Gastro: Double Take – Yang Guo Fu & Boss Stop

Posted June 16, 2023 in Food & Drink Features


So it’s finally summer in Dublin even if the merciless blast of the gelid east wind means you’ll be seeing a lot of fake-tanned gooseflesh. Rather than nice days we often have nice looking days on this side of the island. This is fugazi fair weather. It resembles the real thing but is not quite that. As Beckett reputedly responded to a genial comment of ‘nice day’ –  ‘well I wouldn’t go that far’.

As I traipsed northwards across town in the blinding May light it also occurred to me that maybe sunshine just doesn’t suit certain parts of our city, the high-definition providing a little too much detail. The rare-aul-times realness of some of Dublin 1’s side streets don’t do well in 4k resolution. Indeed in the drabber months whole swathes of the North inner city seem to broadcast exclusively in black and white, possibly explaining why I sometimes get a poor reception over there. I’m travelling North in the service of a conversation about the East, and more specifically China. I’m not here to discuss the ineluctable decline of the American hegemon or Ursula von der Leyen’s policy of de-risking trade on the grounds of ethical incompatibility, important as those things are. I’m here to talk about the soft (often texturally challenging) power of China’s most pervasive cultural export – Chinese food – and whether we as Dubliners can hope to resist its aggressive territorial expansion beyond Parnell Street’s agreed boundaries.

Yang Guo Fu (Ma La Tang) is a Chinese chain of self-service hotpot restaurants that has become something of a phenomenon, with over six thousand outlets, mostly in the homeland but also in Singapore, Australia and North America. A half dozen have opened as you read that last sentence. When one materialised a few months back with suspiciously little fanfare on Marlborough Street it went straight on my shortlist. Except – it transpires that this Yang Guo Fu has absolutely no affiliation whatsoever with the other Yang Guo Fus. It appears that some enterprising chaps have opened a fugazi franchise. Same name, same USP, but not the ‘real thing’.

The location makes more sense when you factor in the operator’s need for a kind of inconspicuous consumption. This situation is not without irony given China’s historically cavalier regard for western copyright law, registered trademarks and intellectual property generally. It would seem that this lack of respect for  brand integrity has come home to roost – unchecked appetite has begat Chinese-on-Chinese idea cannibalism and I love it. Behold a meta-concept for an age of appropriation – a DIY-DIY restaurant.

Nevertheless an ersatz Yang Guo Fu is better that none at all and ours works just like the legit ones. One side of the restaurant is lined with serried ranks of stainless steel containers filled with raw ingredients. You take your graduated plastic basin and go for your life. It’s a game of buffet roulette and the only option is to go all in. You’ll be charged by weight (the basin’s, not yours) so keep that in mind. The permutations are virtually infinite – a certain degree of self possession is key. I began by flinging in a trowelful of prawns before moving on to udon noodles, Chinese spinach, pak choi, eleven different mushroom varieties,  fried tofu cakes and some frozen tubes of pork meat. I could have opted for tripes, intestines, varied balls, swim bladders, crab sticks, gowels, chitlins, you name it. Basin laden, you bring it to the nice lady behind the counter, she weighs it, you pays it and they cooks it. Mine clocked in at €16 while that of my more restrained wife (lamb tubes, extra spicy) came to €13.

The Ma La in the name betrays the Sichuanese origins of the actual franchise so choose your heat level carefully. The broth used in the cooking (the Tang) has a profound depth of beef flavour, perfumed with star anise, clove and those Sichuan peppercorns. Add some sesame paste. The result was two excellent bowls of soup, filling, fresh-tasting and sustaining. We also had a salad of seaweed and kimchi which I found off-puttingly sweet. You could have some bubble tea if you like. It is my fervent hope that somebody else rips off this rip off, setting off an unstoppable cosmic replication effect. If the Chinese whispers model holds true, centuries from now the Yang Guo Fu concept will be scarcely recognisable.

Da Qin opened on Georges Street around the same time and occupies the space vacated by the short-lived Toonsbridge Deli. Upon arrival we discover that the place is now called Boss Stop, ‘because it’s less confusing’. There is a bus stop nearby. In contrast to the previous place it’s a handsome room, high-ceilinged and hung with bistro pendant lighting. There’s exposed brickwork and a slightly half-assed pantry section up front. The food arrives via dumb waiter and I’m not entirely sure why this pleases me quite as much as it does. I feel the same way about Murphy beds. They both feel like prop-devices from Neil Simon screen plays, you never quite know what’s going to emerge from either. It’s an anticipation thing. The food that emerges from the Boss Stop food elevator is divided into five areas on the menu viz – Dumplings, Noodles, Bento Boxes, Rice Bowls and Korean style soups. Almost all Asian food bases covered.

Those house-made pork and chive dumplings are stellar, the crimped wrappers are delicate and tender, the filling moist and flavourful. I’ll be back for more. Beef Soup Noodles features a limpid short rib broth that improves with every slurp. It’s a recognisably Taiwanese preparation. All components of the Chicken Bento are better than they need to be, the tempura in particular. You’ll also find Siu Mei – Cantonese-style roasted and sliced meats over rice, referred to here as Char Siu. The duck and pork here are both good, if not quite rising to the heights of those once served at the late lamented CN Duck. To be clear there really is no such thing as bad Sui Mei, just degrees of savoury, fat-slicked goodness.

I was going to make a coital comparison there but caught myself at the last moment. My casual inquiry regarding the ownership of the venture yields a vague response that I interpret as – there are two owners, one of whom owns Bobo’s (or goes by that name) and another who owns an unnamed restaurant on Parnell Street. Do with that what you will. I’m a critic, not a shamus. Enjoy the fine (looking) weather while it lasts.

Words: Conor Stevens 

Photos: Killian Broderick

Yang Guo Fu 
27 Marlborough St, Dublin 1

Boss Stop
24 South Great Georges St, Dublin 2




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