Nestled on a quiet unassuming street, on the border of the Zonnebloem and Cape Town City Center neighborhoods, is a small Ramen shop above a well worn bar: Downtown Ramen. A small shop with a handful of benches and a small balcony with seats graces this hidden gem. Like so many other Ramen shops, the menu is simple. Three columns, two of which detail the drinks menu. The third is split in two sections. Bao and Ramen.
Our starter: bao. Traditionally Chinese was a curious addition to this Ramen shop. It was also certainly not a traditional bao. Despite a heavier/thicker bun resembling a crumpet, we found the presentation itself was actually quite fantastic. The charsu pork belly bao was savory and sweet. A well rendered pork belly paired with the simple fresh citrus pickled cucumber slices and julienne carrots, made for a wonderful texture and mouth feel. The combination of these textures made up for the lack of a traditional lighter/fluffier bun.
Our second bao, the special of the day, was a fried chicken bao. As you bit into the boa, you experienced layered textures and flavors. The soft, warm boa to the cold fresh veggies, to the warm crunch and juiciness of the chicken. To bring all the textures and flavors together, Downtown Ramen used a spiced mayo dressing that brought a creaminess to everything. Needless to say it was delicious and we ordered two more.
For the main course, we ordered their Shoyo Ramen. This was a flavorful ramen, and much like the bao quite non-traditional. Served with pork belly, egg, spring onion, nori, and a surprise of chili peppers the presentation was quite fantastic. For this ramen, the broth was weaker compared to others. It lacked a mouth flavor, and heartiness of gelatin, ultimately appearing like a diluted pork belly soup. The broth really took a back seat to the star of the dish, the Pork belly; a generously thick cut portion, tender, well seasoned, and prepared. It was the highlight of the dish when paired with the uniquely South African chili’s which added a distinct taste and slow heat to the dish.
Overall the shop and service was fantastic. It felt much more like a traditional Izakaya, unlike the meals themselves. The food and menu were hip without being pretentious, something San Francisco could learn a thing or two from, and the food was priced well under expectations. If you ever find yourself with a craving for ramen in the Cape Town area we recommend you try Downtown Ramen for a unique blend of flavors!