Ramen Co, Dublin’s latest ramen bar, opened just over a month ago to positive reviews. Renge in hand, I headed there with high hopes and was rewarded with a bowl which maybe, just maybe, could be a new contender for Dublin’s best ramen.
Finding good ramen in Dublin is tricky. While ramen is ubiquitous in London, New York, and other major European cities (as well as Japan, I suppose), it’s yet to properly take off in the Irish capital. Yet, with Dublin’s increasingly international community comes a broadening of the city’s culinary horizons, with a greater variety of cuisines on offer.
The first striking thing when entering Ramen Co is the laid-back, though no doubt thoughtfully constructed, decor. An exposed brick wall on one side, with tasteful paintings adorning the rest of the interior were lit by Japanese lanterns overhead. From the outside, the restaurant is unassuming, located opposite the Swan Shopping Centre on Rathmines Road – an area familiar to those of us who survived halls and even more familiar to those of us who still haunt its corridors. The menu continues the theme of elegant simplicity: ramen, dumplings, and dessert. Generally, this is a good sign. Fear the restaurant which offers a variety of other dishes (sushi, yakisoba, etc.) and presents ramen as a bit player. Making good ramen is a painstaking, day-long process which requires intense focus and, consequently, menu space.
I was greeted by a friendly server and proceeded to order the prawn dumplings and tonkotsu ramen, the latter being a personal go-to. I was surprised not to see alcoholic beer on the menu, with only a non-alcoholic Heineken on offer. I did the honourable thing and got a glass of wine instead, which I would describe as a bit rivero-ey. Perhaps this had something to do with the restaurant’s proximity to halls and the reconjuring of a misspent, characteristically un-fresh first year – who knows?
The dumplings arrived quickly and were really rather good; served with crispy onions and some greens to offer some nicely balanced textural contrast and a more vibrant flavour. I had expected something more similar to gyoza, though I was surprised to find the dumplings more like a Cantonese cheung fun. The other dumpling choices also seemed to echo the restaurant’s desire to offer a Pan-Asian range, with roast duck hoisin, kimchi and chicken satay all on offer.
Then we come to the ramen. The egg was cooked perfectly – which can be oddly difficult to achieve – and the bowl introduced all the usual suspects: bamboo shoots, chopped spring onions, a sheet of nori and thinly sliced pork. Ramen arrived to Japanese food culture relatively late via China. Partially for this reason, it is considered, as self-professed ramen nerd Ivan Orkin puts it, the ‘maverick cuisine’ in Japan: there is a great deal of creative freedom in what you can put into the bowl. The crispy onions seemed to be Ramen Co’s deviation from a standard range of toppings, adding an interesting textual contrast to tonkotsu which, in its worst incarnations, can be a little one dimensional and heavy. The sliced pork was also far better than the other bowls of ramen I’ve had in Ireland and, dare I say it, superior to South William Street’s The Ramen Bar – one of the big players in the Dublin ramen scene.
If I had one – ok, two – criticisms, I felt their broth lacked the depth, intensity, and umami usually associated with very good ramen. The noodles also could have done with a little more bite. I’m sure these are the teething problems of a newly opened restaurant, however, and both the food and overall experience of the place were very positive. A tonkotsu, dumplings and a glass of wine came to €25.50 which, by Dublin’s admittedly ludicrous standards, wasn’t too bad for a two-course meal and a drink. Also worth considering is the fact that the same dinner meal at The Ramen Bar would’ve cost considerably more. Given its proximity to halls, Ramen Co could conceivably become a regular, more budget-friendly haunt for students who enjoy all things noodle and broth. I know I’ll be back, anyway.