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Ramen Battle – Heat 2

with 10 comments

Apologies for the delay between heats folks, been busy with various things, but here’s Heat 2 to satisfy your ramen loving tastebuds! I promise the final will come sooner than Heat 2 did.

If you aren’t up to speed yet, here is the original post introducing how the battle works and here is the post for Heat 1 where Ajisen, Momotaro and Meshiya squared off.

On the rack for Heat 2 we had:

  1. Ramen Ya (seeded)
  2. Ito
  3. Menya
1. Ramen Ya
Shop 25G Melbourne GPO,
350 Bourke St,
Melbourne, 3000
urbanspoon
foursquare
web

Ramen Ya on Urbanspoon

Chashu Ramen in Tonkotsu Broth, apologies for the lack of photo quality, the lighting was rather bad.

Ah Ramen Ya, wonder of wonders. This place has been talked about and blogged about a great deal and I can confidently tell you that, for me, it’s lived up to the hype.

They offer choices of tonkotsu, shoyu or miso broth with all their ramens. The undeniable star of this line-up is the tonkotsu which has been blogged about here, here and here. I had the chashu ramen in the tonkotsu broth and it was delicious. I complained about measly chashu servings in the previous heat and ramen ya was no different in terms of quantity but… the quality of the chashu was head and shoulders above the likes of Momotaro. I’m of the firm belief that good chashu should melt in your mouth and that’s exactly what this little sucker did.

Everything else about the dish was almost perfect. The broth was full of flavour, the ramen wasn’t overcooked (thank God), there was an abundance (but not over-abundance) of sesame seeds and the whole thing just went down an absolute treat. The staff are friendly, courteous and helpful in the Japanese way. The setting of the GPO is nice, it’s a pleasant place to eat but you do have to order at the counter and the majority of the seats are backless. Having said that, I am willing to forgive almost anything for ramen of that quality. I would probably eat it out of a garbage truck. I think we have a clear favourite for the final shootout with Ajisen, but… surprises do happen.

PS. Ramen Ya has an (unadvertised) happy hour where their ramens are only $6.50 each (instead of $10) after 2.30pm. BARGAIN.

Ramen rating: 9/10

Everything else rating: 6/10

2. Ito Japanese Noodle Cafe
122 Bourke St
Melbourne, 3000
urbanspoon
foursquare
web

Ito Japanese Noodle Cafe on Urbanspoon

Geki Kara Ramen

Ito has been a Bourke Street ramen stalwarts for eons. I’m pretty sure it’s definitely the oldest contender across both our heats and is something of an institution for those of us that started university in 2003 and needed somewhere cheap and decent to eat in the city. I even remember that when Ajisen opened up a few doors down there was talk of a legal challenge by Ito, apparently people would get confused between the two. Ajisen even used to have signs up in the door saying that they were *not* associated with Ito! How’s that for a globally (at least in Asia) recognised chain of ramen stores?

Of my two food blogging compatriots that have reviewed this place, Jetsetting Joyce gave it a resounding meh whereas Billy of Half-Eaten enjoyed his ramen. I have a relationship with the place and, being a creature of habit, I always get the same dish – the geki kara ramen, full of hearty, spicy mince meat and not dissimilar to the spicy ramen I reviewed at Ajisen in the previous heat. Comparing the two in the past has always been a difficult task for me, they’re both decent but not spectacular, but I haven’t been back to Ito for some time so I was ready to give my slightly matured a palate a whirl.

Like Billy, I was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t think I could enjoy Ito after having tasted the wonders at Ramen Ya, but it was an enjoyable meal. Despite not being quite up to Ramen Ya’s standards of quality and authenticity, the mince was of reasonable quality and of a good level of spiciness (not everyone can handle the volcano-like spiciness at Ajisen). The noodles were a little too elastic for my liking, no one likes chewing on rubber bands and the broth could have done with a little less MSG, but it was a decent dish.

Ito also has the advantage of being a proper restaurant, with comfortable lounge-style booths, restaurant service and a fairly chilled vibe. There’s nothing that stands about it though, which is I guess what Joyce was referring to. Ito has the feel of a restaurant that has been there for a long time, will be there for a long time to come, is comfortable with the niche it occupies and is not trying to innovate.

So all up, a decent place, a decent ramen, but it’s not Ramen Ya.

Ramen Rating: 7/10

Everything Else Rating: 7/10

(look at that exactly the same scores as Ajisen, I guess my ongoing inability to choose between the two continues)

3. Menya

foursquare

web

Tonkatsu Ramen

While Menya has been at Melbourne Central for a long time (Shop 146a Knox Lane, enter off Swanston) they recently opened up on Elizabeth Street and I am unable to ascertain an exact address for the new location, apologies! I can tell you it’s between Franklin & A’Beckett though which should make it relatively easy to find. Even the O-Bento website doesn’t have the new one up yet but the foursquare link above has a handy map.

Menya is run by the good people of O-Bento sushi fame, you may have seen their outlets at Melbourne Central and various other locations. I’ve never been a huge fan of O-Bento but I have been eating the awesome katsu don at the Melbourne Central Menya outlet for a few years now. This is not a katsu don review, it’s a ramen review, but I will say this: Menya may not be authentic or Japanese-run but that katsu don has excellent quality meat, good rice and a wonderful sauce that totally makes the dish.

So the ramen. Given my katsu don habit here, I had never tried the ramen before and headed out to their new location to get a fresh start with the place. The Melbourne Central outlet is tiny, cramped and horrible to eat at, full of clamouring students and tiny square stools to sit on. The new one is much bigger and roomier with proper seats, lounge-style booths and less people. The service isn’t amazing, still order at the counter, but it’s a lot better than the original.

I had the tonkatsu ramen in a shoyu broth. I figured since the tonkatsu in the katsu don was so awesome why not try it in noodle form and Menya did not disappoint. The tonkatsu was pretty much perfect. Perfectly fried, not soggy (like at Meshiya as reviewed in the previous heat) and delicious. The shoyu broth was also decent, though not spectacular. One touch that looked interesting upon arrival was the massive sheet of nori that you can see pictured above. It didn’t taste as cool as it looked though, the nori being far from fresh. Biting through it was a little like biting through cardboard. One touch I appreciated was the serving of a full tea egg (ie. both halves). I’ve mentioned before that I love tea eggs and it makes me happy to see that Menya provides such value for essentially the same price.

Ramen Rating: 7/10

Everything Else Rating: 6/10

The Winner of Heat 2: RAMEN YA.

It’s hard to beat folks. Looking like an early favourite for Melbourne’s best ramen. Stay tuned for the final verdict on the two finalists: Ajisen Ramen and Ramen Ya in the next installment which will include more detailed assessment and ratings of the ramen ingredients.

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10 Responses

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  1. I’m glad you share my love for Ramen Ya, though I am still aghast at the fact you’re a proponent of Ajisen. I will admit that Ajisen has an impressive array of toppings – the grilled steak one was particuarly good – but for me, the noodle just isn’t ramen. It’s closer to being angelhair pasta, in my book. The fact it’s cylindrical and not square is also off-putting. I’m imagining extrusion machines.

    Billy

    April 20, 2010 at 4:43 pm

  2. I’ve just realised that I’m totally repeating myself, by the way. Such is the strength of my #ajisenrage.

    Billy

    April 20, 2010 at 4:45 pm

  3. I understand your rage! I’ll be the first to admit that Ajisen is far from perfect and basically for me it all boils down to the conflict between authenticity and taste. I needed a way to punish the fairly authentic but disappointing Momotaro and Ajisen was my way. It boils down to the fact that if I had a choice between Momotaro, Ajisen and Meshiya (as per Heat 1) I would choose to eat at Ajisen because the ramen just tastes better to me, even if the noodles are closer to angelhair pasta and are cylindrical.

    alexlobov

    April 20, 2010 at 5:04 pm

  4. Ooh, I saw the new Menya outlet from the tram this morning! It’s got green leaf decals all over the windows (I couldn’t figure out if they were oak, maple, or hemp leaves :P).

    Billy

    April 21, 2010 at 10:26 am

    • Hahaha I have no idea and clearly it looks more inspiring during the day. When I was there I saw no leaves and all I could think about at the time was food!

      alexlobov

      April 21, 2010 at 12:56 pm

  5. i agree about momotaro alex – whats with the crappy 1 slice of meat? mine had way too many bean shoots too. I dunno why ive read so many good reviews about it

    gil

    April 23, 2010 at 1:28 am

  6. gil – Part of the reason why the place has such a good rep is that it’s run by Japanese people (most of Melbourne’s Japanese restaurants are not) and the chef reportedly makes a lot of the ingredients from scratch. The problem is that they are stingy with those ingredients and the dish just ends up tasting not very good.

    alexlobov

    April 23, 2010 at 2:02 am

  7. yeah i heard that the noodles were handmade. The noodles themselves were quite nice, but the other elements of the dish were lacking for me unfortunately. I actually saw the noodle making machine in one of the rooms on my way up to the toilet haha

    gil

    April 23, 2010 at 10:47 pm

  8. […] If you haven’t, checked out the introduction here, Heat 1 here (won by Ajisen Ramen)and Heat 2 here (won by Ramen Ya). That’ll bring you up to […]

  9. Now I’m getting hungry. Can you recommend any Ramen joints in the suburbs?

    Stippy Red

    June 12, 2011 at 6:39 pm


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