Casual Korean food that's spicing up The Liberties
What should we know about Space Jaru?
Korean street food vendors Jaru have spent a long seven years building their brand on the food market and festival scenes, together with a growing retail presence. As well as stockists like Supervalu and Fresh carrying their kimchi and rayu, they operate their Jaru Mart direct delivery service online, sending Korean storecupboard essentials, meal kits and ready to hit dinners across the capital.
Founder Gunmoo Kim was just about to sign the lease on the business’s first sit-in space elsewhere in March 2020 when, well, we all know what happened next. Three years, a few pandemic pivots and plenty of recipe experimentation later, Space Jaru has finally settled down in Dublin 8, in the Meath Street site that was formerly home to Tasty8 café.
Where should we sit?
Both wide, floor-to-ceiling shopfront windows have benches running the full length of them, so they're ideal for solo diners or those who want to watch the world go by - and few Dublin streets are as good for entertaining outside watching as Meath Street.
Otherwise, the left side of the space has a smattering of two and four-top setups spaced throughout, while the right plays host to a bigger ten-seater table, calling out for a group outing. It’s also got by far the best view of the open kitchen.
What's on the menu?
They’ve kept things clear and concise with four sections representing a good spread of Korean cuisine: small plates, banchan and sides, BBQ bowls and KFC (Korean fried chicken) burgers. The chicken is free-range too which we love to see.
If you’re just in for a bowl it’s worth getting the full spread of banchan for maximum mix-and-matching pleasure - they're perfect for adding into rice. For our part we got stuck straight in to the small plates.
First out was the Yangnyum chicken, an impressive mini-mound of twice-fried thighs drizzled in a spicy gochujang-based sauce. That intense, fermented chili paste is a staple of Korean cooking - the country’s mountainous terrain made preserved foods a requirement for more inland regions - and here it brings real flavour complexity to the tender chicken strips, nicely offset by cubes of pickled daikon.
Crispy, flaky batter is delicately seasoned and a light scattering of seeds brings added crunch to the plate. This is a good one for sharing among those with different palates - spice lovers will lap up the Yangnyum sauce, while the more mild-mouthed can grab an uncoated strip if their chopsticks are quick enough.
A plate of mandu came next - Korean dumplings not too far removed from the more familiar gyoza. These beef galbi (rib) ones arrived deep-fried with a cracklingly crisp finish, scattered with pickled onions. The duelling textures of skins and filling is really effective, a satisfying crunch yielding to the soft meat, but the flavour can feel a little one-note beyond the first bite and there’s only so much the little side bowl of soy sauce can do. Worth trying shared with a larger crowd, but this isn’t a plate we’d want all to ourselves.
Our server cheerily called out the tteokbokki as her favourite plate as she set it down, and it’s one we'd been keen to try. In Korea you’ll find endless variations on this popular street food dish, centred on log-shaped rice cakes usually tossed in a spicy sauce and topped with sliced spring onions, sesame seeds and a soft-boiled egg. Space Jaru’s interpretation centres on gochujang pork and it’s a resounding success in our book, rendered fat and fiery sauce happily lapped up by the squidgy cylinders and lightly tempered by the unset egg. There’s hearty, heavy eating in this, but we couldn’t keep our chopsticks from flying back for more.
Edamame felt like coming up for air after all that, and we salute the unfussy treatment here that gets out of the way and lets the light, fresh, firm soybeans speak for themselves. A tell-tale blistered skin on the pods speaks to a short pan-fry finish before the sprinkling of cashews, sesame seeds and coarse salt that adds a very pleasant crunch.
BBQ bowls are one of the centrepieces of the Space Jaru menu, and a mainstay of their market trade. After much wrangling we went for pork jeyuk - thin cuts of fatty meat marinated in apple and gochujang and stir-fried into submission. The bowls come with a choice of purple or kimchi rice and one of six sauces served on the side for drizzling or dipping - choose your own adventure.
We usually like our kimchi with a little more tang than this but it plays well against the sweeter notes of the meat. Tired-looking limp leaves of rocket took away from an otherwise bright bowl, well-balanced with textures and flavours, though after trying the bulk of the small plates before it there wasn’t much new to note here. If you’re going in for a bowl alone, you’ll likely come out satisfied.
The only reason we didn’t go for the beef bulgogi bowl was wanting to try the appa burger instead, which comes with two generous layers of the soy-marinated meat, slopped over two slices of cheese, sandwiching a fried free-range chicken breast. 'Appa' is an affectionate term for 'Father' in Korean, and this does feel like something yer Da might mangle together over a summer barbecue - and we mean that in the best way possible.
The bulgogi is beautiful - the cheaper cuts of meat usually used mostly reflect a history of commoner cooking, but it also yields muscly mounds of meat with maximum surface area to soak up the intensely-flavoured sauce. The chicken is just as good as in the yangnyum to start, and doesn't skimp on size. If there’s a drawback it’s the cheddar which dissolves into a largely flavour-free ooze. The bun itself doesn’t stand out much either, but there’s no pretence here to being anything other than a vessel for everything in between.
What are the drinks like?
The wine list stands out as seriously considered - a lot more thought has gone into these picks than most comparable casual eateries around town. We went with the Judith Beck Ink - always a nice natural one to see by the glass— and the fresh red fruits and minimal tannins make for a perfect pairing with the lightly-spiced pork and bulgogi. For spicier dishes you might want to stick with white - we can vouch for the Von Winning Deidesheimmer Riesling as a good way to balance out the bolder dishes.
For a traditional Korean flavour there’s sool and soju going - fermented rice beer and spirits, respectively - while non-alcoholic options include Irish-produced kefir and kombucha.
How was the service?
Fast and friendly - we had our first plates inside 15 minutes of arrival and the whole lot came in quick succession from there. It’s worth asking for dishes to be divided out into starters and mains if you don’t want to be overwhelmed.
Staff were very happy to help with recommendations and couldn’t have been more apologetic when one side we were really keen to try (padron peppers with baby anchovy) wasn’t available that day. The place got busy quickly when we visited on a Sunday evening, and while servers largely left us alone once everything was on the table, it was easy to catch an attentive eye if there was anything else we needed.
And the damage?
€80 before tip for two, with wine and kombucha and frankly far too much food. You could easily fill up for under €25 a head before factoring in drinks. At lunch, it’s a very reasonable €13 across the board for a slimmed-down menu of BBQ bowls and KFC burgers with chips.
What's the verdict on Space Jaru?
A welcome new space for casual catchups, Korean style, in the heart of the Liberties. With its well-honed menu, excellent drink options and fair pricing, we can see Space Jaru becoming a popular spot for quick bites on the go, kicking off a night out (it's right around the corner from Vicar Street), or just somewhere to spend a few hours in good company over unfussy food. Grab a group, order a bit of everything, and share a bottle of soju - you’re in safe hands here.
67-68 Meath Street, The Liberties, Dublin 8