Dublin: Going Japanese

Musashi, 15 Capel Street, Dublin 1; 01 532-8068; musashidublin.com Michie, 11 Chelmsford Lane, Ranelagh; 01 497-6438; michiesushi.com

SINCE returning from a recent trip to Kyoto and Osaka, I’ve been busy telling anyone who’ll listen about the fantastic food, and fantastic approaches to food, in Japan.

I pulled prawns sizzling from skewers. I watched cartoon-like pufferfish wriggling in markets. There was sweet and airy tempura. There was mollycoddled Wagyu beef — its web-like marbling melting on contact with the grill.

Japanese cuisine tends to be served simply and prettily on the plate (as with sushi). It contains lots of seasonal ingredients, and very little fat.

I arrived home with chopsticks for the kids, turned the kitchen into a Laboratory of the Rising Sun, and have been digging out Asian markets, delis and eateries in Dublin ever since. I’ve found several more Japanese restaurants than I’d remembered, too.

Yamamori and YO! Sushi are best-known. Yamamori has three locations doing sushi and sizzling ramen noodles, not to mention warm sake and cool Asahi beers, so it’s a great spot for a group meal. YO! Sushi is a zippy little chain, where you can pluck colour-coded dishes off a conveyor belt.

Then there’s Ukiyo, the frisky bar and restaurant on Exchequer Street, where you can kick off with a Bento box, hit the basement karaoke booths to crank it up a gear, and wind up boogieing into the wee hours on the restaurant floor.

Musashi, a noodle and sushi joint on Capel Street, was my favourite new find. We arrived without a booking at 5.30pm on a Saturday, but found the staff super-friendly, moving chairs to free a table, replacing dropped chopsticks almost before they hit the ground, and serving with the smiles and bows so beautiful in Japan.

Low lighting, smooth wooden tables and cushioned, bench seating makes it feel like a slick canteen, and the crowd is cool and comfortable.

The sushi (served with rice), and sashimi (served without), were both fresh as raindrops: buttery slivers of salmon, prawn and pickled mackerel were sharpened with a spot of soy sauce, or a dash of wasabi. The only thing I blew cool on was the tuna, which wasn’t a patch on the pink, fatty cuts I’d tasted in Osaka.

The highlight was the tempura. The batter was excellent — light as a feather, and just sweet enough to play with the prawns, aubergines, asparagus and other treats it enveloped, without detracting from their texture and punch.

Next stop was Michie in Ranelagh. Hidden away down Chelmsford Lane, a sliding door ushered us into a box room with chilli-red and green walls, a mere handful of tables, and a constant stream of locals collecting takeaways.

It has all the hallmarks of a no-nonsense, neighbourhood secret. Picking up a copy of John & Sally McKenna’s 100 Best Restaurants on the counter, I read that Michie is “the only show in Ireland when it comes to sushi”. No pressure, then…

Six of us had dinner, and we ordered widely. Highlights included a tightly wrapped roll of soft shell crab with rice, avocado, flying fish roe and spring onion; a side of crispy tofu and aubergine topped with sticky-sweet miso sauce, and the sushi. Nigiri of salmon, prawn, seabass and octopus were all demolished,

Less impressive was the seafood yaki udon, which came with nice, slithery noodles and snap-fresh vegetables, but after all of that sushi, the well-cooked chunks of salmon and tuna just seemed dry, pasty and lifeless.

Nothing beats the real deal, but it’s refreshing to see this super (and super-healthy) cuisine buoyed up by rising foodie tide in Dublin.

What’s big in Japan can be big on this island too!

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