Aoife Carrigy heads to Dublin's north side to try Bullet, one of two new restaurants just off Capel Street. But does it live up to its promising start?
It all boded so well.
We were returning to Dublin from a glorious week out west, having set ourselves up nicely with a pitch-perfect Ballynahinch Castle breakfast (the buffet features a whole ham of estate-reared gammon and homemade jam-stuffed seeded croissants) and substituted lunch for custard tarts and Fixx coffee from O’Sullivans Country Grocers in Oughterard.
We hit the quays late afternoon with early-dinner appetites at the ready and nailed a parking spot opposite two new all-day restaurants just off Capel Street (both Bullet and Fudo Izakaya next door are open 12 pm to 10 pm). A photoshoot was taking place of Bullet’s lacquered roast ducks and pert dim sum dumplings: it all looked as good as the menu read.
On paper, Bullet should be a sure-fire success. It meets Dublin’s insatiable appetite for hot casual eateries with a tight concept, sound sourcing and Instagrammable interiors. It’s new and just the right side of shiny, with its bold blue frontage and subway tile-themed wallpaper featuring stops from Hong Kong’s underground system. And at €10 for a generous rice bowl with Hong Kong roast meats, it is positioned as a strong cheap-eats choice in an area increasingly full of them.
The name refers to their ‘bullet’ barbecue oven, a torpedo-shaped piece of kit in which the bird hangs down and the heat circulates up for maximum crispy skin action. They’ve flown the oven in from Hong Kong, from where some of their chefs also hail. The menu consists mostly of classic Cantonese roast meats plus handmade dumplings, Chinese soup noodles and a decent choice of sides. Reputable suppliers include MK Butchers for meat, Kish Fish and Wrights of Marino for fish, and Silver Hill Ducks and Cherry Valley Ducks for free-range poultry. The latter is a leading UK producer of Pekin ducks, while the Monaghan-based Silver Hill became one of Irish food’s great successes after the Steele family developed its own signature hybrid breed back in the 1960s.
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Rice bowl and sides
We ordered a broad selection of dishes to share plus a cold, tannic Hong Kong-style milk tea (€3.50) and a glass of humdrum Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (€6).
The food arrives as ready: first up was our rice bowl plus a superb side of Lu ShuiNiu Zhan (€6), which translates as slices of melt-in-the-mouth beef made extra moreish with five spice and chilli. We had opted for the two-meat extra (€2) for the rice bowl, amounting to €12 for a generous bowl of fragrant, beautifully cooked jasmine rice topped with on-the-bone bites of roast duck and soy-roast chicken. They’ll debone it for €1 or supply knife and fork if you’re not up for navigating with chopsticks.
The chicken was very good, its skin dappled dark and its moist flesh full of subtle flavour. The duck had that crispy skin and rich flesh contrast that gets all the right synapses firing, especially when paired with the piquant plum sauce or fiery fried chilli oil that sit on each table. A crunchy side of choy sum greens (€7) had been lightly stir-fried with a restrained seasoning of fresh garlic. So far, so excellent.
Cause for concern
Our dumplings (€7 per portion) arrived in a second wave. Pork and prawn wontons swam in a broth that was fragrant, bright and soothing. Vegetable jiaozi (a pinched gyoza-style dumpling) had been steamed and then pan-fried, and layered with some gentle ginger and sesame flavours. On another plate, the steamed shu mai pork dumplings that our friendly waiter had recommended: little open-top packages of minced pork dressed with a crispy onion garnish.
My intermediary chopstick skills mean I favour a single bite approach, so I had downed the first one before my partner-in-dining halved another with knife and fork to reveal an alarmingly pink centre. Neither of us is a squeamish eater (he’s a chef with a hearty appetite) but not-quite-cooked minced pork can be seriously problematic, given all the exposed surfaces of mince where bacteria – or in pork’s case, the larvae of trichinella spiralis parasitic worms – can survive unless fully cooked.
One waiter accepted our undercooked diagnosis immediately and whipped them away. Another waiter asked us was everything okay but laughed breezily when we explained that we were hoping a hospital visit wasn’t on the cards. The replacement shu mai were still quite pink, although the texture suggested that safe temperatures may have been reached this time. But our confidence in the kitchen had taken a serious blow. On investigation of the wontons, the filling within their gorgeously silky casing was also worryingly pink-centred. Suddenly, appetites turned faint-hearted. When the bill came soon after, it included all the dumplings, despite us only eating the vegetable ones.
It was a real shame that it wasn’t handled better and that our justified nervousness wasn’t met with the concerned apology and reassuring explanation that might have helped restore faith somewhat. Halfway through the meal, I had been excited by this new addition to Dublin’s casual dining scene. By the end, I was unsure if I’d return. If I do, I’ll stick to the roast meats and let others play roulette with those Bullet dumplings.
The bottom line
We spent €55.50 before tip for three types of dumplings, the main course of roast meats with rice, two sides and two drinks.
Bullet Duck & Dumplings
27 Mary Street Little, Dublin 7, tel: 01 872 0099
Author: Aoife Carrigy
Aoife’s first proper work experience (if you don’t count a formative stint as the milkman’s assistant) was a TY placement as a commis chef in The Wishbone in Glasthule, where she caught the restaurant bug. From her teens and through her 20s she worked front-of-house in restaurants around Dublin and beyond, before a freelance gig as restaurant columnist for the Dublin Event Guide and then Totally Dublin turned into a five-year full-time editorial stint in FOOD&WINE Magazine. She has been freelance since 2010 and keeps herself busy co-writing and editing cookbooks as well as writing on food, drinks and travel. Aoife is WSET-trained and is currently researching a Masters on ‘Cultural Representations of the Irish Pub’ at TU Dublin.