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Posts Tagged ‘tonkatsu

Ramen Battle – Heat 2

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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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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!