Golden Gai, a tiny touch of Tokyo in Ghent

Ramen is the next big thing, so why not pair it with cocktails. That’s exactly what Jesse and Robin, both previously bartenders at Jigger’s, had in mind. So they created the Golden Gai ramenbar and the result is a tiny touch of Tokyo in Ghent.

As a kid I grew up with Aiki Noodles. Not on a daily basis of course, but once in a while we were allowed the little plastic, yellow cup. You poured hot water on it and boom: noodle soup. Well, not quite actually, but it was what I knew as ‘noodle soup’. At Golden Gai I discovered the real thing and the Universe just hit the refresh button.

The name Golden Gai refers to Shinjuku Golden Gai, a well known area in Tokyo. I’ve never been there, but I’d love to visit the place. It’s a very small area with very narrow alleyways and even smaller shops. Over 200 bars and restaurants are cramped together here. It all looks very ramshackle, but it’s all quite exclusive and expensive. When you see pictures of it you can’t help but think ‘Bladerunner’, that’s how it looks. The Golden Gai Ghent is much lighter with lively colours and great drawings made by artist Nina Vandeweghe.

This strongly reminds me of Bladerunner. Look! Even the umbrellas are present!

Originally ramen is actually Chinese and was imported to Japan by Chinese immigrants in the 19th century. The Chinese wheat noodles are prepared with a special broth, vegetables, eggs and typically roasted pork. At Golden Gai they make their own noodles and broth. The latter being slow-cooked, sometimes literally for days. In true Jigger’s style the ingredients are sourced as locally as possible of course. The result is heaven in a bowl. There really isn’t a person who cannot like this, it’s magic soup with noodles. I had one with sherry in the soya broth and slow roasted pork belly. On a rainy winter’s day this is sheer bliss!

I love how the artwork keeps the oriental feel without going full manga. Art by Nina Vandeweghe.

Both Jesse and Robin have always been die hard Japan-fan and wanted to combine their passion for cocktails with the love for Japanese style street food. Jesse once won the Nikka Perfect Serve Cocktail Competition (which we judged) by making a wonderful Mizuwari with this delicious Japanese whisky. They continued the Japanese influence in their cocktail menu. We had a Saketini ( a gin and sake Dry Martini style cocktail), a Mushy Manhattan ( a Rittenhouse Rye Manhattan style with sake and infused dried mushrooms) and Dark & Stormy with home made ginger ale. I always wondered wether it would work, you know, soup and cocktails. Admit it, it’s not like every time you had a bowl of soup you thought: “mmm, a Manhattan would really swing with this!” Turns out that it works perfectly!

Top to bottom: Saketini, Dark & Stormy, Mushy Manhattan

They achieve this by adding delicate touches of Eastern flavours to well known classic cocktails. The sake and mushrooms for instance give it a somewhat drier umami swivel that blends perfectly with the ramen. The lovely bone-dry Saketini wets the appetite very profoundly. And even the “Caribbean” Dark & Stormy had a nice Kung Fu kick with the home made ginger ale.

The sake used in the Mushy Mushi

Conclusion: cosy place with an oriental vibe, good cocktails, great staff and heavenly food! A must visit.

Info: Golden Gai

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