The Ramen Bar
Kokoro 51 South William Street Dublin 2 To be smothered with a head cold is a superbly evocative expression. It so accurately describes what it feels like to be, well, smothered with a head cold.
Eating with a cold is a strange experience. You can’t even tell if you’re hungry and your ability to taste and smell is seriously inhibited. Your mind is so fuzzy that you can never remember how the old rhyme goes.... is it feed a fever or feed a cold? Which one am I supposed to starve? It’s only a particular type of food that can cut through this cloudiness and, for me, the greatest remedy for a foggy head is a bowl of noodle soup.
But, boy, is it hard to find a decent bowl of noodle soup in
Dublin. The Fumbally do a great bowl of ramen every once in a while as a special, and I really like the sweet and unassuming broth in the bowls of pho of Aobaba on Capel St, though their noodles could be improved.
In terms of ramen, I have long been on the hunt to find a bowl powerful enough to take down the common cold, or at least offer some respite from it.
After reading my colleague Catherine Cleary’s positive words on The Ramen Bar a few weeks back, I dragged myself from my sick bed on a quest for a lunchtime cure. The Ramen Bar is at the back of Kokoro Sushi Bento on South William St is one of three Kokoro sushi spots in Dublin’s city centre, owned and operated by model Yomiko Chen and her husband Iain Conway.
They opened The Ramen Bar in spring of 2016, after extensive ramen research in Japan. This included squeezing secret noodle and broth recipes from some of Japan’s busiest and best ramen bars, as well as bringing home a noodle-making machine that would allow them to make their own noodles on-site every day.
The room is dark, which suits my sore head, and the staff are friendly and sweet. From my seat, I sneak a peek into the kitchen and I can see a chef rolling and layering the noodle dough in thin, beautiful sheets. It turns out that these noodles have a lovely bite to them, and hold their own in the bowl of broth. I’ve gone for the chicken-based spicy torishio ramen (¤11), and I’ve been able to choose between mild, spicy and hot. I go for spicy and it’s just right for me – mellow enough to allow room for the other flavours in the bowl but with a little kick to cut through that head cold.
I use the wooden, long-handled ladle supplied to sup the soup, letting it soothe my ailments. The broth is cloudy and dotted with pearls of tasty chicken fat, dotted with sesame seeds. It is a broth made from a secret combination of chicken bones, vegetables and other ingredients simmered for six hours, a method that Conway developed based on knowledge gleaned from ramen chefs in Japan. The chicken chashu, slices of braised, succulen chicken, is marinated in a char sui sauce overnight, before being chargrilled and then baked before serving. The bowl is packed with sweetcorn, pickled ginger, bean sprouts, spring onions and a portion of baby pak choi that I’ve added to mix for an additional ¤2.
Even though I’m smothered, I can taste the heat, the umami and, most importantly the time that’s gone into the broth. It’s time that makes a ramen, or any food, special. This isn’t a quick job of throwing a few bits of meat and noodles into a bowl of instant stock. This broth has been simmered and cared for. In the case of the pork tonkotsu broth featured in the pork ramen, it’s been simmered and worked on for up to 14 hours, and I find that incredibly comforting. It gives me the energy I need to drag myself home again, back to bed, which is no mean feat.
It appears my head cold has met its match in The Ramen Bar’s bowls of noodle soup.