Over the past couple of years, I have visited and reviewed many restaurants around Ireland for TheTaste.ie. I know that I am the envy of many but I never take for granted how fortunate I am to have the chance to do the thing that I love most.
I fervently believe that our hospitality industry has come a long way in a relatively short time. This is due in large part to the the passion and commitment of the people involved in all aspects of food production – from the farmers and suppliers, to the chefs, restaurateurs and all those responsible for the delivery of a quality service. Customers also have a key role to play.
If people don’t support and visit our restaurants and hotels, it will be impossible to sustain and continue to develop a vibrant food industry. I am the first to acknowledge that dining out can be expensive and for many it is something only indulged in on special occasions. However, there is an increasing number of restaurants which serve exciting and delicious food at very reasonable prices.
One place that ticks all these boxes is Aroi Asian Street Food located on O’Connell Street in the heart of Limerick City. Known for serving authentic Malaysian, Thai, Indonesian and Vietnamese food, Aroi proved an immediate hit with locals so Chef/Proprietor Eddie Ong Chok Fong and his wife Jenny subsequently opened other restaurants under the Aroi umbrella at Carey’s Lane in Cork and at Friary Street in Kilkenny.
Aroi takes its name from the Asian eating experience that translates as meaning ‘delicious’ or ‘tasty’ and following my recent visit to the Limerick restaurant, I can confirm that the food lives up to the restaurant’s name and it prides itself on serving market fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Herbs and spices authentic to Asian cuisine are used throughout the dishes on offer and the restaurant studiously avoids using MSG in the preparation of its food.
Chef Fong is half-Thai and half-Malaysian so unsurprisingly the menu takes its main inspiration from these two countries. He acquired his love of food at a young age, helping his mother and grandmother making soups which they sold on the streets of Bangkok. He then honed his skills working in various high-end hotels around the globe, before moving to Ireland and eventually opening Aroi.
I was on a lightening quick visit to Limerick but was keen to try out the food at Aroi so managed to free up some time for a late lunch. Inside, the restaurant has lovely casual, unpretentious feel. Comfortable banquette seating runs along one length whilst there are a number of spacious booths along the opposite wall. Large photos of Asian markets adorn the walls which are painted in bright welcoming colours. The decor feels slightly retro but I loved it.
The menu looks a little daunting at first as it lists quite a large number of dishes many of which we were unfamiliar with but it is well-structured and easy enough to navigate. It is divided into sections including ‘Noodle Soups’, ‘Stir-Fry’, ‘Wok Noodles’ as well as ‘Rice’ and ‘Curry’ among others.
We were both feeling rather peckish so decided that we would have starters. My Satai Gai (€5) chicken skewers with a peanut sauce was fantastic with an addictive sauce that complemented the moist and juicy chicken perfectly. The sauce had a lovely toasty flavour initially with an underlying sweetness that gave way on the palate to some very welcome chilli heat.
This type of food is addictive and I found it impossible not to run my finger around the empty dish just to make sure that I hadn’t left any of the sauce behind. To put it bluntly, there are variations of satay chicken aplenty on offer in restaurants around Ireland and then there is Aroi’s supercharged and extremely delicious Satai Gai – an excellent dish.
Our other starter, the Crispy Lotus Salad (€5) was an Asian take on a garden salad. The salad was attractively presented with clean, distinct flavours. All the elements were wonderfully fresh and the lotus root crisps provided an interesting crunchy texture against the tender leaves.
I am a little embarrassed to admit that I couldn’t choose between the Pad Thai (€12) and the Pad Kar Prow ( €11) for my main course so ended up ordering both to sample them, bringing home a little package of leftovers to be enjoyed at home later that evening.
The Pad Thai didn’t hold back on the flavour front offering up a gamut of taste sensations ranging from salty and sweet to hot, spicy and sour. I particularly liked the crunch and intense flavour of the dried shrimp against the soft slippery glass noodles. This was another great dish.
Pad Kar Prow is distinguished by the use of holy or Thai basil and it is one of the most popular dishes in Thailand. Unlike the Mediterranean basil we are more familiar with in this country, holy basil has a more pronounced aniseed flavour with spicy undertones and it holds up well to being cooked.
Although chicken and beef are commonly used in this dish, the version in Aroi used pork strips which were perfectly cooked and not in the least bit chewy or tough. I loved the layers of flavour that were present which teased and played with my taste buds in a most seductive way. A deep fried egg with runny yolk intact topped off the dish and promoted it to the premier league… simply fantastic!
Across the table, my companion was tucking into a Green Chicken Curry (€11) which contained green chilli, Thai aubergine, bamboo shoots and pleasantly crunchy baby sweetcorn. This was another outstanding plate of food which had quite a lot of aromatic heat on the palate. Once again, some expert cooking was evident and the chicken was still soft and succulent to eat. Both the Curry and the Pad Kar Prow were served with sticky rice which was the ideal foil for the spicy, flavourful food.
With a bottle of San Pellegrino sparkling water (€2.50), the total cost of our meal came to €46.50 – phenomenal value for the quality and amount of food that we ordered. I was hugely impressed by my meal at Aroi and would have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone visiting Limerick, Cork or Kilkenny. Come to think of it, the food on offer at Aroi is reason enough to visit any one of these cities.
Aroi Artisan Street Food
1 O’Connell St,
T: (061) 311 411
Niamh believes Ireland produces some of the best food in the world, and travels around the country; seeking out the best food producers, and places to eat.
An accomplished cook and baker, Niamh is also a previous MasterChef Ireland finalist. During the competition she had the opportunity to cook in some of Ireland’s top restaurants and experience life on the other side of the kitchen pass.
Working with TheTaste allows Niamh to write about her experiences and to share her passion for food and cooking with a wide audience.
Visit Niamh’s blog The Game Bird Food Chronicles.