They don’t take short-cuts in Japan. To take one example, my guest for this review was a Japanese friend who trained for seven years as a couture kimono designer. She didn’t just learn how to sew and cut the material, she learned how to make thread from nature (banana leaves mainly), and how to weave that thread into intricate patterns before she ever got around to cutting a piece of cloth.
A trainee sushi chef may spend several years washing and preparing rice before they are ever allowed near a fish and once qualified they would only work in a sushi restaurant just as a tempura chef would concentrate on tempura.
Ireland doesn’t have a large Japanese community and up until recently it has been a struggle to find decent (never mind authentic) Japanese food here. Cork now has the (already) iconic Miyazaki, Galway has the fine Wa Café and Dublin is slowly getting there with Dylan McGrath’s Taste, Michie Sushi in Ranelagh, Musashi on Capel Street and even Tani in Terenure has its moments (you may notice that I am not including Yamamori).
There has been lots of buzz around Dublin’s Ramen Bar on South William Street since it opened earlier this year. Located at the back of Kokoro Sushi they went to the trouble of importing a ramen noodle-making machine from Japan and promise they are using recipes from some of Japan’s best ramen bars.
So far so good and it does feel quite Japanese with lots of lacquered furniture, a basic but comfortable room and a simple menu. Regarding authenticity my guest expressed surprise at a number of items as in Japan the menu would usually just include variations on pork ramen — here you will find salmon, vegetable and chicken versions with miso as well as standard pork stock.
I confess that much of what I know about authentic Ramen is what I learned by repeated viewings of the Tampopo film from 1985 which has just been rereleased with a fresh print. Hopefully, it will get a rerelease here soon.
The movie is a sort of food ramen (spaghetti) western where a put- upon widow inherits her husband’s ramen bar but must learn how to cook from a passing band of trucker gourmands and contains lots of side plots and vignettes on food, eroticism and of course on the perfect way to eat a bowl of ramen (hint: it involves a lot of contemplation).
We began our meal with some Asahi beers and endame beans (young green soy-beans that need to be squeezed from their pods) — €4.50 for a generous portion and I ordered some pork steamed buns (Niku-Man Burgers) which were serviceable.
My guest ordered the classic tonkatsu (pork) Ramen but with the broth served separate from the noodles and pork to ensure they stayed firm. I opted for the tonkatsu red ramen just to be different as it also was pork-based but with the addition of hot sauce (Sriracha sauce if I remember correctly).
The classic is the one to go for as it contains wonderful creamy sweet soft boiled ‘seasoned eggs’ although I did quite like the kick from my spicy version.
The good news is that the noodles were excellent — firm and textured with a good al-dente bite. The pork slices were tender and flavourful and the broth and vegetables tasted fresh and crisp. The bad news is that while we did eat everything we both felt the broth was rather soulless.
Soul in food is a difficult thing to define but you know it when you get it. This just seemed to lack depth and character — ‘no punch’ my guest said — and crucially for me, it was seriously short on umami.
My marks, are an average of the marks given by myself and my guest (she marked 10% to 15% lower). The Ramen Bar is good value, and of reasonable standard, so don’t let me discourage you from visiting. Just don’t expect Japanese perfectionist standards.
I reckon this would be an excellent spot for a first date as all that slurping and wiping noodle sauce from your chin should add a little fizz to your meal (for erotic tips you could also watch Tampopo).
A solid, almost-authentic, Japanese Ramen Bar that is worth a visit if you are in the area but if you are south of Bray head for Miyazaki in Cork instead.