Dublin is an expensive city to eat out in, and it’s going to get worse. Rents are higher, produce bills are rising every week (alarmingly, according to a chef friend), and we’re probably going to have to put up with it and refrain from blaming restaurants.
Staffing is still a huge problem and restaurant chains are now reportedly hanging around restaurants at closing time trying to poach chefs and servers with a promise of better hours and better pay.
A bit of good news, however, is that one of Dublin’s most expensive suburbs now has one of the best, cheapest restaurants in town.
CN Duck is on the main street of Ranelagh, directly opposite Host – which is the last restaurant I reviewed in this posh suburb in April 2019. CN Duck specializes (as you would expect) in the roast duck, those bronze beauties with crispy, shiny skins you see hanging in the special bullet ovens in cities like Hong Kong.
Along with roast duck, pork and chicken, CN’s menu is divided into short sections such as Asian bites, sides and a selection of rice and noodle options including ramen, rice bowls and wok fried dishes to which you can add roasted meats or Tofu.
First up are the shao mai (more commonly spelled ‘Sui Mai’) shrimp dumplings which are homemade and set the tone for the meal. They were probably the best I have ever tasted. The six large (almost) golf ball-sized dumplings proved a challenge for our chopsticks given their size and slippery outer skin, so we resorted to spearing them. For just €8.50, it was almost a meal in itself, filled with soft ground pork and mushrooms and topped with a large, juicy prawn, with an umami-rich soy sauce dipping sauce on the side.
Typically the sui mai dumplings have the shrimp minced with the pork, but this method worked much better with the flavors of the shrimp first hitting the palate and then blending well with the pork and mushrooms.
The won ton soup had silky soft dumplings in a light broth and had a nice subtlety and complexity. There’s something magical about a good Asian dumpling soup (or ramen for that matter) – to properly appreciate it takes concentration and undivided attention, so in retrospect, we probably should have eaten this dish alone rather than between bites of crispy duck and pork.
Likewise the wok fried char siu rice (€13.50) which had a generous amount of fresh vegetables ranging from bok choi to peas and scallions, and of course plenty of strips of crispy roast pork – that too would have been a pleasure to eat on its own.
And now to the duck and pork: Oh my, the delicious crispiness of it all. A roast half-duck on the bone (€16) crackled deliciously when pierced with a knife and all the fat seemed to have disappeared into the crispy skin. The crispy pork belly (€14) was exactly as described – perfectly rendered skin nestled on tender pork belly. Too often I have to remove some of the fat from the pork belly because the fat is too much, but not here. The cucumber pickles (€3) served as a fine palate cleanser as we transitioned from pork duck to dumpling rice.
The drinks menu includes Asahi on tap and bottles of Tsing-Tao with a BYOB option for the low price of €6 for wine and €1 for beer.
Redmonds Off-Licence is less than 100 yards away and has one of the best wine and beer selections in the country where I bought a bottle of Albert Mann Alsace Riesling for €29 – its flavorful tart apple and citrus was a perfect match for everything we ordered.
I know I made CN Duck look almost Michelin standard, so I have to point out that this is a very casual restaurant that has very high standards.
The staff were lovely and super efficient and it was an extremely enjoyable meal at a great price.
The bill: A dinner for two including several small and large dishes plus two beers is €80.30 and an extra €29 for a BYOB bottle of wine our bill is €109.30
CN Duck is charming and fun and serves probably the best roast duck and pork in the country.