Can we still call it Chinatown? There has been an ongoing petition to put up a Chinese gate on Parnell Street as you would see in London, Chicago, or San Francisco, but that has yet to happen. Maybe Capel Street objected because they can make an equally strong claim – personally I would kick out both places as a thank you to the community and as a magnet for tourists and citizens.
I was born culchie but I will always live in a city. I need the diversity, the buzz, and above all I need the mixture of food cultures. The Chinese, Korean, Brazilian, Eastern European and Nigerian communities are not receiving enough praise or thanks for revitalizing and effectively saving Dublin city center.
Streets such as Dorset St, Moore St, Parnell St and Capel St were once dark and dead after 6pm, but now they come alive every night with restaurants, bubble tea bars, supermarkets, wigs and nail salons.
Lee’s Charming Noodle Houses opened in 2005, making it one of the oldest restaurants on Parnell Street. with a healthy mix of Chinese and Western diners.
I had visited nearby Lao and Gushi on Capel St with thoughts on a review, but the best of the three is easily Lee’s. That said, sometimes try Gushi’s crispy and tangy Korean chicken wings, and in Laos, I enjoyed their knives, beef and chili stir-fry, and the fried crispy sea bass that was dipped in a sweet and sour sauce more sweet.
What sets Lee’s apart to me is their in-house philosophy with handmade noodles, spring rolls and dumplings. Most Asian restaurants buy gyoza and dumplings from Asian supermarkets and although they still taste great, you can’t beat a fresh steamed dumpling.
The staff went out of their way to help us choose but in the end we went with some old favorites and some of my friend Mei Chin’s favorite. Mei is one of the talented women behind the Spicebag podcast and knows Asian restaurants in Dublin better than anyone – my visit to Lee was her recommendation (she also likes Ka-Shing on Wicklow St which I reviewed here in 2019).
Besides the (excellent) tea and bottles of Asahi beer, the salt and chilli squid (€ 6.80) came first. The squid cubes were in a slightly crispy batter and mixed with salt and chilled chill: they were tender, creamy, sweet and delicious – a perfect start. Homemade dumplings with pork and Chinese cabbage (€ 5.50) cost just 55 pence each and were so good I would gladly pay triple. Meaty and subtle in a silky smooth wrap, they brightened up a lot when dipped in the chili, garlic, and soy dip. Our special Chinese plate (€ 13.50) was more conventional, but comfort was at its best: crispy won-tons and spring rolls (homemade), meat-rich barbecued pork ribs and crispy sesame and shrimp .
Lanzhou Hand-Drawn Noodles (€ 9.20) are named after the city of Lanzhou in northwest China, famous for its beefy noodle bowls. The broth was generally clear, light, and fresh tasting, the noodles al-dente and a bit warped (proof of hand pull), and the veg and beef slices added extra texture while a dollop of chili oil added weight.
Pro tip: Always order eggplants at a Chinese restaurant. Lee’s Szechuan-style eggplants in a clay pot (€ 10.80) were incredibly good – fried and cooked in a rich sauce filled with ginger and chili.
Braised Japanese tofu (€ 10.80) was equally good in a more Cantonese sauce filled with umami and subtle spices – the 1cm thick discs of Japanese tofu with silky eggs also added a textural contrast nice to the other dishes we tried.
Finally, an apology. I have been extremely sloppy in my homework, dear readers, the aptly named, extremely pleasant, Lee’s Charming Noodles shouldn’t have waited that long for a review.
Dinner for three including three starters, three hearty courses, four beers and a jar of loose green tea costs € 78.10
- Food: 9/10
- Drinks: 7/10
- Service: 9/10
- Atmosphere: 8/10
- Value: 9.5 / 10
Quality, freshly prepared traditional Chinese cuisine in the heart of Dublin’s “Chinatown” with charming staff and a lively atmosphere.