Cape Town is no slowcoach when it comes to picking up on trends. Locals love their tapas; sushi bars are plentiful and dim sum has taken hold across the city. But there’s only one restaurant riding the ramen noodle wave washing across the world.
Downtown Ramen is not the most glamorous restaurant in town, nor is it the easiest to find. Situated above Lefty’s Dive Bar in gritty Harrington Street, chances are you’ll get lost on your first visit. But once you’ve found Lefty’s just head inside, take a left and wander up the stairs.
Here a handful of tables, most of them communal, will be packed with locals slurping their way through a bowl of the best ramen in Cape Town.
Heck, probably the best in Africa.
The chalkboard menu is as simple as the décor: ramen served three ways, with a handful of lip-smacking steamed buns to start. The pork belly bao with citrus pickle is superb, closely followed by the succulent short rib braised in soy and beer. For vegetarians, smoked aubergine with spicy pickles won’t disappoint.
But the ramen is the main attraction here, and the Shoyu is the signature: thick slices of succulent slow-cooked pork, bean sprouts, sesame seeds, spring onion and strips of nori in a chicken and dashi (seafood) broth. There’s a hint of chilli balanced by a creamy soft-boiled egg soaked in soy and sake. Delicious.
It’s no place for a first date or romantic evening out, and service can be brusque to the point of rudeness, but for standout noodles in a charmingly gritty corner of Cape Town, you’ll want to be heading to Downtown Ramen.