Chef Brian Donnelly is not a Shinto monk. He isn't even Japanese. Yet what he and his crew produce in Bia Rebel Ramen's kitchen on the Ormeau Road in Belfast is so authentic and so microscopically detailed it should really be enough to persuade Premier Yoshihide Suga to bestow him an honorary citizenship.
Brian has emerged from years of working in the best kitchens as a chef dedicated, Shinto-like, to ritual tradition. That's what it takes to make ramen noodles and broths of this quality.
A childhood dream of being a chef blossomed early and he worked for some of the best restaurant chefs in the world including the prodigious Michelin three-star Jean-Georges Vongerichten whose restaurants are dotted among the capitals of the world.
Vongerichten is also not Japanese, he is from the Alsace in eastern France, yet he has dedicated an entire chain of restaurants, VONG, where the ramen is king. This is where Brian has taken his inspiration. More precisely, he has dedicated the last 10 years of his life to perfecting the art of the ramen in a move which encompasses much more than business and a way to make a living. For him and his partner Jenny, it's a lifestyle in which perfection is the constant pursuit, the dishes are exciting and his family gets to play a role.
Making fresh noodles is one thing. It takes years, says Brian, to get the balance just right. But no matter how good the noodles are, the broth in which they bathe and which gives them their magical flavour has to be carefully tended over a period of 48 hours to ensure it's as it should be. Over the years, the menu has been refined to a simple list featuring high-heat pho-style spicy ramen and broths and milder, deep variants featuring char siu pork, marinated brisket of beef, chicken and eggs.
Last weekend we had the latest Bia Rebel iteration, a do-it-yourself version which comes in a box for two. In the box are fresh scallions, ramen, generous slices of char siu pork, a large dose of fresh miso paste, some pickled ginger and soy sauce.
Incidentally, Bia Rebel now offers a variety of sauces including the now infamous Umami Bomb. They also make chicken salt in two versions including a mild and spicy. Believe me, you haven't lived until you've sprinkled a bit of that on your dinner.
The box is well thought out. A couple of minutes frying the char siu until golden brown and dipping the ramen into the boiling miso/water broth for 30 seconds is all that's required to have a Bia Rebel Ramen dinner. There were three of us in the house the night we made this and there was enough to go around. The depth of flavour and quality of the miso broth are unparalleled.
Less fire and more profoundly savoury joy made this one of the smiliest prepare-at-home meals we have enjoyed so far. In fact, it was so good, we ordered a proper take-away a couple of days afterwards.
Dishes, including the Belfast Original, separate the ramen and other components into different boxes. The pork, tea-smoked softboiled egg, scallions, chillies and other bits come in one and the ramen in another so it won't be overcook by the time you get them home. Just put them all together in a warmed bowl.
The brisket of beef ramen is a hot and fiery affair which manages to amplify the beefy flavours of the meat. Also on the menu are various crispy chicken wings and nuggets with some of the Bia Rebel own sauces. There are bao with hoisin pulled pork, Korean fried rice dishes and on-trend bibimbap (mixed rice dish) with gochujang.
The food from Bia Rebel Ramen is outstanding. Brian Donnelly should qualify, if not as a Shinto monk, at least as a Samurai warrior for not letting go of his dedicated pursuit of excellence.
Bia Rebel Ramen DIY box for two £20
Belfast Original £14.90
Celtic Beef £12.90
Vegan Shiitake Miso £10
Chicken gyoza £6.50
Sweet and Sticky chicken wings £6.50
Total (not including DIY box) £50.80