I knew I’d be able to eatforafiver somewhere on Parnell Street among the various Chinese/Korean/Vietnamese restaurants that have opened there in the last few years. I wasn’t wrong.

The boys and I headed there this lunchtime. We parked on Hill Street just off the Gardiner Street end of Parnell Street and wandered around for a bit. We were tempted by a (misleading, as it happens) sign outside a buffet place offering ‘3 Chinese dishes and rice’ for €5. In actual fact, that was for a take-away option which wasn’t mentioned on the sign. That being said, the place was offering a substantial tasty looking lunch buffet for €7.

Elsewhere we found a tiny place with two tables with interesting sounding dishes for €5 but rice would have cost an additional €1.50.

We had a look at ‘Wok in a Box’ and we’ll visit there sometime in the future. But for today, we settled for Charming Noodles, or Lee’s Charming Noodles.

The guys outside Lee's Charming Noodles

Charming Noodles, as you might expect, specialises in noodle dishes. It has several different menus on display. There’s a general lunch menu, offering two courses for either €7.99 or €9.99. There’s a standard Chinese-restaurant-fare menu, offering the sort of dishes that you’d see in any other Chinese place. There’s a very interesting looking Noodle menu, comprising soup noodle dishes, pan fried noodle dishes, chow mein dishes and noodle mixes. And there’s the Recession Specials, for a €4.99 each.

The restaurant was a little over half full when we went in, but filled up to almost capacity while we were there. About half the customers appeared to be of far eastern origin, and most were tucking in to big bowls of noodles with gusto.

It was the Recession Specials that clinched the deal for us obviously although on my next visit (and there will be one) I’ll be going for one of those delicious looking noodle bowls. The recession specials are available from 12 – 3, Monday to Friday. On offer are sweet and chilli squid, creamy chicken, salt and chilli chicken wings, beef with black pepper sauce, and sweet and sour vegetables (all with rice or chips). And also seaweed tofu soup with chow mein. For your fiver you also get a glass of either orange, pineapple or apple juice.

The young lad opted for the chicken wings with chips,  the big lad for sweet and chilli squid with rice, and I went for the seaweed tofu soup with chow mein.

We ordered and waited. And waited …

Eventually our food arrived. Mine first.

My seaweed tofu soup with chow mein

The soup was lovely. Nicely seasoned, with light melt-in-the-mouth tofu and feather-delicate leaves of dark green seaweed. The chow mein was a little too oily for my taste but flavoursome and filling nevertheless. The quantity was generous.

The big lad’s squid arrived next.

Sweet and chilli squid with rice

The squid was tender and the sauce subtly spicy and quite tomatoe-y. The big lad was pleased with the quantity and polished it off with evident satisfaction.

After a long wait, the young lad got his wings.

Salt and chilli wings with chips

He was a bit disappointed to be honest. The long wait, he felt, wasn’t really worth it, and he eyed the big lad’s squid jealously. The wings were more batter than meat, with not a lot of chilli in evidence. The chips were fine, he said, but without much enthusiasm. Chinese restaurant chips always look and taste distinctively different from chipper chips, and these were definitely Chinese restaurant chips.

In any case, we were all well fed and watered for €14.97 which was the point of the exercise:

The bill

I have to say, I’d go back, especially to try some of their speciality noodle dishes, which seemed to be remarkably good value and looked scrumptious as they emerged from the kitchen. Most noodle dishes seemed to be priced at somewhere between €8.20 and €9.50, with a few above that. I think that’s pretty good.

Parnell Street has been dubbed Dublin’s Chinatown. I suspect by people who have never been there, but like to think there might be somewhere vaguely exotic on the north side. Sure, there are a quite a few Chinese/Korean/Vietnamese restaurants and some oriental food shops there but none of the hustle, bustle, colour and atmosphere of the more established Chinatowns you’d find in different parts of the world.

That being said, Parnell Street, Moore Street, Mary Street and Capel Street seem to be very much worth exploring for cheap eats generally.

To change the subject entirely, I’ve been growing chillies. I bought a pot of seeds a few months ago in Homebase for €2.99 or so. They came with their own compost, so all you had to do was to sow them, water them, keep them warm and covered and, hey-presto, they germinated. I thinned them out, repotted the stronger ones and now have about 10 chilli plants on my window cill.

One of my chilli plants

And a young chilli ...

About a month later, I got a chilli from the fridge, cut it open, took the seeds out and germinated them in a similar way. I now have four more plants from that process. They are so easy to grow. Can’t wait to pick them and cook with them.