Restaurant Review: Hakka Noodle
51 Adelaide Street, Belfast. Tel: 028 9031 3270
This modern and friendly restaurant gets my vote as it shakes things up on the Chinese dining scene in Belfast.
There is not a huge amount of evidence in Northern Ireland of the advancing economy of China. Bar the loss of most of our manufacturing jobs and a state visit last year by an outgoing Chinese government minister to Stormont, we have remained largely ignorant of China’s huge strides in the last 20 years towards world economic domination.
We are more aware of the progress of modern Chinese culture through Ai Weiwei, the internationally renowned artist who created the famous Beijing Olympics ‘bird’s nest’ stadium or the films of John Woo and Bruce Lee.
But does any of this resonate here in Northern Ireland, where our only direct contact with China is through the £5.95 chicken chow mein from a nearby takeaway or diligent MLA Anna Lo?
It’s not until you step through the crimson doors of Hakka Noodle in Belfast’s Adelaide Street that you realise that China and things Chinese are actually very cool and part of us.
There are excellent Chinese restaurants in Belfast and Londonderry but they are conventional, reliable and predictable. They may share the same interior designer whose style ensures adherence to the highest standards of early Cantonese Naff. But the food is generally of a high standard, particularly in All Seasons, Joy Inn and Macau. But the relationship between diner and server can be stilted, informed by some cultural difference, a general deference and great caution not to cause offence.
Hakka Noodle is another thing altogether. This is the creation of a restaurateur who has severed the links with a strictly conformist past and decided to modernise, create a mood which is democratic and one in which a bit of conversation between diners and servers (who are charming and engaging) is relaxed, equal and informative.
The interior of Hakka Noodle is an unusually successful and happy coupling of Victorian industrial Belfast and Shanghai street moderne where booths, lights and and good furniture create a Chinese experience like no other. It is on trend and has been consistently so for the last six years of its existence. Add to this a standard of food, which matches the best in the city, and you now know what the next generation of classic Chinese restaurants will look like.
The teens are mad for it and regularly get takeaways from Hakka but on polling day last week, when many politicians declared they were picking up a Chinese on their way home, I thought I spotted a new election day trend and decided to run with it.
Four of us showed up at Hakka without reserving and within minutes we were in a booth by a big street window looking through the handsome menu with cold beers and Cokes in hand. Booths turn a meal into a journey. It must be something to do with the similarity to sitting in a railway carriage.
All the oldies were present: crispy aromatic duck, salt and chill squid, ribs, spring rolls and sesame prawn toast. But there are fresher updates like edamame beans, garlic smoked, shredded chicken and two kinds of dumplings: chicken ghuotie filled with minced chicken, Chinese vegetables and ginger or pork and cabbage. The dumplings were served in a beautifully balanced broth and were bite-sized and habit-forming.
The squid was a well done classic with plenty of five-spice thrown into the salt and chilli batter and the baby ribs had a similarly addictive impact.
Guided by the teens who were squabbling over who would have the salt and chilli shredded chicken and the honey and chilli version, and end up with both and a promise to share, I fell into a sweet slick of Peking-style crispy chicken. The tooth-loosening sweet chilli sauce was too jammy and formed an insurmountable barrier to my happiness. But the girls chose well.
The honey and chilli shredded chicken was neither sweet nor sickening. The marriage between garlic and honey worked with the sparkling high notes of chilli keeping things hot and light. The noodles were notable, soft, firm, dry and perfectly seasoned.
The advisor rarely resists Singapore noodles when at a Chinese and has therefore become the go-to expert on the subject. The dish was generous in its size (all the dishes are vast) and the vermicelli was punctuated throughout with just the right volumes of char sui pork and prawns. It was a muncher’s delight: moist, rich, spiced and salty and very hard to eat politely.
Hakka Noodle has been consistent over the years and never let us down. Good for families, cool young dudes and suits, which is a rare achievement, it’s showing us a new face of China that is hard not to love.
Pork dumplings £6.95
¼ aromatic duck £8.80
Singapore noddles £9.20
Honey chilli chicken £9.80
Peking chicken £9.80
Chicken barbecue sauce £9.80
Soft noodles x 2 £7.20
Fried rice £2.80
Tsing Tao x 2 £7.40
Tiger beer x 2 £7.40
Cokes x 4 £7.40
Belfast Telegraph Digital