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The MSG does Sydney – Ryo’s, Klink and Menya

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While the Melbourne vs. Sydney rivalry will probably never die, I do occasionally visit our northern cousins and revel in the things that they do lord over us. We may have better coffee, bars, arts, sport, character and various particular cuisines, but unquestionably, Sydney has its fine dining scene, beautiful harbour, beaches, Thai food and ramen to lord over us.

Here is but a smattering of the places I visited in Sydney that I feel like writing about.

Ryo’s

125 Falcon St
North Sydney NSW 2060, Australia
(02) 9955 0225
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You may be familiar with our hunt for the best ramen in Melbourne, and while I’m still a huge fan of Ramen Ya, Sydney has us beat on the ramen front. Ryo’s Noodle was pretty amazing. The place is tiny and not easy to get to if you’re based on the other side of the harbour, but the ramen was authentic, delicious and full of glorious chashu. The tonkotsu broth is very much on the salty side, and they do have less saltier options, but I found the saltiness pleasant and not overwhelming. This place is surely a must visit, quite possibly the best ramen in not only Sydney, but Australia.
Alex’s Ratings
Taste: 9
Value: 9.5
Authenticity: 9
Ambience: 7. Small, cramped, long lines and backless seating, but what can you expect?
Service: 7.
Overall: 9.

Klink Handmade Espresso

281 Clarence St,
Sydney NSW 2000
0415 118 505

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Klink Handmade Espresso on Urbanspoon 


Klink is a tiny place located in a fairly cool art gallery in Sydney’s CBD. I actually recommend you check out the art gallery as well, it has some interesting modern pieces, but I’m no art expert so I can say little more about that. As for Klink, I love the place itself and felt very comfortable there despite the hated backless bar stools they use. The place seats about 10 people, it’s that small, but very interestingly designed. There’s a window next to the coffee bar which dominates the space and is used for takeaways. The other dominant element is the massive wall of mounted empty coffee sacks, from various different green varietals. The machine is a 2 (or 3? I forget) group La Marzocco and the coffee is roasted by The Golden Cobra, who I believe are run by an ex-Campos guy. The coffee wasn’t amazing. It was drinkable, but nothing approaching the quality of Mecca Espresso or The Source. But the staff are super friendly and even remembered me from one visit, which I find quite impressive. All in all, a pleasant place that’s somewhat different and with drinkable coffee. Why not?

Alex’s Ratings:
Coffee Taste: 7
Ambience: 8.5. This would be 9 if not for the backless stools.
Service: 9
Overall: 7.85

Menya
Shop TG8, 8 Quay Street,
Haymarket NSW 2000
(02) 9212 1020
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Menya on Urbanspoon 


MOAR Ramen! Menya in fact has three outlets – Chinatown, CBD and Circular Quay – and I selected one that was both convenient and fairly highly regarded. The place has an entirely different feel to Ryo’s. Ryo’s felt secluded, familyish, cosy and authentic whereas Menya felt professional, a business-style churn out of ramen with a snappy girl at the front desk and a tendency to herd diners into the massive communal tables that comprise most of the restaurant’s space. Needless to say, Ryo’s was a much more pleasant experience.
The same goes for the ramen. While Menya also provided a quality tonkotsu, the chashu just wasn’t as good as at Ryo’s and neither was the broth as falvoursome. Having said that, Menya could still compete with the best ramen joints in Melbourne and probably be superior to all of them except for maybe Ramen Ya, so that makes it well worth a visit.
Alex’s Ratings:
Taste: 8
Ambience: 5. Cramped, herded like cattle, backless benches at an overcrowded communal table. This is Sydney at it’s finest. No discernible quality or attention to detail in the design either. But hey, it was clean!
Service: 6. Impersonal, snappy and fast.
Value: 7.5. Still can’t beat such great ramen for a lunchtime meal.
Authenticity: 7.5. The place seemed far more authentically Chinatown than Kyoto but the tonkotsu was solid.
Overall: 7.5. Wouldn’t make it if not for the taste, which is what matters at the end of the day.
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Hako

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310 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD

Phone 03 9620 1881
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Lunch: Mon-Fri noon-3pm
Dinner: Mon-Sat 6pm-10pm
Cuisine: Japanese

Tucked away in Flinders lane, this warehouse restauraunt has very much a minimalistic fit-out, with exposed concrete and dim ‘moodlighting.’ It works though, and although noise invariably echoes in warehouse fit-outs, the tables are well spaced enough that you can still hold a conversation with your dining companions.

Tick.

I hate having to yell to hold a conversation over dinner.

The menu consists of a few stalwart items on the regular menu, which is complimented by a rotating seasonal special menu.

Tick.

I love the emphasis on using seasonal produce.

The wine list is limited, with about 30 bottles on offer. The list wasn’t cheap, but they were reasonable mark-ups for a restaurant. We chose one the ’06 Huia Pinot Noir from  Marlborough $64. This wasn’t anything to shout about, but wasn’t bad.

From the winter special menu, we chose;

blue swimmer crab meat and tobiko with shiso leaf wrap (1p) 5

This was pretty average. Well presented, and nice you could wrap it in the shiso leaf, but the crab meat was uninspired and could have been fresher. The tobiko balls were a nice addition, as they ‘popped’ in your mouth.

rare yellow fin tuna w yuzu spice 18.5

The flavours were good, however, the tuna had been cooked a little too much, so it wasn’t quite rare.. leaving the dish a little tough rather than tender and soft. The citrus yuzu spice was nice, and the tobiko roe worked nicely with the dish.

o ka san's special baked pork belly 14.5

This dish was excellent value – a few slices of thick, tender pork belly cooked on a bed of enoki mushrooms. Baking in the bag left this dish tender and moist, capturing the flavours.

oven baked harvey bay scallops w nasu and ponzu sauce 15.5

These scallop were ok, but nothing spectacular. They were quite small and uninspired for the price.

From the regular menu we also had,

agedashi tofu deep fried bean curd with bonito dry fish flakes 11.5

This dish is fine, but no better than what you can get at any other Japanese restauraunt. The tofu pieces are perhaps a tad small.

gyoza fried pastry stuffed with minced meat, cabbage with hint of garlic 12.5

The gyoza, again, are fine, but did not wow me, and again pricey at 4 for $12.50

omakase sushi head chef's selection of sushi e 28.5

In order from the front; grilled eel, oyster, squid, (some sort of fish – I forget what type), king fish, tuna.

The grilled eel was nice, probably the best of the 6. The rest were all nice, but again, but none of it was exceptional. Presentation was nice, but at $28.50, this equates to $4.75 per piece. Poor value.

beef steak char-grilled aged eye fillet steak with a thick garlic teryiaki sauce $35.5

This (and the pork belly) were the stand-out dishes. Thick slices of beef, cooked blue (to order). The teriyaki sauce was delicious, the beef a great cut. Even though I was well and truly stuffed by this stage, I still ate it. Couldn’t let it go to waste.

This was served with a side of

soba and potato salad with the beef

This was delicious, the soba and potato salad topped with a creamy-sesame dressing.

Jess’ Ratings

Taste: 7.0. None of the food was bad, but much of it was not much better than what you can get at many other Japanese restaurants, which are often substantially more inexpensive. The beef and pork belly were to die for.

Value: 6.0. Overpriced.  Good use of seasonal ingredients, but serves were too small for the prices.

Service: 7. Polite.

Authenticity: 7.0. Head Chef Masahiro Horie and his wife make a great team presenting well cooked a  traditional Japanese food with a modern twist.

Atmosphere: 7.5. Although they could have crammed much more tables in, they have obviously put a lot of thought into spacing the tables adequately. Love the fit-out, very intimate.

Overall: 7. I like Hako. I really do. I just find they charge too much for what they are, especially when there are so many other good places out there, such as Izakaya den. Having said that, I have been a few years ago, and their lunch menu is quite well priced.

Young Guns 3×3

with 3 comments

The Young guns of wine Festival, now in its second year, is a celebration of the best young winemakers from around Australia.

The festival runs events, to which these ‘young guns’ can match their wine to some of the top restaurants in Melbourne.

Most of these ‘events’ were lunch or dinner with matching wines. The one that appealed the most to me was the 3×3 Event held at Izakaya Den.

“Take three wine producers, Franco D’Anna (Hoddles Creek), Andrew Marks (Wanderer) and Mike Michael Aylward (Ocean Eight) and ask them to select 3 of their wines each.

Take 9 dishes from the city’s Izakaya Den and you have 9 wines for 9 dishes but that’s where the rules stop! Enjoyment, conviviality and fun are the keys here and the informality of the Izakaya means that anything goes. Izakaya Den has a purely Victorian wine focus especially with young, modern producers who are making elegant, food friendly wines.”

It sounded too good to be true. 9 dishes, 9 glasses of wine. For $80? Surely there was a mistake.

I have dined at Izakaya Den on two prior occasions, and had been very impressed as reviewed previously here.

And, fortuitously, this event fell on one of my RDO’s.

We were greeted by part-owner Simon Denton, who explained the deal. 3 Courses, each with 3 dishes and 3 different wines. We could choose to match these with any and every dish in the course to our liking.

I was a little disappointed when I saw our glasses were only being filled to a third. I was really hoping they’d be full glasses, but then I am very greedy when it comes to booze.

However, we very quickly realised that our wine could be topped up.

My friend and I became very excited. We knew this would be a great lunch.

Pardon for the  increasingly blurry photos, as we had consumed increasingly more and more alcohol.

Round 1

fresh tofu, plum and ponzu

We started with the tofu, which was a little bland, and not to my liking. Fortunately it was all uphill from here on.

kingfish sashimi

The kingfish was absolutely divine. It was the stand-out dish of the lunch, and the best sashimi I’ve had in a long time, if not ever. It was flavoured with a citrus-y sauce, served on a bed of picked bean sprouts. The fish was wonderfully fresh, and its flavours were perfectly balanced – not too sweet, not too tart, not too saltly, just simply perfect.. The only thing that could have made this dish better is if I could have had more. I think I liked this dish even more than the tuna tataki that I have previously raved about. (Though I will need to go back and have them both again to decide 🙂 ).

pork belly kushi-yaki

This dish was nice, a simple dish, but done well. The grilled leek is a great accompaniment for the perfectly cooked pork belly.

These were matched to

'09 Hoddles Creek Pinot Blanc, '10 Wanderer Chenin Blanc, '09 Ocean Eight Pinot Gris

The Ocean Eight Pinot Gris was the stand out of the three. It was well balanced, slightly sweet with nice floral flavours. Very easy to drink. The Hoddles Creek Pinot Blanc wasn’t bad, but wasn’t great. The Wanderer Chenin Blanc had a beautiful floral opening flavour, however a very tart finish.

Round 2

duck breast, pomegranate

The duck was delicious. Perfectly cooked, served on a bed of cracked wheat. The pomegranate lifted the dish from good to exceptional.  We liked this pairing so much, my dining companion SR and I were fighting for the seeds.

sweet corn kari-age

Sweet corn kernels battered together and deep fried, served with a side of green tea salt. I’m not sure how much flavour the green tea salt added, the dish was tasty enough as it was is. Very addictive.

baked blue eye, ginger miso

The fish was delicate, light, the ginger miso a nice accompaniment.

'08 Ocean Eight Chardonnay, '08 Wanderer Pinot Noir, '09 Hoddles Creek Chardonnay

Of the three, the stand-out wine was the Wanderer Pinot. Of course, the Pinot best suited the duck. It’s a no-brainer, Pinot and Duck are the perfect companions – a match made in heaven. Neither Chardonnay were amazing – but Chardonnay is a very difficult wine – if not perfectly balanced they can taste overly musky. These were drinkable, just not great, especially next to the wonderful Pinot Noir.

Round 3

eggplant dengaku

This was different to a ‘typical’ dengaku – which is typically served sliced in half lengthways. This dengaku consisted of cubed pieces of eggplant, deep fried and then served with a sticky sweet sauce. It came with another vegetable – I believe it was radish? SR, not a fan of eggplant didn’t like this dish, just as well, I love eggplant so more for me!

sansho pepper quail

I love quail! And this one certainly did not disappoint. The skin as perfectly crispy, the meat perfectly tender. Accompanied with pickled garlic shoots. I love garlic shoots, I think here they would have been better just boiled rather than pickled.

grilled ox tongue, spring onion

I love ox tongue. these were perhaps served just a fraction too thick compared to what I’m used to, but this dish was delicious nonetheless.

'08 Wanderer Syrah, '08 Ocean Eight Pinot Noir, '08 Hoddles Creek Pinot Noir

Of the last three wines, the Wanderer Syrah was the definite standout. It had deep berry overtones, and was just delightful. Incredibly easy to drink.

I was a little inebriated by this stage. Can you tell?

We had a great position, being seated in the middle of the bar, meaning we could watch the dishes being meticulously constructed. However, it was dangerous, because although we could watch everything, it also meant that we were watching everything… and seeing this image..

meant we could not resist. Even though we were well and truly stuffed, we had to do it.

ginger creme brulee

I adore creme brulees. This one wasn’t bad, but just a tad too gingery for me to handle. I’m not a massive fan of ginger, though the creme brulee was wonderfully smooth, and it’s always so satisfying ‘cracking’ the top.

All in all, a fantastic lunch. Food was exceptional, service amazing, wine great. The wine makers came around to chat to us all individually, which added a really nice personal touch.

It was an absolutely perfect event. I can’t stop raving about how much I enjoyed it.

And an absolute steal for only $80.

Many thanks to the Festival and to Simon Denton for making it happen.

.

Izakaya Den

Basement 114 Russell Street
Melbourne, 3000
Tel: (03) 9654 2977
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Written by glutamatejess

August 16, 2010 at 1:44 am

Peko Peko

with 9 comments

Peko Peko
190 Wells Street,
South Melbourne, 3205
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Peko Peko on Urbanspoon

After so much ramen, I needed to eat and review something not noodly. So I went with rice.

Peko Peko (or pekopeko, it’s so hard to figure out proper spellings for a spelling Nazi like me) is a Taiwanese restaurant in Southbank (or South Melbourne, it’s so hard to… oh you get the drill). You will find that, invariably, when reviewed, the place will almost always be described as ‘cute’ or ‘cosy’ or something of that order. Much of that comes from its logo, its staff, all the cute little art on the walls and just the general vibe of the place. See, my way of avoiding cliches is by agreeing with them but in a round-about manner. I’m awesome.

Like much of popular Taiwanese culture (food and design included), the Japanese influence at pekopeko (see how I’m trying out different spelling to see which I like best?) is palpable. I’m no expert on Taiwanese cuisine, I was there in 2004 but I ate mostly street food (which was amazing) and don’t remember a great deal of it. The food at pekopeko is best described as fusion, many of the flavours will be familiar to patrons of Westernised Chinese outlets (sweet & sour? honey glazed?) but with nary a ‘beef in black bean sauce’ in sight.

I would like to point out right now to those that rail against Westernised Chinese food, pekopeko is proof that with good design, a cool vibe, and food that actually tastes good, sweet & sour chicken actually can be cool… and desirable. Let’s face it guys, much of pekopeko’s menu (clearly I’ve settled on this spelling) is heavily reminiscent of Westernised Chinese food. And that’s not a bad thing!

Pop Chicken bento @ Peko Peko

The menu is extensive, but the bento boxes are popular and come recommended. I have tried a number of them. And can tell you that the standout for me so far is the pop chicken (pictured above, deep fried bites of chicken, much like tori karaage but smaller, sort of like a larger version of KFC’s popcorn chicken), followed by the five spice squid (pictured below). All bentos come with rice (excellent), a halved spring roll full of carrot (not very inspiring) and some form of salad (quality varies).

Five Spice Squid Bento @ Peko Peko

Dishes that were a little more fail were the Sweet & Sour Chicken Crunch and the Honey Beef, both of which were far too sweet. The sauces used for these dishes just felt too much like that synthetic flavouring that is usually associated with Westernised Chinese but dialed up an extra notch or two. Not very pleasant.

Still, something has to be said for good rice.

Sweet & Sour Chicken Crunch Bento @ pekopeko

It must also be said that Pekopeko’s special were kind of zomg the last time I went. The wasabi mayo beef strips were delicious as expected. Tender beef strips with deliciously large lashings of wasabi mayo. This is not an elegant dish, it’s a wasabi mayo explosion but hey, I love wasabi mayo, so why not.

Black Sesame Ice Cream & Earl Grey Tea Panna Cotta

The real superstar special on the night was the black sesame ice cream & earl grey tea panna cotta (pictured above). I don’t know where they source their ice cream, perhaps it’s homemade, but it was wonderful. It was full of real sesame seeds which added a mile of awesome to the taste of the ice cream. The panna cotta was amazing too, the earl grey tea flavour was rich enough but not overwhelming. A perfect dish. As you can see form the below picture, I literally licked the bowl.

After.

Get in while stocks last folks, these specials aren’t going to be around forever. If you’re in the mood for an affordable (bentos are $12 each, the specials were under $10) and delicious meal in a cute, cosy and interesting restaurant then Peko Peko is a goer. Do it. Your stomach will thank you later.

Alex’s Ratings:

Taste: 8. The amazing specials and solid pop chicken more than made up for the inferior dishes mentioned above.

Value: 9. A meal for this price is not uncommon but this is something different for those sick of the usual $10-15 range food options. The menu is huge, all affordable and the specials add an extra layer of quality, value and variety.

Service: 8. They seem to be always busy but the staff are always friendly, polite and attentive. The waitress forgot to bring me an extra spoon/fork for the dessert which was being shared and she apologised profusely a million times for the slight error. That is what I look for in service, not inch perfect execution but simply understanding and politeness.

Atmosphere: 9. Cute, comfortable, interesting, innovative and different. Peko peko has put effort into the way the place looks and it shows. A labour of love, much preferred to the usual blandness.

Overall: 8. Need I say more? Head on down.

Bonus: Check out Jeroxie’s review and the ones over at Cruxie Faye and Food Rehab.

Ramen Battle – The Final

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Welcome back gentle reader, and apologies for the delay between this post and the last once again. It seems time has been getting the better of me lately. I’m sure I don’t need to spend a great deal of time introducing this post, particularly if you’ve been following the ramen battle going on on this blog in the past few weeks. 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 speed.

So as noted, the winners of the two heats were:

1. Ajisen Ramen, in an upset, and since highly contested win over highly vaunted Momotaro.

2. Ramen Ya, in a comfortable victory over some fairly decent opposition.

Although this is mentioned in the introductory post, I shall copy & paste it here for you information. Here are the more rigorous scoring guidelines for our Final battle:

Finals competitors will be scored on:

  • Broth: Is the broth mouth-watering? Does it make me want to drink the entire bowl? Does it make me want to jump into it and do laps?
  • Noodles: Are the noodles too soft? Too rubbery? Do they break apart easily?
  • Filling: Is there too much of one particular vegetable or not enough meat? Is the produce of a low quality?
  • Authenticity: How authentic is it to the particular type of ramen they are trying to execute? Is this the real tonkotsu? is this a well-crafted miso?
  • Everything Else: As above
  • Overall: Final Score

We also had a guest judge, our good friend Shu Qi, along with us for our taste tests to add an extra palate to our battle. And here are the results.

Ajisen Ramen

130 Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9662 1100
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Ajisen  Ramen on Urbanspoon

Our return to Ajisen Ramen was not without controversy. Those that have been following the previous heats may have noticed that the decision to have Ajisen win Heat 1 was contested hotly in the comments. Our good friend Billy from Half-Eaten was particularly passionate about his hatred of Ajisen. Our position was defended by asserting supremacy over Momotaro, and I won’t harp on about it, read the post on that Heat for more info.

So bruised & battered, Ajisen headed into the final round very much the underdog. Could it pull off another stunning upset in the face of its detractors? Or would it be left runner-up, in the dust of ramen mediocrity? We shall soon found out.

Shu Qi – Char Grilled Beef Ramen:


Authenticity: 5.5.

Broth: 6. Tastes comforting after a massive day

Noodles: 4. Look more like angel hair pasta than ramen.

Fillings: 8. The beef is tender, and cooked at medium-rare as requested. (Alex: I tried Shu Qi’s beef and was also impressed with it, while char-grilled beef is not an authentic filling for ramen usually it tasted pretty awesome & they weren’t stingy with it either)

Everything Else: 6.5. Rock music playing, waiters look like part-time students.

Overall: 6.

Jess – Volcano Ramen:

The volcano ramen is my favourite ramen at this place.. MS & I frequent this place for old times sake as early on in our friendship we were in Hong Kong together and joined forces in a ramen frenzy at this chain which was dotted all throughout HK, before it arrived in Melbourne. I have fond memories of sitting there watching MS sweating chilli through his pores trying to swallow every last piece of ramen whilst I tried my best to slurp my ramen up without snorting it out of my nose in laughter. So I have a soft spot for this dish 😉

As you can see from the pictures; this ramen comes served in a large bowl with mixed vegetables and some char-shu and a dollop of “volcano sauce”, which I can only best describe as similar to the chilli-oil that you get at Chinese restauraunts.

Authenticity: 6 – I like to think of this place as Japanese fast food.

Broth: 7; tasty, but MSG-laden. Loved the volcano sauce.

Noodles: 4.

Fillings: 6.5. veggies, meats, etc. Plentiful. I liked the chashu, had about 4 pieces. I gave this a 7.5, but after tasting the chashu in Alex’s ramen at ramen-ya, I reconsidered. My god were the chashu at ramen-ya delicious.

Everything else: 7.5. Decent value. Massive bowl for the price. Had entertainment vouchers so 25% off. Table service, quick, not friendly but not unfriendly. It is what it is, it’s like a diner I guess, wait staff students just trying to earn a buck. It’s not fine dining, but you don’t pay for fine dining.

Overall: 7.

Alex: Spicy Ramen


Authenticity: 4. Quite clearly neither the menu, the decor or the staff are Japanese. And neither is the food really. They have (Indonesian-produced) Calpico though. I think that’s where the four points are coming form. And I don’t want to be mean.

Broth: 7. Included collagen, thick and fairly tasty, MSG-laden but who cares? I don’t. Also, spicy, very spicy. I like.

Noodles: 4. OK, the much maligned Ajisen noodles. Yes they are like angel hair pasta, as Shu Qi and Billy have both pointed out. They’re round not square. OK, you guys win there.

Fillings: 5. They are getting stingy with the spicy mince, the bastards. There was again, way too much cabbage, again way too much carrot. Grrr. Less spicy mince = me not happy.

Everything else: 7. Backless chairs annoy me but it’s a fairly clean, comfortable place otherwise with decent service.

Overall: 6.

Ramen Ya

Shop 25G Melbourne GPO,
350 Bourke St,
Melbourne, 3000
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Ramen   Ya on Urbanspoon

By far the most popular ramen place around, loved universally by almost everyone, I have never once heard a bad word said about this place. So I guess, err… firm favourite status then.

Shu Qi – Seafood Gyoza Ramen in Tonkotsu Broth


Authenticity: 8. Love the wooden spoon!

Broth: 8.

Noodles: Tastes like ramen noodles from the Asian grocers.

Fillings: 7.

Everything Else: 8.

Overall: 7.8

Jess – Seafood Gyoza Ramen in Tonkotsu Broth


Authenticity: 8

Broth: 9 – delicious, creamy broth. So addictive, and didn’t get the MSG furry tongue after this like I did a bit from Ajisen.

Noodles: 8 – nice texture.

Fillings: 8  – I tasted some of MS’s cha-shu, and it was amazing. Melt in your mouth pieces of pork. Fantastic. The seafood gyoza were ok. Not bad, but not great. They didn’t pair so well with the ramen. So 9 for the cha-shu, 6 for the gyoza, but 8 overall cos the cha-shu was so damn good. My bad on choice of fillings though. Their vegies were presented nicely on top, the pickles were perhaps slightly too ‘pickled,’ i.e. vinegar-y for me, but good nonetheless.

Everything else: 7. Much better value than Ajisen. Ajisen is bigger, but the overall broth, noodles, fillings all tasted better. Service was almost non-existant, more like a canteen style. Order at counter. Noodles came quickly though, self-service for drinks. In this regard, Ajisen wins.

Overall: 8.5.

Ajisen is good in that it has lots of choice. Though, with something like Ramen, I think Ramen-ya has the better philosophy in streamlining to; broth, then filling. Rather than try and do too much, their focus is doing what they do, but doing it well. The broth and noodles were hands down heaps better. The seafood gyoza weren’t that good though. Ramen-ya clear winner for me.

Alex – Chashu Ramen in Tonkotsu Broth


Authenticity: 8

Broth: 9. Delicious tonkotsu, near perfectly executed.

Noodles: 8.

Fillings: 8 – more chashu this time! Though, in general, the produce could be of better quality but I feel like I’m asking too much. It’s ramen after all. Not gourmet.

Everything Else: 7. Backless stools, order at the counter. Points lost there.

Overall: 8. Clearly the best ramen in Melbourne

Final Judgment.

So as you can see, Ramen Ya is clearly the best ramen in Melbourne and wins points on many frontiers. The chashu ramen in the tonkotsu broth comes heavily recommended, as does their near-secret (advertised nowhere it seems) happy hour from 2:30 – 5:30 where all ramen and bento is $6.50. If you should go during regular hours, don’t forget to get your loyalty card stamped. Fifth stamp gets you a free ice cream and a tenth stamp gets you a free ramen. Bargain-a-licious!

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
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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
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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

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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.

Ramen Battle – Heat 1

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Ladies & Gentlemen, welcome to our first food battle. Contender number one is Ramen, the delicious Japanese dish. More information on the rules can be found here. Here’s a choice bit of history about ramen from our old friend wikipedia:

Ramen (ラーメン) is a Japanese noodle dish that originated in China. It is served in a meat- or fish-based broth, often flavored with soy sauce or miso, and uses toppings such as sliced pork (チャーシュー, chāshū?), dried seaweed (海苔, nori?), kamaboko, green onions and even corn. Almost every locality in Japan has its own variation of ramen, from the tonkotsu ramen of Kyūshū to the miso ramen of Hokkaidō.

Melbourne has a multitude of Japanese restaurants and many of them serve ramen so we’ve set out to taste some of the top contenders for Melbourne’s best ramen. For more information on how the battle works, read this earlier post.

The contenders for Heat 1 are:

  1. Ajisen Ramen
  2. Meshiya
  3. Momotaro Rahmen
1. Ajisen Ramen
130 Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9662 1100
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Ajisen Ramen on Urbanspoon

Spicy Ramen at Ajisen Ramen

Jess and I have a history at Ajisen. We frequented the place a lot when we were both in Hong Kong at the beginning of 2005 (yes that’s over five years ago) and made it a point to visit the Bourke Street store now and then after our return to Melbourne.  A nice HK anecdote:  I usually have very high tolerance for chilli but I met my match in the HK branch of Ajisen’s spicy ramen. I’m pretty sure my face went as red as a tomato and there may have been tears.

I’ve always considered Ajisen to be somehow inferior to proper ramen joints and only really went there out of nostalgia, but I now must admit that I stand corrected. Despite the lack of authenticity (be wary of Chinese staff at Japanese restaurants) and the global-chain-like nature of the company, Ajisen actually makes a mean bowl of ramen. The spicy ramen is my usual and is a good value dish, containing a number of vegetables (cabbage, carrot, fungus, spring onion), tea egg and spicy mince meat in a shoyu broth. There are plenty of veggies, in fact one of my main gripes with the dish is the predominance of cabbage. I’m not a huge fan of cabbage at the best of times, it’s a bland, flavourless vegetable when boiled, but Ajisen takes it to a new level that I think can accurately be described as padding. Ie. pad the dish with lots of cabbage so people think they got value for money. I don’t see why they need to do this, there’s plenty of other stuff in the ramen and I usually leave half the cabbage uneaten. One thing I appreciate about Ajisen’s ramen is that they use tea eggs instead of regular boiled eggs, I love tea eggs, think they go great in ramen and appreciate the nice touch.

The place doesn’t feel too cramped or claustrophobic like many other Asian restaurants that serve similarly priced food (see Meshiya below) and even though the predominance of backless furniture is annoying (a pet hate), it’s still not an uncomfortable place to eat a meal. The staff are usually prompt and there is enough of them (thank God), and their cartoon mascot is dead cute.

Ramen rating: 7/10
Everything else rating: 7/10
2. Meshiya
200 Lonsdale St
Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9654 6242
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Meshiya on Urbanspoon

Tonkatsu Ramen at Meshiya

Meshiya is a small but busy restaurant on the Lonsdale Street side of Melbourne’s QV complex. Asian international students (many probably living in the apartment blocks upstairs) and office workers (probably from sensis and BHP) are the customers are here, and are both usually a decent weathervane for good cheap Asian food.

I ordered the tonkatsu ramen in a shoyu broth. The broth was pretty good, I’m a big fan of sesame seeds in shoyu ramen, however I felt there was a little too much MSG in it. I wasn’t happy with the tonkatsu at all, it was far too soggy and the noodles tasted a touch overcooked. In fact, it tasted like they had been soaking in the broth for like half an hour before being served to us. Having said that, the dish wasn’t too bad for the price and, if pressed, I would probably go back to eat here.

The place  is tiny and does itself no favours with its layout being long and thin rather than square. This makes it very difficult to get the attention of serving staff (as usual, Meshiya is severely understaffed) and gives the place a cramped and claustrophobic feeling.

Ramen rating: 6/10
Everything else rating: 4/10
3. Momotaro Rahmen (seeded)
392 Bridge Rd
Richmond VIC 3121
(03) 9421 1661
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Momotaro Rahmen on Urbanspoon

Tonkotsu Ramen at Momotaro Rahmen

Momotaro comes seeded due to a number of recommendations I have heard and read from other food bloggers, friends and a generally good reputation including a brief write-up in The Age. It’s Richmond location makes it slightly less than convenient but I was eager to try the ramen at this much vaunted noodle joint.

I’ll begin by telling you straight up that I was very disappointed. While the staff all seemed to be Japanese, I fail to understand how Japanese people (with presumably Japanese palates) can serve up such average ramen. Perhaps I’m completely wrong here, maybe the ramen here is actually awesome and I’m completely nuts but I’m going to go with it.

I ordered the tonkotsu ramen, a ramen quite different to the usual shoyu ramen which comes in a soy broth. Tonkotsu is based on a broth of pork bone and collagen. The dish also came with a slice chashu. Everything about Momotaro screams a frugal miserliness. You get one small slice of chashu which is a poor quality cut (the most disappointing thing), the vegetables are non-existent (my friend with who ordered the highly vaunted negi miso ramen, a vegetable based dish complained of the same) with bean sprouts dominating. You have to pay $2-3 extra for extra toppings (presumably, one more slice of crappy chashu? yay) and the egg wasn’t boiled properly and wasn’t a tea egg.  Granted, the noodles were good, but the broth was also a let down. Not enough flavour.

In addition, it’s order-at-the-counter service, the place is tiny, the chairs are uncomfortable and the ventilation was so poor that at 6.30pm on a regular day with the door open we were all sweating like prostitutes in church and gasping for breath. Basically, a real letdown. I have no idea why everyone seems to love this place so much, maybe it was an off day and maybe I’ll give it another chance but frankly, I’d rather go to a Chinese-run place that serves better ramen than a supposedly authentic Japanese place.

Ramen rating: 6/10
Everything else rating: 3/10
The Winner of Heat 1: AJISEN RAMEN

At the end of the day, out of these three places, Ajisen is the place I’d go to if I have the choice. The ramen just tastes better, even if it isn’t as authentic.

Stay tuned for Heat 2!