Double Take – Biang Biang and Sister 7


Posted 2 months ago in Restaurant Reviews

Cirillo’s

Solid reasons exist for visiting Smithfield. Living or working there probably occupy the top spots. The horse-trading is now of a different sort. My reasons (quite predictably) revolve around consumption – of moving pictures at the Lighthouse, fried hake at Fish Shop and white negronis at Fidelity. We all poured one out for the passing of Dice Bar (on the Queen St edge of the neighbourhood) when it shuttered but a sober assessment would probably concede that the current incarnation is an upgrade. The drinks are better and the music frequently is too. Most things are less sticky. Fidelity’s only failing is that it can’t make us twenty years younger, return us to the Dice versions of ourselves. That’s what you were grieving for. Still, while time continues to take from us, late-stage capitalism just keeps on giving – in this casetwo new openings on either side of Smithfield and two more reasons to visit the storied locale.

I first ate hand pulled noodles about seven or eight years ago (and many times since) at a place called Very Fresh Noodles in New York’s Chelsea Market. The sight of the chefs stretching and slapping belt-width lengths of dough, wingspan-wide is quite the thing. My then wife and I would put our heads together over a bowl, sweating and slurping to the finish. Those were high times. Now you too can witness the double-dutch of the elastic skipping ropes at new spot Biang Biang on little Mary St. From the people behind Nan Chinese and Little Dumpling, this is a compact space, sparsely and attractively designed and tightly focused on the street foods of Xi’an City, one-time gateway to the Silk-Road in north-western China.

You are coming here for noodles and dumplings but you’ll also find Roujiamo. Often described as ‘Chinese hamburgers’ (as they are here) they are a staple throughout Shaanxi province. The Mo (bread) is cooked in a pan on the stovetop rather than baked and then split and stuffed with slow-braised pulled pork or beef. These ones are perfectly good, if a little under seasoned. There’s always a mealiness to the protein that I don’t care for. There are much better things to eat here.

Liang Pi ‘Cold Skin Noodles’ are better than they sound. The bowl is fresh with the fragrance of cucumber, the ochre liquor gently tart with soft vinegar and deeply savoury with sesame. Pretty great on a dank Spring evening, this would be better still for lunch on a hot Summer’s day. If we were to have one. The eponymous Biang Biang noodles (with diced pork for us) don’t have the ferocious heat or overpowering cumin of the ones I referenced earlier but they are toothsome and expertly made. Make use of the condiments provided and this is a comforting and nourishing experience. For our Irish palates it’s an oddly mammyish one too with diced potato and carrot underpinning the dish. We also enjoyed some great Chicken Dumplings with gossamer-thin wrappers.

Top-drawer suppliers are highlighted on the menu and our charming Malaysian server Max couldn’t have been more attentive or enthusiastic. Really great service at this or any level. Their Instagram bio describes a ‘fine casual restaurant’ and that sells it short. I look forward to being a regular.

Where Biang Biang chooses to colour within the borders of regionality, it’s all about where it’s from – Sister 7 clearly wants to be where it’s at. So Fidelity has expanded into what was the next-door Bargaintown and created an instant scene. Studio is a handsome space with the bar up front opening into a high-ceilinged room slatted with curving wooden ‘gills’. It’s dark and sexy and feels a little like inhabiting a giant Toby Hatchett speaker. It’s a party in a soundsystem and food is invited. Just as next door, Studio is a collaboration between The Big Romance (another audiophile bar) and the Whiplash brewing people that now hosts Sister 7 which is a sort of sibling to Aungier Street’s Big Fan, a place where young folks go to shout between bites of Bao. Got it? You don’t really need the brand architecture to enjoy this place, it’s pretty much plug and play.

Where you fall on the DJ in the dining room debate will depend largely upon your age. If like me, you can remember where you were when David Hasselhoff brought the Berlin Wall down then you could probably do without one. I think it greatly depends on what they’re playing, what volume they’re playing it at, and whether they are dancing while doing it. I prefer my DJs to be almost entirely motionless at all times but doubly so in a restaurant. In fact it’s probably better to think of this as a place to get food with your drinks rather than anything as fusty as a restaurant. Either way, there’s a DJ and I’ll never type the word clubstaurant again.

Over one of those white negronis and a Lillet spritz we tick the boxes (literally) on a menu that includes some of Big Fan’s all-time bangers along with some new cuts. Iberico Char Siu Puffs feature delicate crumbling pastry and seem precision-engineered to enjoy with a beer, a Whiplash Dawn Chorus in this case. The signature Sister 7 Bao showcases the laudable policy of using the numerous by-products from the brewery partners in the cooking with beer-braised short-rib and barley crumb lifted with an Ume (plum) and Rhubarb relish. This sort of wit and invention carries over into a plate of House Cured Sturgeon with pickled daikon and a lively kumquat dressing that finishes with a whisper of MaLa from Sichuan pepper. A knockout dish.

We preferred the Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings) with Andarl Pork to their thicker-skinned Crayfish counterparts but both were perfectly executed. You can probably skip the Sweetheart cured egg. Maybe just pay the eight bucks for someone to spoon the Oscietra Caviar into yer yap instead. Service on the night was mostly from Big Fan partner Rob so was informed and relaxed. Good for him for working the floor. The energy is infectious and the intention undeniable. It may not be a great restaurant, or a ‘restaurant’ at all but it sure is a good time.

When the Fruit and Vegetable market re-opens in 2177 we will surely have many more reasons to venture into Smithfield although we may have evolved beyond the need to ingest solids by that point. Measurable progress appears to have been replaced by increasingly vainglorious pronouncements from one or other of our city fathers that it will be better than other things. Thus far those things have included Cork’s English Market, contraception, Caravaggio, Buddhism, and episode seven of The Bear’s second season. I guess time will tell. Plenty of time.

Words: Conor Stevens

Images: Killian Broderick

Sister 7

79 Queen St, Dublin 7

 

Biang Biang

21 Little Mary St, Dublin 7

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