I see that the ‘adult’ shop down the street from Jolin’s has pivoted and has now rebranded as a Thai ‘massage’ joint. So they’re in the same racket but coming at it from a different angle I guess. Nevertheless other such ‘shops’ persist in the city, which leads me to question, why in this internet age of porno ubiquity, do we need them? What need do they service that is beyond the remit of the Jizzhuts or Spankbanks of this digital world? Could it be that they cater for deviances so unsavoury as to require the human touch? Could it be squid-porn? Perhaps they are merely sanctuaries in which like-minded onanists hang out to swap friction-related horror stories?
These and other questions occupy me as I sit down in this amiable and light-filled room. I choose not to share them with my dinner guests. The purpose of Jolin’s Vietnamese Coffee House however is easier to divine. It’s here to make you feel happy and replete and also to provide you with coffee, Vietnamese style. Formerly Harold’s Café, it is situated on an unlovely stretch of upper Clanbrassil St just opposite MVP. This is the kind of place you’d be very pleased to have within walking distance of your place. You would be inclined to rouse yourself from the television torpor rather than order in of a Wednesday.
My feed-partner and I are joined by the lovely Clara and her charming husband on this particular week night. As a native San Franciscan, a city with a noted South-East asian community, she’s something of a connoisseur of the cuisine. Dublin has never been spoiled with Vietnamese food options and this continues to be the case. I recall being rendered turgid by the flavours at a place called Viet Hoa on the Kingsland Rd in East London some twelve years ago and feeling aggrieved that we had nothing like it back home. I’m generally aggrieved about something.
Jolin herself is a real pistol, animated, engaging and endlessly helpful. She’s a one-man-band in the open kitchen, playing all of the hits from her Saigon repertoire and we are eating it up. We order pretty much everything from a concise menu and the dishes arrive as they are cooked. Spring rolls may or may not be bought in but they are better than passable. Summer rolls, their transparent wrappers displaying beansprouts, carrot and cabbage, are better still.
We dredge them through the house peanut and chilli sauces. A mixed tempura of vegetables and prawns displays a deft hand with the fryer. You can’t lip-sync tempura, it has to be sung live. Perhaps the best reason to come here though is the Pho, the noodle soup that has become the de-facto national dish. Lighter and more fragrant than Ramen, its Japanese cousin, Jolin’s are good examples of the Saigon style. Both Pho Ga (chicken) and Pho Bo (beef) are based on solid stocks and feature flat rice noodles. Both are deeply flavourful and are served, as is the custom, with dishes of chilli, beansprouts, lime and basil on the side, to customise as you wish. Ho Chi Minh noodles are dry (style) and redolent of cumin and gentle spicing.
The tab, with a couple of rounds of Tigers was barely north of €80. Do as we did and repair across the street for some good bourbon (Baker’s) as a digestif.
Words : Conor Stevens
Photo: Killian Broderick
Jolin’s Vietnamese Coffee House, 43 Upper Clanbrassil St