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Afanti review: This family-run Dublin restaurant serves authentic, delicious dishes - and it’s suitable for vegetarians

Truly authentic Uyghur dishes cooked to order that will leave you sated

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Address: 3a Cavendish Row, Rotunda, Dublin 1.
Telephone: 01 8729379
Cuisine: Uyghur
Cost: €€

Kou gan is the Chinese phrase for mouthfeel, a word that frequently tops the most hated English food word list, along with moist, toothsome and foodie. Okay, I’ll stop now. But the reason that kou gan is so fascinating is because it is quite specific in what it covers.

In her wonderful memoir of eating in China, Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper, Fuchsia Dunlop devotes a full chapter to kou gan and the appreciation of texture. Cui denotes the fresh snap of crunchy vegetables; tan xing, the springy elasticity of a squid ball; nen, the tenderness of just-cooked fish or meat; and shuang evokes a slippery, cool sensation in the mouth.

I’m hoping that my rainy-day reading can be put to good use as I set about ordering in Afanti, the new Uyghur restaurant on Cavendish Row across the street from the Gate Theatre. The jewelled light of coloured glass lampshades and a chandelier, as you walk through the door, are the first indication that Uyghur culture is quite different.

One of China’s 55 ethnic minorities, they are a Turkic-speaking, predominantly Muslim group that live in the northwestern region of Xinjiang. Bordered by eight countries, the influences ripple through the food. Dumplings and noodles are typical of those from northern China, and samosas and kebabs reflect the west. It is often described as a bridge between China and Central Asia.


Afanti is a family restaurant, run by sisters Elnur and Halnur Halmurat with considerable help from their mother Dilana, who arrives early each morning to make the hand-pulled noodles. As we head towards our table, we pass diners slurping belt noodles, chewy flat noodles that rise out of a seemingly endless pile in a gigantic steaming bowl of the renowned big plate chicken.

Spicy bean jelly (€10.80) is the dish that gets my attention. It sounds like it could have the refreshing shuang texture, which Dunlop talks about, and sure enough, our waitress explains that it is slippery and cool and is particularly good to eat alongside the lamb skewers (€8 for two). We might be better with a spoon to eat it she suggests, but what would be the fun in that? The challenge of eating the opaque white strips of mung bean jelly is too much to resist, even though we haven’t a hope of succeeding. But certainly, I can see the appeal of the cool jelly in a soy, vinegar and chilli sauce. It’s a dish of contrasts and very good with the sizzling lamb skewers encrusted with smoky cumin.

We have taken the precaution of ordering just a few things to start out, wary that everything might land together. The beef manti (€12.80 for six), takes 25 minutes to prepare, we are told, so that order goes into the kitchen first. Glasses of draught Asahi and Tiger beer (€6.99) keep us well refreshed as we wait for our next bite, two clay-oven-cooked samsas (€3.50 each). Dusted with white sesame seeds, the exterior of flaky pastry is filled with chopped beef, onions and peppers, and has a delicious beef pie flavour. These are a must-order item.

Contrary to what you may think, handmade dumplings are not a given in Asian restaurants — there are plenty available in the frozen section of Asian food shops — but that 25-minute wait for the steamed pitir-manti guarantees that here they are made to order. Crimped into tiny packages, the beef and onion filling oozes to form its own soup. Do be careful not to scald yourself.

Uyghur naan bread (€3.50), I discover, is quite different from Indian naan; it’s more substantial and bready. As is the tradition, we dip it into a large cup of milk tea (€4.50), which is salted so quite savoury. I can imagine it as a comfort food.

There is plenty of bread left over to mop up the bold smoky sauce on the leghmen (€15.80), hand-pulled noodles that are similar to Japanese udon. Laden with beef, mushrooms, onions and peppers, they go on for miles and no amount of slurping sees me successfully land a full strand in my mouth. Chewy and delicious, they are even better when sprinkled with some brick red chilli powder to give them a bit more of a kick.

We are sated but have just enough room to try the hazelnut baklava (€4 for two), which is crumbly and not too sweet. A nice finish to a very enjoyable meal.

Dinner for three with four beers was €94.36.

THE VERDICT: Delicious handmade noodles and dumplings.

Music: Uyghur music.

Food provenance: Meat and vegetables from halal stores and local supermarkets.

Vegetarian options: Most of the dishes can be made without meat, including the noodles and pilaf. Also suitable for vegans.

Wheelchair access: No accessible room or toilet.

Corinna Hardgrave

Corinna Hardgrave

Corinna Hardgrave, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes a weekly restaurant column