Space Jaru restaurant review: ‘The pricing at this cool Korean spot is refreshing — a big KFC burger will set you back just €13’

Space Jaru feels like a breath of fresh air. We’ve become so used to booking via an online widget, inputting our card details and worrying whether we’ll be penalised if some people don’t show up or plans change, that it’s positively refreshing to be able to pull up outside a restaurant on a Sunday at lunchtime, stick our heads around the door to see if they have a table and walk right in.

The contemporary space is light and bright with simple, spare decor and two big windows looking out onto Meath Street. It feels pleasingly cosmopolitan — you could be in Paris, Copenhagen or London. One section is given over to an array of Korean groceries, including some items that our Korean food expert (okay not really an expert, but she has been to Seoul and cooks Korean food at home) says she hasn’t seen anywhere else in Ireland. It’s like a mini H Mart, she says, referencing the Korean supermarket in the title of Michelle Zauner’s tender memoir Crying in H Mart about her often fractious relationship with her Korean mother, and the ways in which they are bonded through food. If you’re interested in food or Korea or mother-and-daughter relationships, it’s an excellent, if sometimes harrowing, read and is now being made into a movie.

What’s also refreshing is the pricing. A Korean BBQ bowl or KFC burger (both substantial) will set you back just €13. And while many casual dining restaurants fall short when it comes to wine, the list at Space Jaru offers a good selection of well-priced low-intervention and natural wines. Judith Beck’s Ink, for instance, is priced at €40 a bottle, with a 10pc discount on Sunday. It retails for around €20, so the mark-up is far less than in many restaurants.

At weekends, Space Jaru offers not just its regular lunch menu (good news for those craving the hangover-busting properties of Korean fried chicken) but also a selection of small plates. The KFC burgers are ginormous and (hooray) made with free-range chicken. The Classic comes with rocket, tomato, a slice of cheddar cheese, pickled daikon, sriracha mayo and a soy apple glaze all sandwiched into a gloriously tasty mess between the two halves of a brioche bun, while the Seoul burger features smoked romesco, Ballymaloe relish and aioli, with soy pickled cucumber. Both come with decent chips.

Beef bulgogi (thinly sliced, soft, melting beef in a soy, apple and garlic marinade) is topped with a perfectly jammy boiled egg, podded edamame beans, a beansprout salad and kimchi rice. It’s a really satisfying bowl, with plenty going on in terms of flavour and texture.

When it comes to the small plates, there’s some cheerful cross-pollination going on in dishes such as kimchi cheese fries with melted AND Parmesan cheese and aioli, and in bibimbap arancini, crisp panko-breaded rice balls with beef, pecorino and gochujang. Edamame with broccolini, peanut rayu, cashew and sesame are addictive, while padron peppers with soy and smoked almonds also come with tiny baby anchovies that bring a blast of fishy umami. Mandu (beef galbi dumplings with pickled onions and a light soy ginger sauce) are not as interesting as they sound, but the tteokbokki (roasted tubular rice cake with slices of pork, scallions and another one of those jammy eggs, in a spicy sauce — more gochujang!) are delicious. We find the prawn pajeon (a scallion pancake with prawns and white kimchi served with soy pickled japapeno) a little less than the sum of its parts. Better prawns would help. Yangnyum chicken thighs, double fried, with more gochujang (soy apple sauce is an alternative which I didn’t spot at the time) are nicely juicy.

If you’re minded to learn how to make a soju tornado, you can watch a tutorial on YouTube. Basically, you hold the bottle of soju, also known as Korean vodka, near the bottom in one hand and vigorously swirl it in a circular motion. After a few seconds, you should have created a whirlpool effect inside the bottle. We manage the tornado but fail to finish the bottle. The clear distilled spirit has a much lower alcohol content than regular vodka, and is usually neutral tasting, but the yuzu citrus version (€14.50 for 360ml) tastes pretty synthetic. (A look at the ingredients label reveals why — as well as purified water and ethyl alcohol, it contains citric acid, citron flavour, citron juice, acesulfame potassium and sucralose.) It’s better when we add it to Asahi beer; together they taste like shandy. Service is pleasant if slightly off-hand. The bill for lunch for five, with soft drinks, one beer, the soju and leftovers for lunch the following day, including a tip of 15pc, comes to €175.07.

Budget The KFC burgers and BBQ bowls are €13 at lunchtime. Blowout You could spend €30 a head on food if you are very hungry and want to try lots of the small plates. The rating 8/10 food 8/10 ambience 9/10 value 25/30

Space Jaru, ​67-68 Meath Street, Dublin 8.

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