Since 1997, Da Tang Noodle House on Middle Street had served the people of Galway with thousands of steamy bowls of comforting noodles, dumplings, and legendary spicy salad. But Da Tang hung on the shoulders of an individual and when the time came for him to retire, Da Tang retired also. Their sister business, Chi Asian Take-away, a little takeaway in Westside, took over the space in the middle of November. Chi promises healthy convenient food choices using locally sourced fresh ingredients. Chef Andy Bandara uses the highest-quality local produce to create Asian dishes from Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, China, and Vietnam. Known for good food, great flavours, and a mean nasi goreng, how does this takeaway translate into a sit-down restaurant?
From down the flight of stairs, as before, comes the cheery clank and aromas of the kitchen. By Asian restaurant standards, this small dining room is very pared back. With plain walls and seating, refreshingly the only frills are flowers and fat cushions with not a dragon or smiling Buddha in sight. Even the goldfish have moved on. The room is united by one long, upholstered, bench seat which runs the length of the space making friendly chatter easy. Chi's simple interior belies the complexity of its dishes.
The short wine list is all organic, as are the excellent selection of Solaris teas. There are also a couple of Asian beers and flasks of sake for the adventurous drinkers. The food is not what you could call 'Irish-ified Oriental food', it stays largely true to its origins, the only glaring western interloper being the classic French fries.
We eat some good things. The menu pits subtle, aromatic, dishes against more flavoursome ones. A tomato tofu egg blossom soup looks awful, as egg soups always do, but is, in fact, great. A Thai seafood soup is full of big bold flavours and chunks of fish, mussels, and vegetables, certifiably delicious. The soup noodles are generous and well-seasoned, though a little over thickened with cornflour, but packed full of lovely shiitake, tofu, and greens. One of Chi's noodle bowls, priced from €7.50 for the vegetarian up to €10 for the duck, would leave you feeling well fed indeed. The chicken in black bean sauce comes with a mound of steamed jasmine rice that is exceptional, perfection in each and every grain. A warm beef salad with a sharp nam jin sauce is flavoursome with a garnish of crisp onions and a scattering of sesame seeds. We like their green tea very much indeed.
Finishing with the dessert of the day, cassava cake, a Filipino speciality. Made from grated cassava (like a giant yam ), and flavoured with coconut milk, this had an unusual but not unpleasant texture of a set rice pudding, the hit of sugar feels like a reward after all the virtuous vegetables.
The rest of the menu at Chi remains an unexplored country. I'm going back there, but I will give it a little more time. It feels that adjustments will have to be made before they fit their new space comfortably. The existing logo, perfectly adequate for the take-away, sits ill at ease with the clean tables, cream painted brick walls, and pretty cushions in the bistro. Surrounded as they are in the centre of the city by many long running or popular Asian restaurants, I cannot help but think that specialising more in fewer regions might be a better idea. They are right next door to the very excellent Kappa Ya, and Wa Cafe is but a stroll away. They are a stone’s throw from Lime, Thai Garden, and the (very popular for takeout ) Asian Tea House. Some of the plating needs to be addressed as many of the dishes looked like they would be happier in their plastic takeaway container.
Chi is cheerfully finding its feet in its new space and already has got a lot going in its favour. Opening a restaurant is not just about great food, it is about ambience, lighting, comfortable chairs and tables, making your customers feel special, providing excellent service and attractive plates, and then doing that all of the time. Owner Catherine O'Brien has years of experience in the restaurant game and she has a ready supply of loyal old Da Tang disciples to fill the seats. The staff are delightful, especially if you are lucky enough to be served by Catherine's daughter, Eva. They cater to vegetarians, vegans, and coeliacs particularly well, and best of all the prices are currently some of the best value in the centre of town. Good, soon to be great, and well worth a visit.
Chi Asian Bistro, 2 Middle Street, Galway. Tel (091 ) 561 443. Email [email protected].