There aren’t many Irish chefs who can say they’ve been planning their first restaurant since they were five or six, but so is Kevin Hughes, who, with his wife and business partner Marta Masnou, is behind the new Nomo Ramen. Hughes grew up in Ireland, where his family owned Chinese restaurants and takeaways, but spent his childhood summers in Tsingtao. There he would spend days exploring the local ramen bars on the handlebars of his maternal grandfather’s bicycle. He’s been obsessed ever since.
Kevin trained as a chef after leaving school but has spent most of his career working in IT in Ireland and the US. In New York, David Chang’s Momofuku in the East Village and Totto Ramen in Hell’s Kitchen have rekindled his love affair with ramen. Their high-quality “fusion” ramen dishes incorporate Western flavors and rely on broths that are less salty and strong than those found in China and Japan.
A few years ago, Kevin decided to get back into the food industry. He began developing ramen recipes – a long and tedious process. (Ramen has this effect on humans, as I know from Juzo Itami’s film Tampopo.) Traditionally, ramen is made with pork broth, but after spending some time searching for the perfect pork recipe, Kevin switched to chicken and then spent three years finding a recipe for the creamy broths he enjoyed in New York , and pinched – plus or minus a milligram of salt – along the way.
With the broth sorted, Kevin’s attention turned to the noodles. He initially thought he could make the ramen himself, but said he found it very difficult — it’s the hydration, he says — so he set out to sell Japanese company Sun Noodle, which is said to be the best persuade him to deliver. That was another lengthy process. With nomo ramen, the noodles are wavy rather than straight because they carry more broth.
So much for the backstory, what about the food? We visit for a weekday lunch and get a table straight away – it’s walk-ins only. We start with a hirata bun — named after the Japanese chef who first put them on his menu, they resemble bao — filled with around-the-clock marinated pork, homemade pickles, and hoisin sauce. The pork tastes great, the pickles are delicious, and the whole thing is pretty good.
Gyoza chicken dumplings, on the other hand, are boring. Pan-fried using the potsticker method, we’d prefer more of the flavor that comes with more fat, hotter temperatures, and caramelization, and we don’t love the sweet sauce, although it’s certainly authentic.
The best appetizer — and one you absolutely must order — is the mushroom karaage, a pile of battered oyster mushrooms served with a hoisin mayo dipping sauce. These are the perfect crunchy snacks to snack on while you wait for your ramen, and will tempt even the mushroom hater I date. (Kevin later tells me that he spent a month trying all kinds of dough before settling on this one, which doesn’t surprise me.)
And then it’s the turn of the ramen, the star of the show, of which there are only two versions to choose from: Og Nomo (pork) or San Diego (vegan).
The pork ramen is fabulous, by far the best I’ve eaten in Ireland. The belly goes through a four or five-hour cooking process, during which it never boils — it’s almost sous-vide, but not sous-vide, Kevin enigmatically says — before marinating it for a couple of hours and immediately refrigerating it to preserve its shape and Textured so the pieces don’t break when cut. Just before serving, Kevin burns the meat on one side with a blowtorch to make it charred and smoky. The flavor is fantastic and the broth, which took three years to develop, has great depth and flavor without being too rich, the marinated egg oozes perfectly when you smack it with the tip of your chopstick.
The vegan broth is creamy thanks to oat milk and also has a multi-layered flavor, down to a combination of ingredients that Kevin won’t reveal. The protein is homemade marinated tofu with a roasted tomato and leeks. Many vegan dishes rely on the flavor of mushrooms, but not here.
My only real gripe with the food is that the pork and chicken aren’t free range, although there are hopes of moving in that direction in the future. The chic branding and interior show there’s ambition here – Marta works in the field – and it’s not hard to imagine the (deliberately) expressionless bear mascot gaining a loyal following. If you look closely, you can imagine him slurping and licking his lips. Lunch for two with water is €51.
The vegan ramen San Diego costs €13.50.
Split mushrooms, wings and gyoza, eat a bowl of pork ramen and a beer each, and you’ll spend around €65 between two.
Nomo Ramen, 4 Harcourt Hall, Charlotte Way, Dublin 2.
https://www.independent.ie/life/food-drink/food-reviews/nomo-ramen-restaurant-review-the-pork-ramen-is-fabulous-easily-the-best-ive-eaten-in-ireland-41596682.html Nomo Ramen restaurant review: “The pork ramen is fabulous, by far the best I’ve eaten in Ireland”