Mulgrew reviews: punch and balance in plant-based Jumon

Putting big, well-seasoned, punchy and umami flavours in meat and dairy dishes is a relatively straightforward affair — it comes with the territory.

ut there are few places that seem to be able to translate that to a largely vegan and plant-based menu quite as well as Jumon.

“What’s that,” my dining partner asks a server, pointing to a plate making its way from the pass just behind our heads — large, spiky crunchy shards of poppadom emanating from it. We order it to investigate. We are not disappointed.

When the Fountain Street spot opened its doors four years ago, its lively and bustling nature along with a focus on turning attention away from meat and the majority of dairy, while maintaining bold flavours, helped stamp its position in the city’s burgeoning food scene.

It was the gado gado salad that caught the palate of the other half and I on our first visit many a moon ago. Fresh, punchy and complete with a sweet and unctuous sweet potato croquette.

On this occasion on a damp Monday evening — when many of the city centre’s best spots are shut — Jumon remains a buzzing venue to spend an hour, a few quid and eat well — very well.

The aforementioned anonymous dish which caught my friend’s eye emerged as a turnip and doenjang dip (the latter a fermented soy bean paste).

While appealing in presentation, it still belies the strength of its flavours. It’s explosive on the palate — a combination of the ultimate savoury umami from the smooth texture, the added punch of sesame, crunch and warmth and slipperiness of the chilli oil and greens. Some of that punch is helped along the way with extremely savoury furikake seasoning.

It’s more depth than you’ll find almost anywhere. There are few things which will linger on the palate and the mind as much. It stays with you.

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Jiaozi dumplings at Jumon Jiaozi dumplings at Jumon

Jiaozi dumplings at Jumon

Jiaozi dumplings at Jumon

The jiaozi (Chinese dumplings akin to Japanese gyoza) come as five perfect little parcels filled with Chinese leaf and mushroom, surrounded by ‘jade’ mayo. They are crisp, making way for softness, savoury and are well-seasoned, permeated by the acid and bite of kimchi and creaminess and fat of the mayo.

Jumon has a couple of decent and punchy local and well-made brews on (enough to keep me happy for an hour), along with a small and very affordable wine list. There are also cocktail options and those circumventing alcohol.

The mandu tacos come as the ‘bigs’ whereas the above are listed as ‘smalls’. There’s Yunnan aubergine, greens, mushrooms, avocado, salsa verde, truffle (although not clear if truffle oil or fresh), more of the furikake seasoning, smoked cheese and rice.

It’s a solid collection of ingredients when rolled up and eaten with the accompanying flour tortillas, but it’s missing textural contrast, while the melange of flavours makes some indiscernible. Homemade corn tacos could have lifted things in terms of flavour and texture.

There are lots of other very appealing things making the menu which are likely to attract you back. Korean fried rice, butter cashew curry, crispy sushi rice, ramen with a kimchi broth, chaat masala and jackfruit curry, to name a few.

Part of what sets Jumon aside in plant-based dining is a focus on seasoning. Meat-based cooking, especially red meat, tends to secure all the salt, flavour and umami it needs, while that’s not always replicated elsewhere.

Jumon packs flavour in every gap and orifice on the plate.

There’s punch and balance in each and every bite. It’s worth your time.

THE BILL

Jiaozi dumplings £9

Turnip and doenjang £9

Mandu tacos x2 £28

Boundary IPA x2 £11

Total with service £62.70

Belfast Telegraph