Restaurant Review: Ramen-Ya Hiro
The afternoon had turned into evening as we walked down Carrer Girona after a day in some plaça in Gràcia, enjoying beer and the change of scenery with a visiting friend, when I stumbled upon Ramen-Ya Hiro. The name was familiar, as I had just read a brief description of the tiny ramen bar on a hip Barcelona food blog, and judging from the groups of young people in skinny jeans and scarves waiting outside for a table, it must be good. Everyone was peering through the windows of the brightly-lit noodle shop, a welcoming beacon on an otherwise dark street. A delicious surprise on a quiet Thursday night north of Diagonal.
We waited outside while those before us, one by one, wedged themselves into open seats, my hunger and anticipation building as I perused the relatively straight-forward, ‘build your own noodle bowl’ menu. Finally two spots opened up at the low bar, giving us a front-row view of the equally small kitchen and the giant pot of simmering, meaty broth that could practically double as a hot tub.
Ramen-Ya Hiro is a ‘japanese kitchen’, with no sushi in sight. The star is ramen soup, and not the kind that keeps starving university students barely alive for €1.35 a packet. Chef Hiroki Yoshiyuki, formerly of popular Barcelona restaurant Tempura-Ya, opened his own Japanese hotspot in the fall of 2012, helping to fill a gap in the growing international food scene of Barcelona. He makes the noodles fresh each night with the pasta machine he purchased in Japan, serving up to 150 people per night in his dining room of little more than 20 seats.
Ramen is something people specialise in and obsess over. It’s food of the common man turned cool. Working-class street food that has exploded onto the radar of people who are looking for lots of flavour without the fuss. Just look at the drive and incredible success of Korean-American chef and entrepreneur David Chang with his Momofuku Noodle Bar and Restaurant Group in New York City (now in Toronto and Sydney as well). When tender pork meets starchy noodles, velvety egg yolks and ‘umami-bombs’ like soy sauce and miso, an addictive, deeply pleasing dining experience is likely in store.
The big, rich, aromatic noodle soups at Ramen-Ya Hiro are incredibly filling, and the tight quarters of the dining room had nearly all the patrons present holding their giant, steaming bowls close, smiling and slurping happily; sniffing and sweating as the winter chill melted away with each bite.
We began our meal with a bowl of house-made kimchi and a couple of bottles of Kirin Ichiban, a pale Japanese lager that is honestly nothing to write home about despite the cool logo. That being said, it is refreshing, and very easy to drink. If your goal is downing as many bottles as possible in some sort of noodle eating/beer chugging competition followed by karaoke, this is a perfect choice.
So first of all, kimchi is not Japanese but Korean, though I wasn’t about to cry foul. I really love the funky, spicy, fermented radish and cabbage that my Korean school mates used to make in their dorm rooms. It would stink up the hallways but make those who got a taste quite happy indeed. However, this kimchi was not what I was hoping for. Maybe they were rushing the process, or catering to the cautious local palette, but this dish was not spicy at all, despite the servers’ warning, and lacked all but the faintest hint of that essential fermented flavour. While Korean kimchi ranges from very fresh and crunchy to down-right noxious depending on the aging, I found this one wholly disappointing and pretty uninteresting.
After the kimchi, our noodles—and more beer—arrived, steaming and beautiful with the classic garnishes of spiral fish cake, nori seaweed, slow-cooked egg, and juicy roasted pork. The soups come in several varieties: shōyu (soy sauce-spiked), miso flavoured (both with a base of chicken and pork broth for €7.50 each) and seafood. Additional garnishes are purchased from the sidebar menu, including extra pork, corn, poached egg, stewed bamboo, soy bean sprouts, nori, butter (the last being recommended only as a rich companion to the miso), from between 50 cents and €2 each.
In addition to noodles, Ramen-Ya Hiro offers Japanese specialities like Cha-shu-don (a bowl of glutenous rice with braised pork belly and scallions) and Onigiri (hand-held triangles of rice with Japanese prunes, kombu seaweed, or pork belly) as well as crowd favorites like steamed edamame and gyoza dumplings (with a pork, shitake mushroom and cabbage filling).
Dessert at Ramen-Ya Hiro is light and flavourful as well, with dishes such as sesame flan and fresh mochi (chewy, rice flour cakes) offering a nice, hintingly-sweet end to the meal.
Unlike the increasingly popular Vietnamese pho soup, ramen doesn’t have the bright herb palette or the spicy chili kick. Ramen is more subtle, and though I enjoy pho very much, judging from what I have tried in Barcelona, I recommend braving the lines at Ramen-Ya Hiro instead to get your noodle soup fix this winter.
Carrer Girona 164
Lunch 1.30pm-3.30pm (€10.50 menu)