Ellie-Jo stops at Mule for noods, beans and a fragrant tuna roll
If you know me at all in real life, you’ll know that I love interiors. I love chairs, ceramics, anything mid-century modern, and those wild mirrors with woollen frames that influencers have in their hallways. You know the ones.
I could feel my soul re-entering my body
I also love noodles, so my Instagram feed is just a constant stream of apartments in crazy places that I’ll never be able to afford, and posts from Noodle Worship. Therefore, as first impressions go, the Lucky Ramen residency at Mule is my jam. I’m swooning, you could say.
It’s walk-ins only at this Blossom Street spot, and their permanent offerings include Grindsmiths coffee, cinnamon swirls, and perfectly-timed poached eggs. At the minute though, Lucky Ramen is serving its signature soups and sushi there from 5pm Wednesday to Sunday. I swapped my usual roast slot for some spicy tuna roll and soboro pork.
Inside, this neat little glass box is full of carved plaster, hanging white linen, and high stools with leather weaving that makes them look like a Bottega Veneta cassette bag. The lighting is bright but warm, and an open kitchen surrounded by small tables for two makes the place feel very Scandi and minimalist.
Although there's lots of teak, marble and clean lines, the spot feels cosy and intimate with a buzz of immaculately dressed staff. There's a little apothecary of dried herbs and fruit on the bar, and soup spoons big enough to hold the small trendy dogs that the Ancoats residents are walking outside. A wooden soup spoon fit for a Pomeranian is now on my Christmas list.
We order drinks first, and a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice comes in a little wafer-thin carafe. I sip on an apple No-jito (£7) that's zingy-fresh with loads of mint and ice, no need for any rum before my ramen.
Absolutely hangry to the max, me and my mate agree to hold the catch-up until we've ordered. We get some edamame with a spicy sesame soy dip (£3.50), and a portion of pork and prawn dumplings with a chilli oil and ponzu dip (£6.90).
The edamame look almost genetically modified - the perfect shade of moss green against a rectangular slate plate with three beans per pod. Scattered with a sprinkling of black and white sesame and chilli-infused salt, the beans are sweet little jewels with a kick that has you reaching for some tap water in between.
The dumplings are neatly arranged into a fort in the centre of the plate, with a bed of minced pork and a slick of rich, meaty oil. Almost transparent with one crisp, charred side and a filling packed with greens, meat and seafood. The dumplings remind me of the ones my friend at uni made every year for Chinese New Year, using a recipe from her granny in Chengdu. Soul food. The spice is subtle but there, and the ponzu adds a citrus kick with every dip that's almost vinegary in its consistency and sharpness.
Because the sushi on the table next to us looks too good to miss, we also order a spicy tuna roll with mango, cucumber, spicy mayo and togarashi (£12). The waitress is super helpful when it comes to helping us choose our sushi side, explaining that some rolls are more fragrant and fresh, whilst others have a meatier vibe. They are all beautiful though from what my side-eyeing can detect.
The Facetuned tuna roll is packed with decent chunks of cucumber and mango, making sure that the fish takes centre stage, but the backing dancers are still detectable. That togarashi blend of seven different Japanese spices is impossible to re-create at home, I've tried, and with a good sliver of ginger with each roll, it's fresh and delicate.
The roll is definitely on the fragrant side though, and I'm not convinced by mango and tuna in the same mouthful. Fleshy pieces of mango combined with raw tuna create the kind of perfume-y flavour that reminds me of when you leave your mouth open after spraying your deodorant in the morning. I'd opt for something "meatier" next time.
Lucky Ramen's signature soups are all made with eight-hour broth, and you can choose between thick egg noodles or traditional, thin wheat noodles. Proving that in many ways opposites attract, me and my dinner date realise that we have opposing noodle preferences, which means I get to try both too. Bonus.
Again, we consult our smiley waitress for advice on the soupy stuff, and I explain that my slightly hungover, post-dance-class body is looking for something hearty and creamy with a load of garlic and only a subtle level of spice. "Muroran" she says.
The Muroran (£13.80) comes with a creamy curry broth, fried chicken, spicy soboro pork, green onions, shiitake, crispy shallots, chilli oil and confit garlic. It's the kind of dinner that makes my heart happy. I can feel my soul re-entering my body as I use the giant wooden spoon to slurp up the delicately spiced stock and the chopsticks to messily weave a combo of carbs, meat and veg into each mouthful.
The veg still has crunch and the soboro minced pork mixes into the broth, making those final spoonfuls just as chunky and satisfying as the first. Mince is having a moment at the minute, it seems. The thinner wheat noodles stop me from feeling over faced, and a crispy sheet of nori on the edge of the bowl serves the same purpose as a slice of Warburton's bread and butter with chips and gravy. Perfect for mopping up the juices.
Keeping the skin extra crispy on a piece of meat whilst it's floating around in broth will never not feel like magic to me. How?
My pal has the Tonkotsu (£14.90) with crispy duck breast, ajitama egg, confit garlic, shiitake, roasted sesame, crispy chilli oil, nori, and green onions, and, like the fried chicken in my dish, the duck is super crunchy on the outside, with soft, tender strips of meat beneath the brittle-like coating. Magic.
The egg noodles provide for more soup-soaking and require less slurping, and Jonathan Schofield was right, the eggs here are always bob on. You can almost see your face in the yolky shine. Stems of ginger add both texture and zing to an otherwise rich and gravy-like broth. If you like crispy onions, they come by the bucketload, and I steal the final few that are floating in my mate's leftover broth.
It's hard to take a dreamy photo of ramen on an iPhone 11, so I'll leave that to the Insta masters behind the scenes, but everything looks as good as it makes your stomach feel.
Compared to the other ramen spots I've tried in town, Mule feels more formal than Tokyo Ramen with its Bormioli Rocco glassware and icy mocktails, but it's always busy with a one-in-one-out stream of cool cats with moustaches and a love for good soup. Everything's lighter and breezier than Cocktail, Beer, Ramen + Bun, but maybe I just prefer a neutral colour palette, and there are the same well-rehearsed scenes from the open kitchen.
We had a few different servers throughout our dinner, but they all willingly helped two indecisive diners, and everything felt friendly without the constant urge to ask if you're ok. As far as interior design goes, I want my kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and back garden to look like Mule. As for the food, I'll be filling my new rainforest marble bathtub with Lucky Ramen's Muroran broth.
Lucky Ramen at Mule, 13 Blossom St, Ancoats, Manchester M4 5AF
Follow Ellie-Jo on Instagram @Elliejoj or Twitter @elliejojohnston.
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidentials and completely independent of any commercial relationship. They are a first-person account of one visit by one, knowledgeable restaurant reviewer and don't represent the company as a whole.
Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Edamame 7, Pork and prawn dumplings 8, Spicy tuna roll 6, Muroran with traditional noodles 8, Tonkotsu with egg noodles 7
Smiley, helpful, eager to help satisfy your soup and sushi needs
Buzzing, curated and great for golden hour