and a cocktail landed us with a €114 bill – very reasonable for the quality of the dishes and the evident expertise of the chefs. Hakkahan is simply a must-visit for trying real, flavourful Sichuan food in Dublin.
Location: 32 Stoneybatter, Dublin 7