The best Dublin ramen discovery so far
What’s the story?
Soup Ramen opened on Dun Laoghaire's main - in need of some TLC - George's Street Lower in summer 2018, adding life and a bright pink neon sign to an unloved part of town. It also gave Dubliners another place to go for ramen, in a city brutally under-served (yes first world problems but still). It's a joint venture from two friends - chef Conor Hughes and front of house Will Shannon - and their brightly coloured Instagram feed has been taunting us for months, along with flurries of online praise for the food, but apart from one pretty good review from Katy McGuinness in the Irish Independent and minimal information on their own website we didn't have a lot to go on. So off we went to Dun Laoghaire.
Where should we go for a drink first?
If it's a nice evening head for the terrace in Haddington House (and a deckchair if you're lucky) for a drink looking over the sea. If the weather's not with you, pop around the corner to "The Bar" for a cosy pint, or if you're looking for a cocktail head for The Lighthouse, which also has one of the most impressive non-alcoholic drinks lists we've seen - as do all of Bodytonic's bars.
Where should we sit?
There's outside and inside seating, but we can't say the ones outside have the nicest views in the city - if it's warm you probably won't say no. Inside is bright and airy with three large communal tables made from Beach and Cedar trees downed in Roundwood, Co. Wicklow, and two high tables which seat two each. There's also bar seating. It's a small space but they've used it well for maximum capacity.
What's good to eat?
Obviously you're coming here for the ramen so that's a no brainer. We went for the tonkotsu pork - the original and the best - but there's also grilled chicken or a vegetarian one (which can be made vegan). The juicy pork came chargrilled with those delicious blackened bits, on top of an incredibly flavoursome broth containing homemade noodles (they've started making their own since Katy's review), spring onion, fermented vegetables and a soft, seasoned egg on top. Another thing that's changed since that review is that their eggs and chicken have been upgraded to free-range, which makes us (and her we bet) very, very happy.
You can choose your own seasoning but we asked them to bring it how they liked it, and there was definitely a hint of coconut in there which might not wash well with purists but makes for exceptionally tasty ramen. We're always on the hunt for three things that are notoriously hard to get excellent versions of here - freshly made tacos, sushi and ramen, and for us this is the best ramen we've found here to date. It should be noted that owner Conor was in the kitchen on the night in question so you'd expect it to be as good as it's going to get if the boss is cooking your dinner.
The rest of the menu features small plates/sides and three salads with optional extras. We'd ordered some small plates of deep-fried kimchi and fried chicken thinking they would come out first, but everything ended up on the table at the same time, leading to the inevitable eating half your food cold, so if you want them as starters and mains request it when ordering. We don't know where deep-fried kimchi has been all our lives but we're just glad we got there eventually. Deep-frying something so intrinsically good for you is a smart move (let's just ignore what high heat might do to all that good bacteria), and they're kind of like more tangy, more chewy onion rings, in a crispy batter managing to avoid feeling in any way greasy.
The fried chicken was the only disappointment of the meal. The brown meat and batter were surprisingly soft and bland, and the fermented chilli mayo and mango butter didn't do much to liven things up.
Our other main was the umami salad, which has rocketed into the top three salads we've ever eaten in Dublin. It comes with pickled shimeji mushrooms, cannellini beans, parmesan crisps, smoked seasame, seasoned egg, cured cherry tomato and shoyu dressing. Who knew there was no such thing as too much umami? You can add chashu pork, grilled chicken, fried chicken or 'grilled' halloumi which we went for, but it was actually cubes of deep-fried halloumi - delicious but not what we were expecting. Nevertheless, this is a salad that we're going to spend hours trying (and no doubt failing) to recreate at home.
We also ordered the triple-cooked fries with house BBQ sauce and spice blend, which was a gigantic portion - fine if there are three or four of you but for two it's a bit much. They're skinny fries and the BBQ sauce was good and not overly sweet, but we'd skip them next time to try the side salad with pickled veg, unless we were with a gang.
For dessert we couldn't side-step the blackboard special of sweet crisp bread with yuzu curd, basil mascarpone, yoghurt and strawberries, and we're hoping it makes a comeback with each strawberry season. The fried dough, which seems to exist in most Asian cultures in some form, was light and crisp, and a perfect vehicle for getting the basil yoghurt, sorbet, yuzu curd and semi-frozen strawberries into our mouths. It's also nice to see places putting as much thought and creativity into their desserts as they do their savoury dishes. Next time we're going for the gingerbread nachos with chocolate and chilli sauce, and black chai ice-cream.
What about the drinks?
That creativity also runs to cocktails, like sake, strawberry, lemon and tonic, and soft drinks, with homemade kombucha flavours including honey and habanero and kumquat and star anise. We tried a yuzu spritz with yuzu liqueur, dry vermouth and prosecco which was a definite upgrade from your bog standard aperol, and an apple and honey lemonade, which was equally lovely. The wine list is small but better than we were expecting from a scout online, with two whites, two reds and a prosecco, all decent, and none likely to cause chronic hangover (not guaranteed). They also do one beer - Kirin Ichiban.
And the service?
Full of smiles and checks that we were okay, although we would have liked to have been asked about the pacing of dishes when we ordered. Apart from that it was hard to find fault.
Soup has been on the to-do list for a while and we only wish we hadn't waited so long to get here. The ramen is best we've found in Dublin, and if this was our local we'd be in here every week - particularly over those long, dark winter months. We live in hope that Soup Ramen 2 is on the cards, so that more people get to experience the joy of really great ramen, that spectacular umami salad and the wonder of deep-fried fermented cabbage.
28 George's Street Lower, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin www.soupramen.ie