Restaurant review: Jumon - unusual and probably unique
Fountain Street Belfast Tel: 07967 201209
Jumon is one of the most exciting new restaurants to open so far this year. Its interior is explosively youthful, the menu is like nothing you've ever seen here and the service is as polished as you'd expect in a more conventional, more established place.
Occupying that difficult site on Fountain Street that was previously home to La Boca, the Permit Room and Beringer, Jumon has now been opened as a kind of Far Eastern den, which looks both clubby and illicit at the same time. Perfect for that lunchtime indulgence with a co-worker, a date, or a hipsters' business meeting.
There is a post-French colonial vibe to the place, thanks to the amazing artwork, produced by Ken Maze, that adorns the walls, pillars and just about every other surface in the place. Thankfully, the layout, as originally designed by Oscar & Oscar, remains in situ. The bar, the banquette and the pass are all reassuringly in the same spaces.
When I hear the double-barrelled descriptor 'plant-based' in front of other words, such as food, restaurant and lifestyle, I realise just how far from the younger generation I am.
But, also, it's one of those terms that has been created to take the bad look off more conventional monikers, such as 'urban regeneration specialist, which replaces 'property developer' and 'reputation adviser', instead of 'public relations consultant'.
Likewise, 'plant-based' is meant to take the sting out of that old favourite, 'vegetarian'. Oh, how we used to take the mick out of veggies and their weird sandwiches, sandals and homeopathic outlooks. But times have caught up. The veggies are now mainstream and we generally acknowledge the health-giving attractions of vegetarian and vegan foods and lifestyles.
Yet, there is still in the backs of our minds a kind of stigma that requires us to hide the V-word. 'Plant-based' also allows us to re-evaluate this and bring the whole thing back to basics. I find it kind of reassuring.
So, when chef Nox, the extraordinary Bangkok chef now based in Belfast, talks of plant-based food, it's worth taking a closer look. Nox has previous form with the excellent Banh in Upper Arthur Street. It's doing so well, there's talk of a second one opening in the Queen's Quarter.
Jumon is a different animal. For one thing, it's a comfortable place in which to sit. The service is fast at lunchtime to encourage office workers. The environment is, therefore, right for the menu, which is like nothing else you will find in the north.
There are breakfasts, including KuKu, made with egg white, spinach, labneh (a kind of yoghurt), avocado, and Burmese tomato, Jiang Bing, which features egg, Asian greens, tiger salad, avocado and sambal sauce (served with or without cheese), and Egg Hopper, in which an egg is served in a coconut cup with dhal Burmese tomatoes.
There is a broad spectrum of dishes from around the south-east Asian region, so you will see Korean kimchi, Thai noodles, Sichuan rice meals, Cambodian curries and Malaysian ramen, all of which are exotic in flavour, odd at first and then addictive and seductive.
A plate of Nem is a gorgeous mess of greens, sprouts, mushroom and asparagus in tempura, pickled lychees and carrots and Taiwanese peanut. Nem is more associated with Vietnam, and this is a perfect, filling lunch that will not leave you dozy in the afternoon.
Similarly, the Hungley noodles, made of ramen in Malayoo curry with lentils, vegetables, nuts and pickled pineapple, is invigorating and energising.
The classic Jumon Ramen is a heart-warming broth that I suspect will become a big hit for those in search of the miraculous cure after the night before. Kimchee and egg, crispy cheese wonton and Asian greens mean you've got all the right food groups in order to fix whatever's wrong with you.
Jumon is unusual and probably unique. I recall some of the flavours and textures offered up here from a trip almost 20 years ago into northern Thailand. Nox is keen to make the food, as well as the cocktails, authentic, and, as a result, the purity of those flavours and textures will be a pleasant shock and surprise to some.
If food and drink broaden your horizons, for less money than travel, Jumon's your man.
Pok Pok ............................................£7.50
Nem ................................................ £7.50
Siem Reap Risotto..........................£7.50