If you take a right on Parnell Street and walk past Fibbers, you’ll reach the part of town that is starting to look like a mini Capel Street, with food spots that are just as good.
Bowls, perched on the corner of Marlborough St, seats about thirty people at a push in a small self-contained square room where everything is on view.
As we enter, we see a wall of multi-coloured neon post-it notes put there by people giving mini-reviews on the food. The setting is a bit rough and ready, a Hong Kong street-food vibe in the middle of Marlborough Street, and I like it. Wonderfully tacky Chinese lanterns hang from the ceiling with some Ikea side tables and chairs.
The kitchen is on full view but protects its precious ingredients with a clear glass screen. The cooking set up is simple, with two Big Green Egg BBQs roasting meats and vegetables followed by a line of three wok burners, with noodle and rice cookers all on the go. There’s an impressive amount of homemade pickled vegetables in tall Kilner jars stuffed with pickled daikon radishes, mushrooms, assorted kimchi and root vegetables.
The menu is modest but everything on it looks appealing. Standing out is a selection of Dim Sums, varying from pork to prawn & chive to kimchi and pot stickers, but their signature bowls are the main event and there’s an option to build your own. There’s also a short but delicious looking breakfast/brunch menu which looks unbelievable and instantly made me regret not coming in here before now.
We sit at a wall bench opposite the glass screen and ingredients, keen to see everything being made. We order the ‘Har Gau’ Dim Sum Dumplings as well as some steamed Pork & Chive ones and some Kimchi ones as well to start. We’re not taking any chances – dumplings are life. For the mains, I order the Char Sui Pork Neck with Black Garlic Bowl with thin rice noodles, while my dining companion orders the Soy & Shaoxing Chicken Bowl with rice to mix it up. They were out of Miso Roasted Aubergine for our dishes so the staff offered various other options from Hong Kong style fish pattie to braised shiitake mushrooms.
We both opt for the soya bean curd that had been rehydrated in miso after being convinced by one of the staff members that this was the best choice (they then gave me a mini explanation of how the bean curd was made and preserved – knowledge is power). The staff really give a f*ck here. They are passionate about what they are making you and introduce every dish as it comes out. We watched them expertly and gently place our three dumpling options into their bowl and carefully garnish each one before bringing them out. No blind parsley flinging here.
First out are the Pork and Chive Steamed Dumplings. They are incredibly tasty, expertly cooked, and you can taste both the pork and the chives individually. They come with a soy and chilli oil dip which is the perfect accompaniment to these porky parcels of joy.
Next out is the ‘Har Gau’, which is described in the menu as ‘Hong Kong’s most popular Dim Sum’, and I can see why. The inside is packed with meaty prawn and no dodgy fillers like the botoxed cheek of a Kardashian.
The tender, melting rice paper surrounding them is super thin and the perfect vessel for maximum prawn-to-mouth transportation. It comes with a soy seven-chilli peanut oil dip. This was great but the real condiment hero for me was their house-made ‘Hong Kong Street Sauce with Black Garlic’. This stuff is a revelation, a smoky, plumy, garlicky BBQ sauce that shall forever be a part of my life moving forward.
The final member of the dumpling trilogy is the Vegetable Kimchi Rice Dumplings. These are softer in texture to their predecessors, while the homemade kimchi is sharp and tangy and nearly a palate-cleanser from the pork and prawn dumplings. I believe fermented food is the way forward for your gut. Forget about your L-casei immunitas-four-quid-a-shot wanker posh Yops – eat some kimchi once a week and you’ll be grand.
Swiftly out are our two signature bowls – the main event! My Char Sui pulled pork neck with Black Garlic looks great. The pork is soft, delicious and flavoursome, with pieces of bark from the BBQ it’s been expertly cooked over. The steaming noodles are soft and warming and the pickled carrot, Sichuan crushed cucumber and red onion are crisp and tart. The roasted aubergine replacement of fermented soy bean curd works well and, as someone who’s never really been a fan of the stuff, I have to admit I was converted.
The bowls are both really flavoursome on their own but the options of sriracha, soy, chilli, peanut oil and of course the Hong Kong street sauce give you the options to take your bowl in whichever direction taste-wise you deem fit.
My friend’s Soy and Shaoxing Chicken bowl rubbed with Chinese five spice looks immense and we agree to do a taste swap of each other’s bowls (food envy is a terrible thing). The chicken is on the bone and cooked to BBQ perfection. It’s one of those dishes where you feel healthier as you’re eating it. The steamed brown rice is light and the mirin and soy celery carrot pickle is refreshing. It comes with some avocado and a seasoned egg which are both solid additions, and the Hong Kong Ginger and onion sauce and scallions tie it together. It’s a powerful all-rounder and probably slightly superior to my pork dish in hindsight.
We are beyond full at this stage but the ‘Macau Style Egg Tarts’ or Pastéis de nata caught my eye and nose on the way in as they were taken out of the oven. Bowls claim that they make these fresh every half an hour or so, but I witnessed it with my own eyes and their story checks out. They are tall and full with creamy and not too sweet custard that’s beautifully scorched on the top, and served slightly warm. What a time to be alive. Definitely one of the best things I have slow-pushed into my face this year. We got two 3fe coffees to go, which is the most notions thing I think I have written so far.
There’s genuinely a good feel about this place. The staff are passionate, fun and enthusiastic and the food is fresh, phenomenally tasty and prepared with love. All of their producers are Irish (right down to the hens’ eggs) which is something I love. People walk in to this tiny, cosy place happy and leave even happier. We had far more food than we needed to consume plus dessert and coffee, and it came in at just over €30 each including a tip. There’s no reserving tables in advance here – come and eat great food with no bullshit.
I tip my hat to Kwanghi Chan. I’ll be back to Bowls again very soon.
Bowls by Kwanghi Chan
56 MARLBOROUGH STREET, DUBLIN 1, IRELAND, D01X923
MON-THURS 8AM-8PM | FRI -SAT 9AM-9PM
Starters €6- €7.50
Mains €11.45- €13