After SHIN Ramen restaurant, tucked away in the corner of Gloucester Green in Oxford, was recommended to me by a couple of different friends (thanks Georgie and Lucy!), I knew I had to go. The photos of their food looked fabulous and I was particularly intrigued by the vegan sashimi. They’ve been taking part in the Eat Out to Help Out offer throughout August, so we booked a table on a Wednesday evening to take advantage of the government scheme offering 50% off food and soft drinks. The person I spoke to over the phone to book our table was the same as who greeted us at the restaurant, both times with such a friendly and warm welcome that promised a good start to the meal.
We decided to order a couple of starters to share. The first, tempura vegetables, was a little more expensive than some of the others on the menu but set the tone for the rest of the meal when it arrived, as it was beautifully presented. These were the crisp, perfectly cooked vegetables inside a light, crunchy batter that you’d hope for, cooked to a high quality. It was also interesting to try a number of different vegetables, as rather than a pile of the same two veggies that you’d get in a chain, we enjoyed baby corn, sweet potato, king oyster mushroom, broccoli, and lotus root. It comes served with a soy dipping sauce, and a non-vegan mayo (which I would’ve asked for without had I known).
Alongside this we ordered the pumpkin croquettes. There was a bit of confusion on ordering as I’d been told everything with a (V) is vegan, though I could see that wasn’t the case as some of these dishes clearly contained egg. They reassured me multiple times that the croquette was vegan, but it came on a bed of what looked suspiciously like mayonnaise. I triple checked when the waitress came back and she was very apologetic, whisked it away, and brought it back minus the mayo. Worth noting that they definitely have a good understanding of veganism but mistakes like this are fairly easy to make so it’s always worth checking with your server if you’re unsure! The croquettes themselves were really tasty, again with a crisp fried outside and soft middle. The sweet sauce they are served with has a hint of aromatic spices and if you like fried things you will definitely enjoy this.
We also ordered the vegan sashimi to share, knowing we just had to try it based on those recommendations from friends. It comes served in an ice bowl and really is impressive. I would not have expected this tiny little place by the bus station to offer something so innovative! The vegan ‘salmon’ wasn’t overly fishy, but the soft texture was spookily accurate, and when eaten along with some of the crisp seaweed salad beneath for that taste of the sea, it was brilliant. For £10, this dish really delivers on a great experience.
The ramen bowl is vegan when ordered without the egg. The bowl was huge, with probably double the amount of noodles than I needed (but maybe that’s because I’d already eaten the equivalent of two courses by this point). The broth was steaming hot and the bowl looked really enticing. I tend to avoid ordering vegan ramen as I’ve often found the veggie broth to be watery and lacking in flavour, but happily that wasn’t the case here and it was easily the nicest ramen I’ve tried in Oxford. All of the individual vegetable elements were cooked well, the veggies hadn’t gone soggy at all, and even the fairly plain silken tofu tasted nice. It was a comforting, warming bowl, and as we come into colder months I feel like this will be a go-to spot for a hearty meal.
In terms of dining out during Covid times, it wasn’t the best experience I’ve had. They had pull-up plastic screens up between tables, but these seemed to just get in the way of the staff every time they walked past, rather than actually achieving much (you’re sitting back to back against other diners anyway). I used the bathroom and wished I hadn’t as that could’ve done with a good clean and was pretty off-putting. The tables looked like they’d had a thin layer of perspex put on top to make them easier to wipe down, and I did see a couple of other tables being cleaned while we were there, but ours felt pretty sticky. As we dined on an ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ evening, we’d arrived early and the restaurant filled up over the course of our meal, so by the time we’d finished, the small number of staff were clearly struggling to keep up and we didn’t receive quite the excellent service we had at the start.
All in all though, this is a little hidden gem and is well worth a visit for the food. If I still worked in the city centre I could see myself taking the short walk from the office here for lunch with friends more than regularly, ideally grabbing my food to go and finding a nice spot outside to eat. I was also told they have a vegan dessert on offer, which is great to see, but was just too full to try it out! This independent restaurant being a little tucked away from the busier centre of the city, I really hope it survives through this challenging time. You’ll all have to let me know if you go to support them, and what you think of their food.