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Ikigai, Edinburgh, restaurant review

This new restaurant is owned by the people behind Maki & Ramen

Published: July 9, 2022
Categories:
Food: 
7.5/10
Ambience: 
7.5/10

“Can you hear that?”

Someone in this new ramen restaurant was a talented slurper, with excellent sound projection skills.

They could have been a ventriloquist, and thrown their guzzles so they would emanate from a pigeon’s beak on South Bridge, or become part of a Royal Mile busker’s song.

Anyway, they do say that you’re supposed to eat noodles noisily.

In Japan, it’s considered a sign of enjoyment and, thus, a compliment to the chef - if they’re actually listening, and not busy chopping onions and toasting gyoza.

I also feel that it helps speed up the suction process. Apart from the noise thing, the general consensus is that ramen should be downed relatively quickly, as the wheaty carb is still cooking and expanding after it’s been served in its hot broth. So sook away. You should sound like a thirsty Labrador.

This technique probably enhances the flavour too, thanks to retronasal olfaction, much like a wine drinking slurp. I know this, because there are many instructional videos online that show you how to eat ramen properly. It’s a YouTube endorsed art. And it’s okay to lift up the bowl to drink the last of the liquid.

Anyway, we’re too self-conscious for any of that at this new place, which is owned by the Edinburgh Japanese restaurant empire, Maki & Ramen, and has another, much smaller two-year-old branch at West Crosscauseway. It has a less traditional and younger vibe than their original venue, with neon signs and wooden pews, as well as a more extensive food menu and a focus on cocktails.

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Since they’re on a busy thoroughfare, you imagine they’d get more footfall, though they were pretty quiet on a Saturday afternoon, until a huge table of 12 rocked up.

While they got in the party mode, we silently and reverently shared a bowl of the yasai truffle ramen (£12.50), which featured a light, transparent and neutral vegetarian broth, as well as a soft yolked egg that came in the spoon, as if we were getting a head start in the school sports day races. Interestingly, the name for this ramen utensil is chirirenge, which translates to “fallen lotus petal” - alluding to its flat-bottomed shape with folded edges. There were smoky swathes of mushroom in the mix, as well as chopped spring onions, chestnut-coloured and springy kikurage (wood ear mushroom) strips, a couple of crispy green beans and half a slippery pak choi. I probably prefer Ikigai’s porky tonkotsu version of this dish, though the yasai truffle is a breezy option if you’re not in a meaty mood.

We did our best at hoovering it up, though there were other distractions.

My kanbina (£8.50) for instance, which was a spritzy and sherbert pink take on grapefruit Collins, with a mixture of Roku Gin, pamplemousse, gomme, lime and cranberry. I did manage a bit of light slurping, when it came to sooking this through its stripy paper straw.

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We’ve already had the excellent takoyaki (£7) octopus balls at their other location, so we tried the pork gyoza (£6) from the Small Bites list, which also features wasabi peas, cucumber wakame salad and sweet potato croquettes, among other things. They were chunky and fleshy two bite affairs, with a single dapple toasted side and a thick and sturdy meaty filling, as well as the ubiquitous vinegary soy dip on the side.

The salt and seaweed fries (£4) were a stroke of low rent genius. Basically, golden skinny chips that were heaped in an obscene amount of salt and dried seaweed flakes. I am going to live in Atlantis if this is how they treat potatoes down there. They were compulsive, though they made me very thirsty. More cocktails please.

Our huge heap of bubbly surfaced spicy teriyaki tebasaki karaage (£6.50), which are also available as wings for bone lovers, could have been a bit crispier, when it came to their chewy chicken coating. However, the hot, gluey and sweet toffee apple coloured sauce, speckled with sesame seeds, made us happy.

If you want to stick around for something sweet, they also serve three flavours of mochi along with green tea by local business, Eteaket.

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You can eat and drink these – or in fact, anything - as silently or noisily as you like.

Just because we were very quiet at Ikigai, it doesn’t mean we weren’t very appreciative.

29-30 South Bridge

Edinburgh

(0131 558 7772, www.ikigairamen.co.uk)

Gaby Soutar is a lifestyle editor at The Scotsman. She has been reviewing restaurants for The Scotsman Magazine since 2007 and edits the weekly food pages.

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