Photo by Patricia Esteve
In its six-year history this is Mosquito’s third incarnation: first as a Pan-Asian tapas bar serving such cultish delights as potato chaat and Singapore coconut omelettes. Then it expanded into a venue up the road, and the little Mosquito changed its name to La Mosca and started serving Catalan classics like pa amb tomàquet and xatò salad along with occasional dishes from Languedoc like cassoulet as a nod to the Països. Now, owner Jazz Brown is back to what he does best: genuine Asian, this time in the form of Hong Kong dim sum and other snack dishes from China.
I arrive late on a Thursday evening and the place is rammed with not a table free and barely room to move at the bar. The new décor gives it a kitschy Chinese vibe: hanging lanterns, bordello red walls and video promos written in Mandarin papered to the walls. It looks good, not too overblown, which suits the food and clearly the mood: folks keep on coming long after closing time has been and gone and the kitchen keeps on rocking.
Because the speciality this time around—aside from the dumplings, obviously—is beer, 40 different types in all, I decide to put myself in Jazz’s hands. I’m not a massive beer lover on the whole, though I confess to enjoying the odd pint of Old Speckled Hen after a country walk back home in Blighty, but “OK” I say, “convince me.”
Perched at the edge of the bar, with a plate of delightfully chewy tofu-skin dumplings stuffed with pork and prawn and a soupçon of water chestnut, giving a slight crunch to the steaming savoury middle before me, we kick off with a mild, unfiltered Hopfner Kräusen from Germany. It’s a pale gold colour, cloudy, with a creamy head. Smells fresh, a little fruity with the warmth of boiled barley and there’s no doubt it kick-starts your appetite.
Poring over the fill-in-yourself menu between sips I realise that I have ticked nearly all the boxes; it’s way too much but I’m struggling to choose. The truth is I’ve been waiting for this moment a long time. Sure, folks have tried over the years. There’s Out of China with their posh dim sum, and La Xina with their interesting if unorthodox fillings, but until now the proper, home-style dumplings of a steamy kitchen and raucous atmosphere that I have come to associate with proper Chinatown dumpling houses have been elusive. For me, a dumpling fix is something deeply cosseting and should never, ever, be ‘designer’ or ‘cool’.
So Mosquito hits the mark square on with a full range of Chinese dumplings; boiled crescent shaped jiaozi, potstickers (fried to golden on one side then steamed), har gao (stuffed, ‘sack’ dumplings) and siu mai (a ‘basket’ dumpling, steamed with the filling exposed), all of which are freshly made on the spot every evening. Fillings are traditional rather than trendy: shrimp, pork, beef and eel with a couple of veggie fillings, given texture with bamboo shoots and water chestnut and laced with traces of soy and scallion, ginger and rice wine to release juices that explode in sweet aromas in the mouth. Small dishes of soy-based dips are served on the side.
We also try an extraordinary dish of fork-tender pork tongue and gelatinous pig’s ear (served separately), both boiled in a slow-cooked soy broth spiked with Chinese five spice, star anise, cinnamon and bay leaves among other things—the key differences among them being textural—both of which are gobbled down with relish by the teenage children of friends I am with. There is steamed bok choy with oyster sauce, and cabbage salad based on the Korean kim chee classic, made with garlic, chilli and salt though the end result is fresh rather than fermented.
There’s no room for dessert, but then, when the dumplings are this good, why on earth would you want it?
Top tip: Watch this space, because at the time of writing plans were afoot to open up for a classic yum cha (tea and snacks Chinese-style) style brunch on Sundays.
Mosquito: Carders 46 (La Ribera). Tel. 93 268 7569. www.mosquitotapas.com. Open Mon-Sun 7.30pm-12.30am (until 1.30am Fri, 2am Sat), closed Tue. Approx €20 for several dishes to share and a couple of beers.