Medium-sized sushi bar with a metal conveyor belt, configured to allow the people assembling the uncooked fish dishes to perform their joyless task behind closed doors without any annoying customer contact, and to avoid any possibility that customers might observe said preparation process. Aya has the interesting distinction of serving both the best conveyor-belt sushi in Dublin and the worst sushi in the world. The selection is extraordinarily limited, being confined almost entirely to salmon sushi, much of which has been on the conveyor belt long enough to have become dry and hard at the edges. The avocado-and-eel roll I ordered consisted of two isolated slices. Each slice had a microscopic sliver of avocado and a wedge of eel with the cross section of a small nail. The roll had been incorrectly rolled, in the way that makes everyone laugh at a sushi making party when someone tries it for the first time. The rice was like hard little bullets, although to be fair that could have been due to the sushi sitting around for a few hours. As to decor, the uncomfortable white plastic chairs were smeared with dry brown filth, as if they had not been seriously wiped down in years. Aya charged a friend of mine €11 for two large diet cokes. If one were to contract an obscure disease from eating at Aya it would most likely be Yukosushi's Syndrome. If you're looking to pay an awful lot for awful sushi while being mocked by the awfully rude staff then your quest is at an end. (1/5)
Update 10-July-2005. In response to my review I received an aggrieved letter from Aya, acknowledging ongoing problems with the food on the conveyor belt and offering to refund my dinner. (pdf, djvu)
Links: Sushi Infogate on Aya
The staircase up is narrow and smelly and filthy, but once you're upstairs there are a couple rooms full of people crowded around tables chattering away in Chinese and sharing table-fulls of completely authentic and inexpensive dishes. If you're not an expert in Chinese food, don't be afraid to explore. The jellyfish is good. The cold cucumber and pig's ear is exquisite. There is also a full range of less "challenging" dishes, but I recommend mixing the familiar with the unfamiliar. Your waiter or waitress might have an accent but will be very happy to help you put together a good combination of dishes. The speciality is Northern Chinese food, meaning in this case really non-coastal Northern, which is heavy in lamb and garlic. This is the part of the menu they do best. (4/5)
Update Summer 2006. Northern China Palace is closed. Not sure if this is permanent. The venue is being remodelled. Rumours of health department involvement for technical violations have been heard. There are, however, similar restaurants on the ground level of nearby buildings, albeit not quite as good. Try the stir fried squid with cumin seeds.
Recently our undercover correspondent had a chance to sample nearly a week's output of the Dublin St James Hospital kitchen. (This is Ireland's largest medical facility, providing a full suite of modern medical equipment and procedures.) As any physician will tell you, a healthy diet is important to one's physical well being. Such a diet is generally grounded on fresh fruit and vegetables, with the so-called Mediterranean diet, rich in olive oil and vinegar and nuts and vegetables like fresh basil and tomatoes, and low on meat, having proven health benefits. Apparently this information has not reached the St James Hospital kitchen, which serves porridge and tea without fruit or any side dishes (aside from white bread) for breakfast; mystery meat with two starch side dishes (mashed potatoes along with either boiled parsnips or deep-fried starchy mush), tea, and a sickly sweet dessert for the mid-day meal; and bread with jam and tea and possibly a lunch meat salad in the late afternoon. Bon Apetit! (2/5)
Excellent Thai food. Properly spiced. A bit pricy, but not outrageous. Casual-to-fancy but intimate decor, with tables closely packed. My only complaints are minor: tea is in tiny little individual metal pots that cool quickly and require strenuous handwaving to get refilled with hot water, and the soups are in tiny bowls while I'm accustomed to larger bowls. (4.5/5)
Update 18-Sep-2006. Prices have gone up. Way up. Spiciness has gone down. Way down. Despite my mentioning that we wanted ours spicy. They changed the tea pots to something less chichi and more conventional, which holds more water and retains heat longer. Summary: downgrade. (3.5/5)
Good microbrew beer: the oyster beer is excellent, and the wheat beer is also very good. Cozy comfortable decor. Surprisingly, unlike 98% of the places in town, even those that specialise in pizza, they actually make good pizza here! Coooked at the right temperature, with a bit of black on the bottom, thin, real garlic when you ask for garlic, the pizza margherita actually has some green like it should. Proper thin-crust pizza. (4.5/5)
Note: be sure to ask for the "Chinese" menu. Serves dim sum daily 12:30 to 03:00, with a surcharge for dim sum after 17:30. No carts. Has a standard selection of dim sum, with an emphasis on things that have longer shelf lives, ie no stuffed tofu. Nothing creative, but everything is done well. The chilli paste is a speciality of the house, not just a condiment but practically a meal in itself. Summary: good dim sum, the best in Dublin. The non-dim-sum parts of the "Chinese menu" are also good. The perfect place for a midnight snack. (4/5)
Update Jul 2006. Food seems about the same, but service has degraded. I have seen waiters try to rush people through meals, suggest (at non-busy times) that customers order more than they want to meet some made-up minimum appropriate charge, or push inappropriately massive amounts of high-margin sides like rice. This has been ubiquitous enough that I would guess it to be a matter of house policy rather than initiative by individual waiters. The venue has also become significantly less kid friendly during weekend dim sum lunch hours, which is unfortunate as dim sum is a naturally kid friendly cuisine.
Reasonably good food at a reasonable price. Nothing inspired: standard run-of-the-mill fare, like store-bought linguini with salmon in cream sauce, prepared the way a bachelor cooking for a few friends from a cooking-is-easy cookbook might manage. In a city in the USA like Pittsburgh or Albuquerque this would be considered an okay mid-scale restaurant. For some reason, people in Dublin rave about it. (3/5)
Indian take away and delivery only; no table service. Excellent food and very reasonable prices. The kitchen is on view with the stove right up against a plate-glass window, so you can stand on the sidewalk and watch them cook. There are rows of spices, and you can see how a professional actually uses them in cooking. All dishes I've tried have been very good, with an appropriate amount of spiciness. My favourite is the Brinjal Bahar (aubergine; €6.7 as a main course.) Rice is included with all mains for which it is appropriate, and their rice is quite good: the mark of a restaurant that actually cares.
Although small, they are hi-tech: menu is online, and they automatically recall addresses based on the calling phone. The staff has been helpful and knowledgeable in discussing their dishes. They are vegetarian friendly, and willing to consider making dishes not listed on the menu upon request. Overall I'd put them as one of the top three Indian restaurants in Dublin, easily holding their own against enormous snooty upscale places that charge over 3x as much. (5/5)
Update, August 2006: spiciness levels have dropped dramatically with time, perhaps in response to complaints by the local customer base. The complexity of the spices, the hallmark of excellent Indian cuisine, seems to have suffered as well. In any case, if you want your food spicy you had best let them know in no uncertain terms!
Update, May 2008: took a sample, food is back to excellent quality again!
Modern simple but not minimalist appointments, with a cutsie little bar. Moderately expensive, continental fusion menu with a Spanish flair. At these prices, and with the extreme level of pretentiousness displayed, they better be consistently excellent.
I ordered "seared tuna" for dinner, taking care to emphasise that I like it very rare, ie raw except at the surface. When I dug in, I found that it has been slow-cooked until grey throughout, except for the tiniest of barely detectable pink tinge in the very centre. Tough and gamy and dry, nearly unpalatable. No spices on the exterior, which had the same thoroughly overcooked texture as the interior. It is hard to imagine anyone considering this "seared." You could get this effect by wrapping a tuna steak loosely in punctured foil and placing it beneath the bonnet of an automobile for an afternoon drive. When I complained (which I very rarely do), I was told unsympathetically that (a) they cooked it in this fashion---which the waitress volunteered was dramatically overcooked compared to how she would prefer her own fish---to "suit the Irish palate," and (b) that if I wanted seared tuna seared I should have said so when I ordered it. (Which I had, but never mind; and no I did not feel like making a scene in front of the visitors we were taking out to a formal dinner thank you very much, besides which at Dali's price point I shouldn't have to.) Bottom line: if you have a palate that likes seared tuna to taste like seared tuna rather than sun-dried road kill, give Dali's a pass. (2.5/5)
Probably the best Thai food in Dublin, quite impeccable. Mid-scale prices and service, excellent ambiance. They also do a thriving take-out business. The Chinese part of the menu is not authentic and reasonably sloppy; avoid. Their Japanese, including both sushi and showy knife-juggling Japanese steakhouse entertainment cooking, is very good. You can ask for sushi not on the menu (e.g., chirashi: my favourite) and they will happily make it for you if they can. (4.5/5)
Poor to mediocre. Seafood soups would have been acceptable if they had not been as bland as mother's milk. Many dishes (e.g., the steamed sea bass with ginger) tasted more Chinese than Thai. Mains were overcooked, and very bland. Warning: the word "papaya" on the menu item "papaya salad" refers to the name of the restaurant, not the contents of the dish. (2/5)
Very fancy and expensive. Good decor, actual nice art, comfortably furnished. Maze-like interior so each table feels intimate and tucked away. Menu was very nice, although I like green vegetables and there were none but that's just me. The bread basket was uninspired, none of the three breads (a brown without much flavour, bland baguette slices, and plain hard white rolls with poppy seeds) actually tasted good. My lobster and clam bisque starter (€20) was very good except for one minor detail: the seafood was cooked a bit too much, making it a tad tougher than perfect. When I asked the waiter what the grilled tuna (€30) was like he told me it was "raw" on the inside. It was not; in fact it was on the overdone side of well done, although not inedible. However not as promised, and not really very tasty; had I known I would have ordered something else. (A pity, since the fish itself seemed to have been sushi grade, of very high quality.) The accompanying sides (mashed potatoes, grilled shallot, sticky brown sauce) seemed more appropriate for meat than fish, at least to my palate; something more acid and crisp and less gloppy would compliment tuna better, to my mind. I don't really have a sweet tooth, so I searched for the most refreshing, and least treacly sweet heavy, dessert. I chose the blackberry soup (€8). Bad move: it was actually quite thick and sweet, not refreshing at all. There was a hard biscuit sandwich thing in the dish, which was impossible to eat without smooshing the sweet green filling because the biscuits required enormous force to crack. That took a few points off for elegance, since grunting over the dessert while squirting green ichor is not supposed to be on the program! (The selection of cheeses did look very good.) The table received a plate of chocolate truffles, one whiskey and one hazelnut per person. The chocolate itself was dark and high quality, but the sweetness was heavy handed and overwhelmed the more subtle flavours that the truffles were intended to be vehicles for. The service was excellent throughout without being officious, water glasses were never allowed to go dry, the wine glasses were filled but not overfilled, the wine list was excellent, and the wine we had was superb.
All told a good solid fancy date-impressing restaurant. The food wasn't quite up to the standards set by everything else, which was a shame since the food is, after all, central, and they did not stint on the quality of the ingredients. The style was also, perhaps, slanted in a direction (heavy, rich, sweet, thoroughly cooked) somewhat counter to my own personal gastronomic tastes. (3.5/5)