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A feast of ramen. Photo: Paper Tiger.

Noodle bar pop-up Paper Tiger opens permanent location in Old Ottawa South

By Artyom Zalutskiy on March 4, 2022

If you’ve visited Dominion City or Bar Lupulus recently, you might have stumbled upon a noodle pop-up called Paper Tiger. If you’re still craving their ramen, luckily there’s no longer a need to wait for the next pop-up. Paper Tiger has now opened their own permanent location in Old Ottawa South, serving a variety of small bites, ramen, and craft cocktails with a focus on farm-fresh food.

The path towards Paper Tiger started a number of years ago, when chef Charley Nelson worked with his uncle at food festivals cooking Caribbean roti. Nelson eventually got his own food stand and decided to try making ramen, a food he knew nothing about. In an interview, Nelson said, “Through the research for this project, I found my love of ramen. I started to seek out restaurants from around the world and started to really geek out around all the nuances that make ramen bowls so different. I knew that if I was going to make ramen, I wanted to make it different than anyone else.” He experimented by combining a number of different cuisines into his ramen, adding ingredients such as chorizo, duck confit, and fried avocado.

Ramen at Paper Tiger. Photo provided.

It was on a trip to Austin, Texas where things started to come together. Nelson saw many different noodle shops blending the flavours of ramen with American-style barbecue, and it was this combination of umami and smokiness that changed the way he saw ramen. “When I came back to Ottawa, I knew that I had to try and organize a pop-up,” said Nelson. “I needed to see how the city and my neighbourhood would react. I took traditional Japanese broth production methods and mixed in some classic French skills that I was taught in culinary school to create something truly unique in the broth. I paired it with soy-braised pork, smoked sambal chicken, and ponzu-marinated mushrooms. The initial pop-up sold out within a few hours. I then started booking additional pop-ups throughout the city and we continually sold out. I knew that I was on to something, and that fusion ramen was the first of its kind in the city.”

Nelson eventually hosted an event at Ottawa staple Dominion City Brewing Company. His team planned to sell around 100 portions of ramen and they sold out within an hour. With the amount of support he was receiving from each pop-up, a permanent location for his venture was starting to look like a real possibility.

After being delayed by continual lockdowns, Nelson was eventually able to open the permanent Paper Tiger location last month, and the public’s response has been nothing but overwhelmingly positive. The serving style for the restaurant is that of an izakaya (Japanese pub with small plates and plenty of drinks) and the menu has emphasized a focus on fresh food.  “I understand the importance of supporting local agriculture. The quality is far superior to that of the produce and protein coming from other countries and continents. We are working with Mariposa Farm for all of our proteins, and several different produce farms like Backyard Edibles and Ferme Soleil for all of our produce,” Nelson said.

An added bonus of this approach is the variety we will see from their menu going forward. “Our menu will change with the seasons. What our farmers have is what’s on your plate. As much as we like our customers to know and love our staple recipes, we want them to be adventurous and find something new on the menu each time they come in. My main thought is to allow our customers to have a place that’s comfortable with unique food and drink options that are different from everyone else,” Nelson said.

Paper Tiger is already showing itself to be a unique noodle bar, and it will be exciting to see where they go next.

Paper Tiger is located at 1091 Bank St. in Old Ottawa South. They’re open Wed-Sat from 5-10pm. No reservations.