Downtown Ramen

Downtown Ramen
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R80 avg main meal
Comfy & casual
Asian, Japanese
Mastercard, Visa

Critic's review

Jeanne Calitz

Brought to you by the cool folks of Lefty’s Dive Bar in Harrington Street, the much-anticipated Downtown Ramen is drawing crowds of noodle-loving locals. Jeanne Calitz managed to nab a seat – and a rather fine bowl of broth.

The food
Arriving at Lefty’s, we’re not entirely sure of where to go, so we hang around awkwardly for a moment before eavesdropping on a fellow seeker’s phone call: “OK,” he repeats the received instructions, “so I come in through Lefty’s, turn left, and take the stairs.”

We follow gratefully, emerging into what is a very simple production: a smallish hall with counter seating, a few communal tables and some crazy Japanese posters on the walls. It’s crammed with customers; you get the feeling that you’ve fallen down a rabbit hole… even though you’ve just climbed up the stairs. You’ll have to allow me the metaphor, because everything here says: Eat Me.

The menu is concise: choose between two ramen noodle dishes – pork or vegetarian with tofu – delivered in a shoyu (soya-based) broth, and bao (steamed buns) with a choice of three fillings: pork belly with a citrus pickle, soy-and-beer-braised short rib, and a vegetarian option. As appreciative carnivores, we opt for the meaty fare.

The bao arrive swiftly, bursting with flavour. The braised short rib enchants with a fantastic trinity of tastes: smoky, sweet and spicy all at once. Next, the noodles: The dish is served in a big black bowl with a lid to keep the steamy goodness inside. Layered in the fragrant broth await the noodles, amazingly soft and juicy pieces of slow-cooked pork, bean sprouts and a scattering of sesame seeds. There’s the choice of adding chilli and a traditional soft-boiled egg. Both are recommended: the chilli spices things up, while the egg adds a creamy mildness.

You might wonder how to eat this without looking like an idiot – not that anyone here would care. The dish comes with a big red plastic spoon; use it to ladle the noodles and toppings up from the bowl, then pinch a mouthful with the chopsticks. Let it be said, this does not make for elegant eating. But, when it comes to ramen, slurping up the noodles is part and parcel of the game. Ramen chefs believe the noodles have a very short lifetime in the broth before they lose their punch, so you’re encouraged to get on with it. There are some condiments – soy and sriracha – but really, flavourful food like this needs no further embellishment.

The drinks
It’s a humble list of two beers, including Sapporo beer from Japan, two choices of white or red wine, and sake and soft drinks. If you’re in the mood for something more crafty (beers) or flirty (cocktails), diners are encouraged to toddle down to Lefty’s – where everything says: Drink Me! – for the tipple of their choice.

The service
A small staff somehow manages to keep tabs on the ravenous hoards. They’re fast, friendly, and seem genuinely pleased at the pleasure emanating from their slurping, satisfied customers.

The ambience
It’s a very relaxed affair – and friendly, too. Sharing a table with strangers is encouraged. But you’ll have to hop to it: they don’t take bookings, so just pitch up and hope for the best. We arrive at 6.30pm and manage to grab one of the last spots; by 7pm, there’s a line of hungry hopefuls hovering on the stairs. But they won’t wait long – this is food served fast (the slow cooking having been done throughout the day), so tables turn over at a brisk pace.

If you do have to fall in line, order a drink at Lefty’s to enjoy on the stairs. It’s a good way to get ready for the awesomeness beyond that magical doorway.

(August 2014)

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User reviews

  • Hmm, wasn't so keen on a repeat visit, based on some of the reviews here, but so glad I did! The restaurant is bigger than when I first when, so easier to get a table (as you can't book). We started with a short rib bao and a crispy chicken bao - perfect bite to share between 3 of us. The crispy chicken wasn't on the menu (but a friend had alerted me to it) - they use the chicken from the chicken waffles at Lefty's in it, and is DELICIOUS! Could just have had another round of those for dinner. By the time we ordered main course, the miso beef ramen was sold out, which was disappointing. I was worried the laksa would be too hot, but our fantastic waitress brought me a little taster of the broth to test, and said she'd put the sambal oelek on the side, so we could adjust the heat. The dish was fantastic - soft, juicy chicken in a really comforting laksa base. Others had the pork belly ramen, which was less fatty looking than I remember, and got a rave review. Will definitely be back!
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  • Do you want to get sick??? I surely didn't before I arrived here. Read this to find out more! I thought I would try out this restaurant, based on some feedback I had received on Zomato. After eating here, I don't know whether I should be more disappointed at the restaurant or the elevated reviews that people had made. Let me explain my experience. We arrived at the restaurant with a party of 5 rather early and it was quiet. Thus the ambiance was very relaxed. The place seemed quite dirty, especially the kitchen where I noticed a few electrical wires lying around - which is a huge safety hazard. But I felt like it should have been part and parcel of the experience. Hence the name Downtown Ramen. Before ordering our drinks we noticed that there was a small selection - but the waitress kindly said we could order drinks from the restaurant below. We opted for drinking their drinks. 3 of us ordered bottled water, one ordered a an Appletizer and the other a glass of Chardonnay. The Chardonnay was vinegar at that stage and had clearly been sitting for quite some time. To avoid making a scene we just left the wine and didn't drink it. Our waitress informed us that she had not tasted anything on the menu, as she was allergic to all the food. Which didn't help us when we decided to make our choices. Had I known then, what I was in for - I would also say that I was allergic to the food. When we went to wash our hands in the bathroom - we noticed dirty underwear on the floor. We decided to start off with Bao and three people at the table got it. The Bao was presented differently to what I am used too - but was acceptable. The flavours were there, but it felt like there was too much vinegar on the "pickles" that were placed on top of it. Then we received our mains. Four people at the table got the Shoyu and one got the Miso ramen. The presentation was good - although it must be noted that there was quite a bit of oil sitting on the top. I assumed that the pork may have been the cause of this. Once I tasted the Shoyu, my palate first noted the salt content was very high - which could be expected from a broth. I was expecting a flavour burst - once the saltiness had gone away - of meat, seaweed and broth. Sadly I never got this. The noodles were cooked nicely. The pork was very fatty and soft, it would have been better if the fat on top had been rendered - which would have brought a flavour burst to the broth. I had one taste of the pork and left the rest as I felt it was unpalatable. All the people who had the Shoyu quietly left theirs too after tasting it. I tasted the Miso ramen and actually enjoyed it. It was much tastier than the Shoyu and the meat had a well-rounded flavour. I left Downtown Ramen with a feeling of dissatisfaction in my mouth and the car trip home was rather quiet - which is unusual for 5 friends. When someone brought up the food - we all agreed that it was not satisfactory. About 3 hours after the night had come to a close - I started feeling rather sick and about 4 hours after my meal I was visiting the bathroom frequently. I had food poisoning and so did my other 2 housemates. The next day my other friend phoned to say that she had been up all night feeling incredibly sick. Could it be coincidence that we all ate the same thing from another place - highly unlikely when the only thing we ate together that day was the food at Downtown Ramen. As a consumer I understand that these things happen - as a chef and coming from the restaurant industry - I know that situations like these are unacceptable and are avoided at all costs. If you decide - I should go to Downtown Ramen and think "maybe they just had a bad night" know that the hygiene in the place is clearly unacceptable and bad nights can be avoided, especially if the restaurant is not full.
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  • We loved Downtown Ramen! I'll be honest, if I had not read this review we would have turned around and gone home because it was armed with the wisdom of going upstairs once inside Lefty's that we were able to experience the treat that is Downton Ramen. My husband and I both ordered the pork belly ramen and he had their Japanese Beer. The atmosphere was wonderful - listening to some Wu Tang Clan (real Hip Hop) while feeling at home in a space that is cosy and warm. The only down side I would identify is that our wonderful waitress was the only one there, so we waited a while before having our order taken. Go check this place out. It is worth it! We will definitely go back again
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  • We instantly loved the vibe at Ramen and the small menu made our choices easy. The beef short rib starter was probably the most tasty part of our meal. We ordered the noodle soup with pork belly for mains, with all the add-ons; chilli and a soft-boiled egg. To our disappointment the food came seconds later, as if it was quickly reheated in the microwave, and sadly that’s exactly how it tasted. It lacked the freshness and explosion of flavours we were hoping for. On our way out we smelled Lefty’s ribs and wondered why we didn’t go there.
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  • We are always keen to try new restaurants and after hearing a lot about it, we were really looking forward to trying Downtown Ramen. Maybe our expectations were too high, or maybe we just went on a bad night; but we had a very disappointing meal there this evening. We ordered the beef short rib and pork belly Bao to start. The Bao filling and pickles tasted great, the meat was delicious. It turned out to be the best part of the meal. We had the pork belly on courgette noodles as our main. Any feeling of being wowed by the look of the dish quickly disappeared after sampling the tasteless broth. Fast, friendly service saved the day; but food was, as a whole, incredibly disappointing!
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  • Accepts credit cards
  • Dinner
  • Food
  • Licensed
  • Serves food
  • Vegetarian

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