The Dojo Ramen Bar comes recommended by High St vego-in-the-know Erin; their veggie ramen is her favourite comfort food at the end of a bad day. Last Saturday night we confirmed that it's also a suitable spot for good times, when everyone's looking forward to a gig at the Northcote Social Club. We filled out the bar's communal table with a reservation for twelve and maintained the cheerful, chattering noise levels already established by the other patrons. The staff were friendly and flexible in the face of our large group and staggered orders.
Sake cocktails and Japanese spirits are displayed most prominently on the drinks menu, but Erin actually prefers the Calpico grape soda and I went for a Ramune (Japanese lemonade, $4.50). It doesn't taste so different from a Sprite, but the pop-the-marble top is novel and very Japanese.
As far as food goes vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options are marked well, although they weren't all what we expected - thankfully the staff provided knowledgeable back-up. I thought the vegan gyoza ($8) filling was a little mushy and generic, but the dumplings were perfectly pan-fried and they're always improved with soy-vinegar dipping. The other eye-catching option was a plate of cheesy rolls, a curd-based riff on deep-fried spring rolls.
And what of the ramen? It comes in seven varieties, three of them vegetarian. (Unfortunately for vegans, the noodles contain egg, but the rest can be served with a side of steamed rice.) On Erin's advice I ordered the standard veggie ramen ($13.50). The noodles are nice, and nestled in a creamy, comforting broth made with soy milk and nut extract. On top there's tofu, spring onion, bamboo shoots, two-tone sesame seeds, a sheet of nori and - my new favourite ingredient - benishoga, a vermillion shredded pickled ginger. The other vego bowls stir miso or shoyu into the broth, mix up the veges and lack the benishoga.
It's spot-on mid-winter comfort food, and good value for money. If there's a drawback, it's that the resulting feelings of sleepy satisfaction aren't exactly conducive to late night live music. We were lucky that Olympia has the kind of talent to jolt us from a ramen stupor.
The Dojo Ramen Bar seems to please every blogger who visits, from veg Ebezilla's Food Blog to omnis Two Bears And A Fork, Sweet and Sour Fork, The Spice Adventuress, foodie about town, Vetti Live In Northcote and Fitzroyalty.
The Dojo Ramen Bar
333 High St, Northcote
Accessibility: There's a small lip on entry (here's a more thorough review of the door). Tables are a mix of high and low heights with backless stools, arranged at average density with clear walkways through the middle of the restaurant. We received full table service. I didn't visit the toilets.