Food & Drink

Eating Out: Faan Hup brings Hong Kong-style Chinese cuisine to Belfast

Seamus Maloney samples the superlative Chinese fayre on offer at the Botanic Avenue eatery

Faan Hup on Botanic avenue in Belfast.
PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN
Faan Hup on Botanic avenue in Belfast. PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN
Faan Hup, 79 Botanic Avenue, Belfast, BT7 IJL.

instagram.com/faan_hup

It almost didn’t happen. We were halfway out the door. Well, not quite. Maybe an eighth of the way out, but still headed in that direction. The coats were on, the bill was paid, the receipt was printed out.

Thankfully, all this was done at the till in Faan Hup in south Belfast rather than at the table. As a result, close enough to the counter to notice what had previously been missed while scanning the specials board without the glasses I usually forget in situations just like this, when they’ll do me the most good.

Faan Hup on Botanic avenue in Belfast.
PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN
Faan Hup on Botanic avenue in Belfast. PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN

So there, on a little blackboard atop said counter is the sweet selection. It’s not a dessert trolley or anything, it’s two items – the first is Hong Kong-style French toast, the second is a pineapple bun. Actually, it’s technically three items, because listed under the pineapple bun is a pineapple bun ‘with butter’ for an additional 50p.

50p to add butter? What’s that all about?

And so the coats come off and it’s back down to the table where a minute or three later the bun with the 50p butter arrives, along with a steaming glass of lemon tea and cup of black Hong Kong blend, tempered with a healthy slug of evaporated milk.

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But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Faan Hup is named for a lunch box, usually with rice, that’s common in Hong Kong and the restaurant’s subtitle - ‘Hong Kong Comforts’ – tells you what to expect.

While most restaurants serving broadly ‘Chinese’ food here fall into the camp of Cantonese dishes adapted to western tastes, here you’ll find less familiar offerings.

So there’s baked rice with pork chop, or steamed pork belly with taro, fried chicken with soup noodles, and potato and fruit salad.

There’s also the pig’s ear salad, a technicolour tangle of carrot, courgette and celery, with slices of piggy lugs providing burst of chew among the crunchy veg, everything slicked in a dressing that’s by turns sweet, hot, sour with heady sesame base.

It’s bracingly cold and fresh but what’s really hitting the spot is the textures on the plate. The veg is crispy and definite, snapping decisively.

The ear is more ambiguous. It’s toothsome and takes a bit of effort, but every time you find a sliver it’s a delight.

Faan Hup on Botanic avenue in Belfast.
PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN
Faan Hup on Botanic avenue in Belfast. PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN

There’s a slipperiness about it that’s shared by the drunken chicken. Brined and poached, skin and all, served cold it has a soft, almost nursery feel. Nursery if it wasn’t for the boozy whack of the rice wine it’s been bathed in.

Chunks of lightly battered monkfish have a meaty bit along with silky tofu, coated in a ginger and spring onion sauce that’s full of gentle nudges of flavour rather than trying to knock you over with anything.

There’s a delicate touch too in the lightly savoury soup noodles, with more welcome slipperiness which goes nicely with the knobbly enrobed fried chicken, as soft inside as its poached, drunken friend, but all crunch and crackle outside, helped along with a liberal dusting of warming, smoking, and entirely secret, seasoning.

Everything was fantastic. But it wasn’t quite everything. Back to the bun.

First things first: there’s no pineapple in a pineapple bun. The name comes from the top, which resembles the outside of the tropical fruit, and comes from a craquelin-style sugary hat that bakes into the soft, sweet bread below.

That bread, warm from the oven flakes apart like a whisper, and it does it around a thick tile of cold butter – an absolute steal at 50p – a firm shock of cold you can feel your teeth sliding into like a pair of slippers. The mug of tea that doesn’t mess around completes the scene. Which almost didn’t happen.

Don’t risk the same mistake, and don’t miss Faan Hup if you can help it.

THE BILL

  • Pig’s ear salad £7
  • Drunken chicken £6
  • Fish with ginger and spring onion sauce £14
  • Fried chicken with soup noodles £9
  • Pineapple bun with butter £3
  • Hong Kong milk tea £3.50
  • Hong Kong lemon tea £3.50

Total: £46