As I write it is approaching five in the afternoon and beyond my pool of shade the temperature is still hovering around thirty degrees. The tail end of the legendary scirocco is breathing heavily through the gravid olive groves and carrying with it the perfume of citrus and wild thyme (satra in the local parlance). It feels like I’m the only individual awake on the island. I’m a Sicilian omega man. This vignette bears no relevance whatever to my review. I’m not attempting to induce envy amongst my dozens of readers – by the time you read this I will be back where I belong in miserable, dank Dublin. I intend this merely to illustrate the depth of my dedication. Even in the midst of such bucolic repose, I will find the time to file my copy.
The Lucky Tortoise guys had been popping up for a while on Sundays in The Hill pub and reports were generally good. They were good but generally issuing from individuals whose opinions I have little respect for. The kind of people who use the term ‘eatery’ to describe a restaurant. When the enterprise moved down the street for a residency in Hobart’s I decided that it was time to stick my oar in…
Now a pop-up is not a restaurant (or a f***ing eatery for that matter), it’s not about the room or the stemware or the music or even the service. It’s about the food, just as it was when a couple of friends of mine popped up with their thrilling Saltlick concept some time back. In fact those same fellows joined me (along with the current editor of this publication) a decade ago for one of the first such seat-of-the-pants dining experiences in Dublin, the fabled Whitefriar Suppers. Hello Giles. So I joined Andy and Mike at an oyster thing downtown and we drank some champagne before joining my current wife (another Whitefriar vet) and tramming it to Ranelagh.
As I said, pop-ups are not about the room and this is a good thing because Hobart’s is not a good one. It is joyless in a number of ways. Thankfully that void is filled by the exuberant moxie of the food. Good dumplings are encapsulations of joy and the short menu here of modern dim sum features a couple of beauts as it pings between China, Japan and Korea. Twenty bucks per head buys you the entire list with all of the sides and dipping sauces and it represents something of a bargain. We go all-in and begin with miso soup. Not a true miso but closer to a chicken and pork ramen base. It is nevertheless delicious and a winning opener. The dishes begin to fly off the pass now and we are ready. The Char Siu Bao, a cantonese dim-sum staple are powerfully porcine but perhaps a little too claggy. Pork Siu Mei are better but the Pork and Chive Dumplings and Prawn Dumplings are as good as any I’ve had beneath Houston St in New York’s Chinatown. Okonomiyaki (lit ‘how you want it) is an excellent example of the Japanese savoury pancake. It comes slathered with Kewpie mayonnaise, which is very much how I want it. The Kimchi has become a bone of contention – a good friend of mine contends that it is bought-in – I don’t believe so. We won’t fall out over it, it’s killer. Bring some friends and pick up too many Kirins or Asahis in Redmond’s, it’s a great way to drop a score. I’d wish Tom and John the very best of luck but they seem to be making their own.
Words: Conor Stevens
Photo: Killian Broderick