Ramen right up ye!
Forced into La Cheetah, the basement club of Max’s bar & grill on Queen St, from its semi-“permanent” location on Gordon Lane by Glasgow City Council, the entry to Ramen Dayo!, once you’ve descended the staircase, is suitably Japanese. Red and white lanterns hang like they might do in a Shibuya side-street. In case that didn’t say Japan loud enough, a big screen also displays subtitled movies, mostly of the Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli variety (Tampopo was just finishing when I walked in though). The music, however, was not very Japaneasy – jazz guitar noodling. Ah, I see what they did there. Noodle. As in ramen. Perhaps.
So what does “Ramen Dayo!” mean? “This is ramen!” Japan’s number one food, according to the framed information beside me, which I would handily refer to for most of the evening, and Ramen Dayo’s raison d’etre is to fill Glasgow’s ramen void. Yes, Ramen Dayo! is unbelievably the first dedicated ramen restaurant in the city. The story goes that a man called Paul from Glasgow lived in Tokyo for 11 years only to return home and discover that he couldn’t find good ramen anywhere. This led to much cooking, experimentation and eventually the birth of a temporary restaurant in Gordon Lane…
If you’re thinking you remember eating ramen at Wagamama or somewhere else in Glasgow but you’ve never been to Japan, you need to know this about Japanese restaurants: they tend to specialise, I.e. If you want rice and fish you go to a sushi restaurant; if you want fried food in batter you go to a tempura restaurant; if you want noodles you go to a ramen restaurant etc. You wouldn’t go to a Wagamama catch-all cuisine restaurant because it probably wouldn’t be very good and chances are that it would be expensive. Actually, despite being considered one of the world’s most expensive countries, eating out is actually quite affordable (especially outside of Tokyo) and restaurant food is to a very high standard. The “shokunin” approach to food preparation ensures it. Why have a chef making okonomiyaki* when his life’s calling is to dish up yakisoba?!
*Glasgow also needs a place for Osakan street food!
The food menu is fairly straightforward: a choice of five different Japanese broths, three called tonkotsu, one tantanmen and one veggie. I’ve been to Japan twice but had never encountered tonkotsu until now (though I have eaten tonkatsu which is a completely different thing: a breaded pork cutlet). From reading the framed info again I discovered that tonkotsu is big in Kyushu and Hokkaido, two places I’ve never been (well, aside from travelling through Fukuoka airport and Hakata train station). The framed info also describes it as being a bone broth packed full of vitamins and minerals (perhaps bearing some similarities to Haejang-guk hangover soup which I had in South Korea year’s ago).
So I decided on the standard tonkotsu (£7.50) with an egg for an added £2, which disturbingly looked like a century egg but despite being brown it tasted like a normal egg! The first taste of the broth however was more than ok – a big flavoursome umami hit with lots of pork flavour, spring onion, mushroom, seaweed and lots of noodles. So if you’ve never had tonkotsu before it’s essentially heaped noodles and other ingredients in a watered-down umami-heavy gravy. That might sound like a disservice to any ramen acolytes but it was REALLY tasty.
For drinking, the Green Russian dayo stood out. Essentially a White Russian with shōchū instead of vodka and matcha tea (NB: it’s listed on the menu above for £5.95 but is only £4.95 at the moment). It was also REALLY good, if you know your Uji from your senchu then this is a tasty cocktail topped with a green tea Kit Kat (and those are expensive don’t you know!). Incidentally red dots (or rising sun Japanese flags) on the menu signifies genuine produce from Japan.
Once that was finished I ordered a Ramune (£2.80), it’s supposedly a lemon-lime flavoured soft drink, but to me it’s more like bubblegum-meets-cream soda water and it comes in one of those rather phallic Japanese bottles kept fresh with a “marble”! Not only are they awkward to open, I find them awkward to drink too (and I’ve no idea what that is supposed to be on the label!). Most things in Japan are really well-designed but I’m not a fan of these as they rattle when you drink them and occasionally the marble gets stuck!
For dessert I had two scoops of Ice-cream for £3 (£3.90 on the menu above but currently on offer). There’s a choice of four flavours: vanilla, matcha, black sesame and adzuki bean. While I highly recommend the Green Russian Dayo I wasn’t so impressed with the matcha ice-cream but the sesame was pleasantly different.
So, Ramen Dayo! was my introduction to tonkotsu. I now plan to return to work my way through the rest of the menu as it was surprisingly good and probably as close as you can get to eating ramen in Japan without leaving the country! My belly was full after two courses including two drinks, which cost a total of £20.25. Service was was friendly and non-obtrusive but probably my main criticism is something really silly and that’s the constant squeaky gym-hall floor sounds from staff repeatedly walking across a particular bit of floor!
My second criticism is also something well within the staff’s control – the cheesy music! By the time I’d finished the music was onto smooth jazz cover versions of 90’s pop acts. Time to go!
Toilets are shared with Max’s and were clean and functional.
There is WiFi…for Max’s upstairs but it’s a big long password and most staff don’t know it!
Once I finished I actually headed upstairs to Max’s for “Hot liquor” which takes place every Monday, where they serve up cocktails made from spirits that are new to the UK market for £2.50!!!
Max’s is also open until 3am every night! Ramen Dayo! shuts bang on 10 though so best get there early.
+ Uncomplicated Japanese-style menu
+ Best (only?!) place for authentic ramen in Glasgow
+ Good selection of Japanese drinks
+ Matcha green tea Russian cocktail was ace
+ Good value
+ Bonus: green tea kit Kat
+ Cheap cocktails upstairs every Monday night (and on until 3am!)
– Squeaky shoes on floor does your head in after a while
– Green tea ice-cream didn’t taste of much
– Simply Red sax covers and Eric Clapton harmonica solos are a NO!
Max’s Bar & Grill, 73 Queen St. It used to be Twisted Wheel. For old school folk it was Rock Garden (R.G.’s) and for really ancient fuddy duddys it was Lang’s (read all about it at the Mitchell!)
It’s a 5 min walk from Central, Queen St or Argyle St train stations. Plenty of east-bound buses pass the door.
12 noon – 10pm