Fast track to flavour: A stand out dish that's worth taking for
Soup Ramen, 28 Lower George's Stree, Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin facebook.com/soupramenbar
You know the way that it's no longer five, but 10 portions of fruit and vegetables that we're supposed to be eating each day? And how that can be hard to achieve? And you know also the way that we are being encouraged to consume more fermented foods, to promote the good bacteria in our guts, but that the prospect of morning kefir isn't necessarily something that appeals to everyone?
Well, I think that I may have discovered the solution. You can find it in Dún Laoghaire at Soup Ramen (located where King Tut's used to be, at the Bloomfields end of the town), a new venture from chef Conor Hughes and front-of-house person Will Shannon, which opened over the summer and seems already to have garnered itself a loyal local clientèle.
The answer, dear readers, is deep-fried kimchi. At lunchtime it costs just €4.50 for a heaped plateful and I could happily eat it every day of my life from here on in. The kimchi is coated in a light batter of perfection, and served with a fermented chilli mayo and a mango butter. Truly, it is a thing of beauty, and just writing about it makes me want to hop on the Dart out to Dún Laoghaire to eat it again. (Did I mention that it costs €4.50?)
But I'm getting ahead of myself, and the deep-fried kimchi is not the only pleasure to be experienced at Soup Ramen.
The ramen itself is pretty good. There are three basic versions available - tonkotsu pork, chicken and vegetable - and once you've chosen between these options, you then select the 'style'. The choice is between shio (traditionally seasoned with salt and seaweed dashi), shoyu (seasoned with soy sauce, garlic and ginger), miso, coconut and the 'extra spicy' kimchi iteration.
The tonkotsu pork itself is super-tasty, with fine flavour and texture. Pork belly is marinated and chargrilled, and served in a '30-hour' pork broth with ramen noodles, a seasoned egg, spring onion and fermented and pickled vegetables. The miso broth is disappointingly bland, though, and I'd prefer to pay more for free-range or organic meat.
I was on a panel of restaurant critics at the Dalkey Lobster Festival a couple of weeks ago when a member of the audience asked us if there were any particular cuisines that we did not like and never reviewed. We all agreed that you had no business doing the job if you didn't have a broad palate, but then each of us named a few ingredients that we prefer to avoid. Mine were green peppers and tripe, but I'll admit now that I'm iffy about the seasoned eggs that are integral to ramen, especially when I don't know whether they are free-range or not.
The chicken ramen comes with grilled chicken - we found that the meat lacked flavour - in a '24-four hour' chicken broth with another one of those controversial eggs, noodles and a generous amount of tenderstem broccoli and sugarsnap peas. The shoyu broth was notably better than the miso, with interest added by the garlic and ginger.
The portions are enormous and a bowl of ramen (€10) each would have been more than enough food, but as well as the kimchi we order a portion of fried chicken, also coated in that excellent batter and served with the same chilli mayo and mango butter. It would have been improved by better chicken.
A salad of sprouted beans and lentils, kale, kimchi, beetroot, chia and hemp seeds in a kombucha and garlic dressing is definitely good for you, and tasty enough.
Conor Hughes tells me that everything, bar the ramen noodles, is made in-house, including the kombucha and kimchi. (He learned the hard way, he says, that a pasta machine is just not strong enough to make ramen - it's to do with the consistency of the dough.)
With one clove-scented black tea kombucha, our bill for lunch for two comes to €41, but that's enough food for three or four people. We take the (substantial) leftovers home.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I just need to run out to Dún Laoghaire for some more of that crack kimchi...
ON A BUDGET
At lunchtime, a huge bowl of ramen is €10.
ON A BLOW-OUT
Prices are higher in the evening. A portion of beef-cheek gyozas (how good do those sound?), two bowls of ramen, deep-fried kimchi, and black chai ice-cream with apple and roast hazelnut for two will cost €52.50 before drinks.
THE HIGH POINT
Soup is both cheap and cheerful.
THE LOW POINT
There's no provenance information.