Paolo Tullio's Review
The number of ethnic cuisines available in Ireland seems to grow every year. There’s hardly a place on the planet’s surface where they cook, that doesn’t have a representative here. Okay, I haven’t yet seen a restaurant specialising in the food from Papua New Guinea, but all the major ethnic cuisines are available to us.
The two that have been here the longest are probably Italian and Chinese. I’ve expressed my feelings about unauthentic Italian food often enough, but I have a suspicion that a lack of authenticity pervades most, if not all, of ethnic cuisines. Since I’ve never lived in India or China, that feeling remains a suspicion, but it has been confirmed to me by talking to people who do know those traditions well.
The closest that I’ve come to real, authentic Chinese food - and indeed China itself - was eating in Singapore’s Chinatown. But it’s at this point that purists will interrupt and say, ‘Hold on a wee minute there, pal. There’s no such thing as Chinese food. China is a very big place and each region has its own language, culture and cooking. Cantonese food is not the same as it is in Hu Nan or Szechwan.’
Unarguable. But let’s confine ourselves to what’s on offer here. A couple of years ago I went to Ashbourne in Co. Meath and had a superb Chinese meal in Eatzen. Apart from the beautifully prepared food the dining room itself was lavish with a no-expense-spared interior. When I heard that there was a new Eatzen in Clonee I had to try it. My son, Rocco, has always maintained that he doesn’t like Chinese food, so I thought this was a perfect opportunity to change his mind.
Normally I get my guest to make the booking, so that I don’t have to use my name. That way when I arrive, even if I’m recognised, it’s too late to change the menu, the chef or bring in extra waiting staff. It occurred to me that getting Rocco Tullio to make the booking wasn’t going to help much. I’ve never used a fake name before, but this time it had to be done. Rocco phoned up and booked a table for Paul O’Toole, which I felt was more of a translation than a lie.
We were about to set off when his friend Max Waldburg came to visit, so with a little persuasion we had a third for dinner. Max is quite a foodie; he makes his own sausages, cures venison, and is generally prepared to try his hand at most aspects of food preparation. He also spends his days in the newly opened Glendalough Fayre in Laragh, which has brought previously unknown fare such as espresso, organic foods and good cheeses to Laragh.
We found Eatzen easily enough on Clonee’s main thoroughfare. Before we went in we had to look twice at this street. There doesn’t appear to a building more than twenty years old and more extraordinarily still, on this short stretch of road we counted eleven restaurants and food outlets. Even Monkstown Crescent doesn’t have that density of places to eat.
This Eatzen restaurant is upstairs and there’s a takeaway Eatzen downstairs. At the top of the stairs we came to a large dining room seating around ninety, plain wooden tables and chairs and a rather spare, almost Spartan interior. Certainly not the plush décor of Ashbourne. The menu too looked like a simplified version of the Ashbourne restaurant, with none of the elaborate names or unusual dishes. It had the distinct feel of Chinese food for the Irish and that was confirmed by not even the option of chopsticks.
There were two options available to us, either a set dinner or an à la carte. The set dinners looked like very good value, ranging between €31 and €34 euros they offered six courses plus tea or coffee. Despite being tempted, we chose from the à la carte. To begin Max chose the Thai rolls, Rocco had the salt and chilli squid and I had the crispy wontons. To follow Rocco ordered the king prawn Malay salad, Max had the steamed king prawns with garlic and I had the salt and chilli squid in a main course portion.
There’s a short and reasonably priced wine list and from it we ordered a half bottle of Marques de Riscal white for Rocco and Max and a Tiger beer for me. Two large bottles of sparkling water at a steep €5.20 a bottle completed the drinks order.
Perhaps we didn’t order as cleverly as we could have done, but although what we got was tasty, it somehow didn’t set any of us alight with enthusiasm. Yes, the chilli squid was good both as a starter and as a main course, the prawns were big and succulent, and the Thai rolls and wontons starters were competently done, but somehow the magic that I’d been expecting was strangely absent.
I’ve been thinking about why that was. Maybe my expectations were too high and just possibly I was influenced by my surroundings, which I thought verged on the canteen-like. The service was adequate, the food marginally above average and not expensive, so there was nothing not to like. Indeed if you live in Clonee or nearby it’s a definite plus to have it there, but I’m not convinced it would be worth a long drive.
I finished up my meal with what was possibly the worst espresso I’ve ever been presented with, which at €3 is unforgivable. Our bill, which included a second half bottle of white and a banoffi pie came to €128.60 without service