Dining at MAKOTO can be an unexpectedly communal experience: most of the clientele sit along benches at three large tables, although some smaller tables and bar stools at the front make a gesture towards the more socially-reticent. The décor is sparse, consisting mainly of bamboo lampshades and the occasional traditional-meets-pop Japanese artwork on the walls.
The starters are varied and fairly straightforward; it’s the other dishes – the noodles and rice – that stand out. On the menu, the Ramen noodles take centre stage: there are more than 10 kinds; three broths (salt, miso, or soy – we recommend the miso); and additional toppings like corn or fried garlic. It’s a slightly intimidating selection, but the staff (many of whom speak English) are friendly and helpful, and the tasty result is well worth the trouble. Best of all, the prices never even hit the €9 mark. Makoto is known for its ‘quickie’ lunches, but on our Saturday night visit, we found it pleasantly bustling with young couples, a few groups of middle-aged folks (the restaurant takes reservations for parties of eight or less) and the odd artsy type, all languidly enjoying their flavorful nosh. We started with the pan-fried gyoza (Japanese dumplings), which in this case contained a toothsome, garlic-laden mix of pork and vegetables. They were seared to perfect almost-crispness without losing that vital delicate chewiness. Next up was the traditional Katsu Don: steaming rice; a breaded and fried pork cutlet; a salty, slightly sweet dashi broth simmered with onion; and the whole thing topped off with a barely-cooked egg. It tasted truly authentic, and although the pork cutlet was a little tough around the edges, the egg and broth kept it tender on the inside. For dessert, the red-bean or green-tea ice cream is wonderful whatever the season – the perfect light sweet to finish off a fine, hearty meal.