Ramen Kitchen, Dublin: It looked so promising. Then the food arrived
Consistency is everything in small places, and with ramen there’s nowhere to hide
- Stoneybatter, Dublin 7
This all looks so promising. It’s a bright spring evening, and the upper stretch of Manor Street, in Stoneybatter in north Dublin, has the feel of a village winding down after a fete.
A tree is wearing ribbons around its sturdy trunk on the neat grass, and we’ve got a high table in the window of a small place called Ramen Kitchen. We’re here early because it gets rammed, my local friend has warned me. It’s small, young, hard working and serving simple comfort food. All my boxes are ticked with smiley-face stickers.
Until the food arrives. Actually, before that there’s another wrinkle. We’re sitting underneath some class of heating or air-conditioning unit. It’s wafting warm air down towards the door, which opens frequently.
But a chilly waft is aimed towards us, and it begins to feel personal. Could it be turned off, my friend asks. The waitress says she’ll go to check. That is the last we hear of it. The cold air continues, and the place duly fills up around us.
Going with the wisdom of this crowd, we’ll assume they’re so busy pumping out great food that it’ll all be worth braving some polar air for the warm hug of a bowl of steaming broth.
The tables are not designed for lingering dinners, which is fair enough given the size of the place. Hefty wood has been fashioned into stools and a bench arrangement.
Why go to the trouble of creating ‘Japanese-style roasted pork belly’ when it’s going to end up as soggy, flaccid meat with no trace of crispness or roasted flavour?
Sushi, steamed buns and ramen are the three main offerings here, so we’ll give each one a try. There are nice hand-made-looking bowls to pour the good, lower-salt soy sauce into, and when my long plate of yasai gyoza, or veggie dumplings, arrives, they look good. They’re made with green pastry, like little parcels from the garden.
The green might come from spinach, but there’s so little flavour it’s anyone’s guess. The innards of diced carrots and anaemic cabbage seem to carry on the wrappers’ ambition to taste of very little. It’s a puree of vegetables for a taste-averse toddler. None of this is enhanced as they cool.
Jeanne’s pork bao is probably the best dish of the evening. Slippery shards of pak choi have been slotted with pork into a bun nearly sweet enough to be nudged on to a dessert platter.
My miso pork broth is where it all comes to a bewildering set of questions. The broth in this ramen is milky and dull, with little of the warm background melody that should be played while the other notes in a bowl of ramen soar.
There are ribbons of dried nori on the side, one half soaked in the broth, so they’re slippery and warm at one end, and end lizard dry at the other, but not quite crisp enough to carry it off.
Why go to the trouble of creating “Japanese-style roasted pork belly” when it’s going to end up as soggy rounds of flaccid meat with no trace of crispness or roasted flavour?
Should bamboo shoots taste this funky and have the texture of stewed rhubarb? What is “seasonal” about crunchy mangetout in Ireland in March? And why can’t I bring myself to taste the pickled egg, with its gluey yolk, placed unappetisingly in the middle of this grey soup?
They want our table back after 90 minutes, and we give it to them, gladly, well before that
Across the table my friend is womanfully eating her soft-shell crab roll. Shards of crab in a light batter stick up from the rolls like beach finds out of sand. They are gnarly and chewier than the issues of the day. This crab was fried some time ago, and age is not its friend.
They want our table back after 90 minutes, and we give it to them, gladly, well before that. There’s no sign of a dessert menu or any apparent desire to sell us something sweet to save the evening.
Maybe Ramen Kitchen is a victim of its own success, a small boat into which too many people have crammed, and they’re trying to regain their stroke and steady things. Consistency is everything, especially in small places.
When you’re cooking ramen there is nowhere to hide. Short cuts stick out like sore thumbs. Maybe we got them on a bad night. For the longevity of Stoneybatter’s thriving independent food scene, I certainly hope so.
Dinner for two with sparkling water, a glass of wine and a soft drink came to €58.50
- Verdict With a heavy heart, you have to wonder if Dublin has reached peak ramen
- Facilities Tiny
- Wheelchair access No
- Music Fine
- Vegetarian options Okay
- Food provenance None