Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen

27 Russell St, Melbourne CBD. Phone: (03) 9650 3708

Disclaimer: Guest reviewer Richard, a keen connoisseur of ramen, ate as a guest of Ikkoryu. 

Melbourne is experiencing a bit of a ramen boom at the moment. After enduring years, nay decades of extremely ordinary ramen, suddenly serious options are popping up, including Little Ramen Bar, Fukuryu, Hakata Gensuke and Mensousai Mugen.
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In the case of Gensuke and (I believe) Fukuryu, there is a providence link with an actual Japanese ramen shop or chain. This is also the case with Ikkoryu, which is opening properly in Melbourne from Wednesday 1 April and is a brand of the Yamagoya Ramen Group hailing from Fukuoka.

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Ramen is, like the indigenous Japanese religion Shinto, not monotheistic. There are dozens of types of ramen—reflecting prefectures of Japan (or even different parts of the same city)—and a good shop in Japan will generally stick to one, at most two types. The Melbourne scene is heavy on Fukuoka-style tonkotsu (pork-bone broth), and Ikkoryu does nothing to change that. I’d love to see more fish-and-pork mix broths and tsukemen (dipping noodles) which are big in Tokyo right now.

But anyway, Ikkoryu. The space is clean, open, modern & efficient. It is a bit chain-y and high-end-by-numbers which is not a bad thing. It doesn’t make you feel like you’re in a demi-basement. They’ve brought out a Japanese calligraphy artist to decorate the sliding doors that delineate the private tatami area. A pleasant place to slurp.

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We’re here on the soft opening and so we get to sample the yakimeshi (fried rice), karaage (Japanese friend chicken) and gyoza (dumplings) as mini-entrees.

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The karaage and gyoza are particularly good: the chicken is juicy and the dumplings have an appropriate level of filling. My co-conspirator James likes the yakimeshi but I am less certain… it lacks the simplicity and slight stickiness of the Japanese fried rice I love. (I wonder if yakimeshi is a style of Japanese fried rice I’m not familiar with… it is nearly always referred to as chahan where I eat in Tokyo.)

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The ramen is, of course, the main deal here. As at Gensuke, you have several options (flavour, strength of flavour, noodle chewiness etc) which you circle on the paper placemat in front of you.

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I opt for the standard normal-everything Original Tonkotsu. The theme is refinement. The soup is an elegant style: a creamy (but not thick) tonkotsu broth of pork bones only (no chicken) with a light flavour and little pungency. It’s a bit beige for my tastes but a great intro to this style of ramen.

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The men (noodles) are billed as hosomen (thin noodles). This is true but they are not super skinny, being a satisfying thickness and cooked to a slightly chewy perfection. The ajitama (flavoured soft-boiled egg) is really excellent, with a deliciously creamy yolk. The chashu (roast pork) is tasty and melty.

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James orders the miso tonkotsu and this really shines: a deeply satisfying and complex blend of white and red miso and some subtle spices take this ramen up a notch into special territory. It makes me enthusiastic to try their other flavour options which include garlic, spicy and yuzu (Japanese citron).

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Overall, this is perhaps Melbourne’s most refined ramen experience. The dining experience can also include premium sake options and a gamut of wine and beer. I always feel a bit weird eating ramen in upmarket environments and quasi-premium price points because it’s disconnected from the authentic Japanese experience: ramen in Japan is a kind of artisan junkfood, shamelessly delicious, unpretentious, often shabby and usually inexpensive. But turning it into fine dining probably reflects the economics of offering this food here. And we mustn’t discourage that!

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Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen on Urbanspoon

Kokoro ramen

157 Lonsdale St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9650 1215

I was pretty excited when I heard that there was a new ramen joint opening in the city. I was even more excited when I learned that they were serving tonkotsu broth. That collagenous pinnacle of soups made of melted pig joints is one of my favourite things in the world.

One of my other favourite things is pork belly, so when I went up to order and found that they were virtually giving the stuff away – it was an extra $1.50 for a side of braised pork – I was doubly excited.

But life is full of cruel disappointments, and Kokoro is the embodiment of one such disappointment for this humble ramen slurper.
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“But what?” I hear you say. What could possible have gone so wrong. That broth looks sufficiently opaque, and there’s a big chunk of pork belly, and look, the egg even has a reasonably gooey yolk! But all is not as it seems. The broth was decent, though lacking the luscious lip-coating feel that I wanted from a tonkotsu broth; it was well balanced – not too porky, nor too salty.

But dig a little deeper, and we uncover the main problem: HAKATA-STYLE NOODLES! When it comes to ramen, I’m devoutly anti-Hakata. I understand that it has a long and popular tradition in Japan, but I don’t care for it. It seem like under-cooked soba to me – unyielding adn leathery – and has none of that awesome springiness that the more common Tokyo-style ramen has. Ajisem ramen are the probably the most famous of the perpetrators of Hakata-style ramen; the first time I had ramen there, I thought it was a joke, and they were using spaghetti noodles.

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But the insult to injury here is the false economy of the braised pork. It turns out they must have been trying to get rid of a batch of pork that had gone wrong, because it was, like the Hakata-style noodles, tough and unyielding. Caveat emptor, I guess. I doubt I’ll be back, but if I do go back, I’ll definitely avoid any ‘specials’.

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Kokoro Ramen on Urbanspoon

Sekai Japanese Ramen

Shop 194, 81 Hopkins St (Footscray Market ), Footscray
Phone: 9687 1088

A while ago, I dislocated my big toe playing soccer. Yeah, I know, gross; not the way to start off a post about ramen. But you should know that on the day I went finally got down to Sekai Japanese Ramen, in the Footscray Market, I had swung down Hopkins Street on crutches, because despite sporting injuries, recipe testing for the Melbourne Foodblogger’s Dinner had to go on, and I needed more pork belly (and Penny needed more ox tongue).

So I figured since I had to endure the indignity of traipsing through the market on crutches, with one foot in a half-cast and a backpack full of meat, I at least deserved a decent lunch beforehand. I’d been meaning to visit Sekai ever since Lauren wrote about it not long after I moved to Footscray. Having good options for both pho and ramen within walking distance of my new home? Surely life couldn’t be that good…

… sadly life isn’t quite that good. While Sekai produces a passable effort, it’s far from what I would call good. On this occasion, I tried the Sekai Ramen, with the shoyu (soy) based broth. I’m not going to go into detail about the Chinese-owned Japanese restaurant issue, but Sekai is clearly Chinese run.

The first thing the bothered me about this bowl was the seafood extender. Yes, they might be of Japanese origin, but I don’t like them. The second thing was the rather obviously over-cooked egg. I don’t expect a gooey egg – it’s a bonus if it appears – but grey yolk edges are a clear sign this egg has been waaay over-cooked. The only saving grace was that it’s a tea egg.
The broth was a little bland, and there was little complexity in flavour beyond the soy itself. The chashu was similarly uninspiring. Lacking in fat content, and nowhere near tender enough.
I was hoping that the ramen noodles would be the saving grace, but even before I bit into them, I knew all hope was lost. They were too soft, and lacked any real toothsome quality.

All in all, if you’re hankering for a soup noodle in Footscray, you’d be wasting your time with Sekai Japanese Ramen. I’m hereby expanding the theory of proximal pho to the theory of proximal soup noodles. Mediocre just isn’t good enough in Footscray.

Sekai Japanese Ramen on Urbanspoon

Ramen at Ume Hana

398 Elizabeth St, Melbourne
Phone: 9663 1108

It’s been a while ramen fans, but the hunt is on again!  This time I headed to Ume Hana, because I had to swap over my Sennheiser iPhone headphones for the FOURTH time in a year… seriously, the sound quality on those things is awesome, but they break so easily. Thankfully there’s a two year warranty, so I can just swap them over when (not if) they go bung.

Anyway, Ume Hana is a pretty pedestrian feeling Japanese/Korean restaurant. It feels more like a cafe (which the place used to be) than a restaurant, actually. But this incongruous setting it totally countered by the fact the owners are actually Japanese, and if you drop in after the lunch-time rush, they’re all sitting around having their staff lunch, and the owner will actually serve you while everyone else continues eating. Sweet!

I decided to go for the Karaage ramen, because I wasn’t in the mood for seafood, and well, fried chicken. ‘Nuff said.

I was impressed when it came out, but unfortunately the first impression wasn’t followed up by the subsequent tasting.
The broth, a shoyu (soy) base, was flavourful, but I would characterise it as more salty than tasty. It was pretty one dimensional. The all important ramen noodles were rather soft – I would hazard a guess that they had been sitting in the piping hot broth waiting while the chicken was being fried. Sitting there too long. As for the toppings, the fried chicken was good, and the inclusion of a poached egg as opposed to a boiled egg was interesting, but looked like it was poached in a microwave. The yolk was cooked to a nice softness, however.

All in all, the ramen was on the poor to mediocre end of the scale.

Broth 2/5
Noodles 2/5
Toppings 3/5
Total 7/15

To see where it sits in the rankings, see my original ramen hunt post.

Ume Hana on Urbanspoon

Gumshara

Eating World Food Court, Shop 209, 25-29 Dixon Street, Haymarket Sydney
Open Tuesday to Sunday 10am-8:30pm
Closed on Mondays

On my recent trip to Sydney, there were two goals I had – the first was to visit the Bourke St Bakery (post coming soon) and the other was to do some ramenhunting. I still remember the best ramen I’ve eaten in Australia, at Ryo’s in Crow’s Nest in Sydney. It was my introduction to the silky seductive joys of tonkotsu, and like a first love, it may be surpassed, but will never be forgotten.

Some quick online research and asking around led me to believe the place to go around the CBD was a little ramen stall in a food court, called Gumshara. Which happened to be just a few blocks from our hotel. Score! However, by the time we got down to the foodcourt on the Friday night, Gumshara was already closed.

The dream was put aside for awhile, and it wasn’t until Sunday afternoon, just before heading to the airport for our flight back to Melbourne which became and epic four hour stay at Sydney airport (thanks, Tiger), we stopped in on Sunday afternoon.

There are an array of ramen offerings at Gumshara. Of special interest is the pork spare rib, of which there are only 10 servings per day.
We managed to get two of them – I guess Sundays must be a little slow. This bad boy was mine. Of course, it comes with the sticky tonkotsu broth for which all good ramen pilgrims search.
My friends Miss J and Mr T shared one between them, with extra toppings of chashu and beautifully soft-boiled eggs.
Mr I went for the classic chashu ramen, again with tonkotsu. He had trouble finishing the bowl on his own. We swapped some chashu for some spare rib, and I have to say, the spare rib was good, but the chashu was better.
The ramen noodles were wonderfully springy to begin with, but they did fade somewhat as I worked my way through them. Still, they were a cut above most places I have tried in Melbourne.

The pork spare rib was a hefty chunk of meat, and I don’t think it’s really necessary, but things that are necessary are often boring. I did manage to get through it all, barely. It was a little too salty for my liking, to be honest.

There’s a sign at the stall, and the staff there mention it when they hand over the ramen; if the soup is too rich or salty, they are happy to adjust it for you. I didn’t think that was necessary. It certainly was rich, but that’s what I look for in a tonkotsu broth, no?

Apparently yes.

Gumshara is definitely worth the time to visit if you’re in Sydney and in need of ramen. And let’s face it, we’re all in need of ramen. All the time. Really.

Bucking the trend and taking advantage of the food court’s multitudinous offerings, Miss D and had a Singapore-style fried hokkien prawn mee, which she was extremely satisfied with. Apparently good prawn mee hard to get in Melbourne.

Gumshara Ramen on Urbanspoon

Tonkotsu ramen at Kenzan GPO

GPO Building, Rear 350 Bourke St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9663 7767

I’m not often one to take suggestions from a cat, though I probably should, if Murakami is to be believed, but I was happy to be pointed in the direction of Kenzan@GPO by chocopaws after the initial ramenhunt. The first time I went there, I was sadly informed that they weren’t serving the ramen. But recently, I stopped in the city for lunch on an errand, and was heartened to find “Winter Special” signs up.

Not only was there ramen, but there was the king of all ramen – tonkotsu! At a hefty $15 a bowl – it sells for about $10 at Ramen Ya next door – expectations were high. Would the higher-end neighbour be able to knock Ramen Ya off their perch as the purveyors of the finest ramen in the Melbourne CBD?

Ooh, semi-soft-boiled egg. A good start! A generous serve of chashu, as well as the traditional bamboo shoots and two types of seaweed. Pickled ginger and spring onion garnishes round out what was a thoroughly impressive looking bowl.
The noodles were of a decent texture – a little past al dente but still holding enough requisite springiness. And it was a hefty serve of noodles, too.Unfortunately, that’s where the praise ends.

The broth was far too salty, and it was just as well the pickled ginger was there to offset the intensity of the broth. Yet, for its intensity of flavour, the broth lacked the lip smacking collagen hit that Ramen Ya’s broth carries. Which is the point of tonkotsu, really, if you ask me.

My other major disappointment with Kenzan’s ramen was the chashu. Yes, there was quite a lot of it. And yes, it was quite meltingly tender, as good chashu should be. But this was largely due to the fact that it was mostly fat. Now I’m not one to shy away from pork fat. Indeed, I think pork fat is one of the things the gods bestowed upon humankind, to make life on Earth bearable. But this was pork fat overkill.

To add insult to injury, when I took my first bite of chashu, it was COLD. Really!? Really, Kenzan? We both know you can do better than that. Yes, it was busy, but no, that’s not an excuse to serve cold pork fat. Perhaps I should have followed the teachings of Tampopo and caressed my chashu and stared longingly at it for a while longer, while the broth did its work to soften the fat, but I like to have some pork at the same time as I have the ramen noodle, which I can’t delay the consumption of for fear it will soften  further. Oh the painful paradox! Which could have been avoided had you only warmed the pork a little before placing it in the broth. Le sigh.

I really wanted to love the Kenzan ramen. And in the final analysis, it was much better than other versions being served around town, but it fell far short of my expectations. Especially given the price. I’ll head next door to Ramen Ya next time instead.

Broth 3/5
Noodles 3/5
Toppings 3/5
Total 9/15

The lesson here: Never listen to cats.

Kenzan @ GPO on Urbanspoon

For a comparison against other ramen in the CBD, see my original ramenhunt post.

Little Bourke Ramen Hunt – Ume Sushi House & Sushi Deli

It’s been a while between ramen hunts. And while hunting in a pack is undoubtedly fun, this ramen hunter usually operates as more of a lone wolf. The problem is, sometimes a lone ramen hunter happens upon a herd of prey too plentiful for his lone stomach. Luckily, this hunter’s stomach is abnormally large.So here is the tale of two ramens, one lunchtime.

I’m not often in the city for lunch anymore, since I stopped working in the middle of our fair metropolis. So when I was recently posted there for training, I knew I had to make the most of all my lunching opportunities. I remembered that there was a little Japanese place in Little Bourke St, not far from where I was doing my training, so I headed down to see if there was any ramen to be had.

Sushi Deli
395 Little Bourke St, CBD
Phone: 9670 6688

Indeed there was! This little hole-in-the-wall type place, ostensibly known for their sushi, also offers ramen, udon and donburi.


I ordered the ‘meat ramen’ – there’s also seafood ramen. The picture on the board looked like chashu. I was expecting chashu. Did I get chashu? No. I got chicken. Really, sushi deli? Chicken? And not even kara age deep-fried chicken goodness? Things aren’t starting out well.

There was also a goodly amount of corn, a little broccoli, and some rather disappointing seafood extender stick. Ugh. The broth, however, was pretty good. A shoyu style broth, there wasn’t too much MSG, and the flavours were more complex than your basic soy base. It played well off the sweetness of the masses of corn floating around in it.

The noodles themselves were decent – a little springy, though they softened faster than I could slurp them. And I slurp pretty fast, so I would tend to think they were a tad overcooked to begin with.

Broth 3/5
Noodles 2/5
Toppings 2/5
Total 7/15

Sushi Deli on Urbanspoon

As I exited Sushi Deli, I noticed little Japanese lanterns hanging a bit further down the street. I went to investigate. I happened upon Ume Sushi House. Not one to shy away from a gustatory challenge, I entered.

Ume Sushi House
385 Little Bourke St, CBD
Phone: 9670 0308

Having just had the ‘meat ramen’, I didn’t want to make that mistake twice. So I opted for the seafood ramen this time. It arrived pretty quickly, and as far as ramen goes, it was quite pretty, with a rainbow of ingredients floating atop the noodles. There was a whole prawn (de-shelled except head and tail), calamari, scallops, corn, nori, and shredded pickled ginger.


The noodles here were again pretty good. The texture was right, and though not quite as springy as I would have liked, they had the unmistakable ramen flavour (due to the alkali pH of the noodle).

The broth was something of a disappointment. It was lacking in real flavour, being pretty much just salty. I had a bit of a moment half-way through the bowl, however, when the sun decided to appear from behind the clouds, like a ramen epiphany:

Unfortunately, the sunlight didn’t make the broth any better.

Broth 2/5
Noodles 3/5
Toppings 3/5
Total 8/15

Ume Sushi House on Urbanspoon

To see how these two places fared in the grand scheme of CBD ramen, see my original ramen hunt post.

Meiji Japanese Cafe

105 Little Bourke Street
Phone: 9662 2899

The ramen hunt continues. I’ll keep updating the table with results as new ones come in. I stopped in here on my own to keep the dream alive.The place was pretty quiet, as it was early; pre 6pm in fact! I forgot to pack my gym shorts that morning, so went to eat instead. The irony was not lost on me. As it was so quiet, service was impeccable, if a little too attentive. And the solitary dining experience was buffered by a television up one end of the restuarant. If that wasn’t a giveaway of Chinese ownership, the staff speaking both Mandarin and Cantonese surely was! Now Chinese ownership of Japanese restaurants isn’t always a bad thing – it’s certainly rife in Melbourne – but there’s a certain un-authenticity that grates a little.

I was hungry, so I started with a mini entree of takoyaki (octopus croquette) which I have to say, surprisingly, was the best example of it I’ve tasted in Melbourne. Crispy on the outside, melty-gooey on the inside, and the right amount of sweet sauce and eerily-moving bonito flakes on top. It looks like an extremely small serve, yes, but then it’s only $3.90.

On to the main event. I had the Meiji ramen, which came with chashu, half a tea-egg, bamboo shoot, gingko nuts, snow peas and a little slice of the spirally fish cake.


The broth was good, for shoyu. Tasty, with well-rounded flavours, and complex enough to keep me going back for more. That might have been the MSG, but there wasn’t the slightly metallic twang, and I wasn’t left thirsty, so I would judge it as judicious use. The noodles themselves were pleasantly springy, and there sure were plenty of them! I think what let the dish down was the toppings. The chashu was a little on the tough side (they should have used fattier meat), and the rest of the toppings were likewise rather forgettable.


All in all, Meiji serves up a pretty decent bowl of ramen.

Broth 4
Noodle 3
Toppings 3
Total 10 / 15

Meiji Japanese Cafe on Urbanspoon

Ramen hunt

On Easter Monday 2010, a group of intrepid ramen hunters (myself included) set out to find the best ramen in the Melbourne CBD. While our search was probably not exhaustive, it was pretty exhausting. A total of nineteen bowls of ramen were (mostly) consumed by nine of us, across a total of seven restaurants. Scores out of five were given to each restaurant for the quality of the ramen noodle, the broth, and the toppings. We had considered scoring for decor and service, but decided to be ramen purists and ignore the periphery (everything that wasn’t in the bowl).

I added one more visit on a later date to Meshiya, which had somehow “sold out” of ramen on the day, for completeness. I’ll probably continue the hunt for good ramen around the city in weeks to come, too. Anyway, let’s watch the hunting unfold..


Our first stop was Menya Ramen, a tiny little hole-in-the-wall place in a laneway entrance to the Melbourne Central shopping centre, run by the O-Bento Group, who mainly manage Japanese stalls in shopping centre food courts. Despite this, Menya has always enjoyed a pretty good reputation in Melbourne for having good ramen. There is also a second Menya outlet now, on Elizabeth St, between A’Beckett and Franklin Sts.

Menya Ramen
Shop 146a 211 Latrobe St Knox Lane, Melbourne Central (CBD)
Phone: 9639 3383
Menya on Urbanspoon

The ramen here was OK. Not great, in my opinion, but not bad, either. It was a good choice on @jeroxie‘s part as the benchmark restaurant. We tried the Menya Ramen and the Sapporo Ramen, both with a shoyu broth, as they were out of miso broth that day.


The ramen (noodle) itself was tolerable, but a bit too soft. I found the broth tasty, but a little too tasty – it was heavily flavoured with MSG. The toppings were quite generous, the difference between the two being the Menya ramen had more seafood, whereas the Sapporo was just chashu, seafood extender, bamboo shoot and the obligatory nori and spring onion garnish. The chashu itself, which would come to be a large determiner in the toppings scores, was a little tough, and lacking the melty fat which makes good chashu a luscious joy.

Broth 2/5
Noodles 2/5
Toppings 3/5
Total 7/15

Hanaichi
QV Square, 210 Lonsdale St, Melbourne CBD

This was actually an impromptu stop, as none of us actually knew Hanaichi existed. In the old wagamama premises on QV Square, Hanaichi definitely has a fast food/food court feel, replete with a McDonalds-esque photo menu. Expectations were low, and it would be fair to say that some of the hunters were filled with apprehension, if not dread!

The first cause for that dread may have been the menu itself – it read: Ramen (egg noodle). For those of you who aren’t as ramen-obsessed as I am, ramen has no egg in it. The distinct yellow colour is a result of the chemical reaction of the kansui (sodium & potassium carbonates) with the wheat flour. So a place which purports to sell ‘Japanese fine food’ describing ramen as egg noodle is a worry.


Then the ramen itself came out. In disposable paper bowls. But in the name of research, we went ahead and ate it anyway. The noodles, surprisingly, weren’t actually that bad! They were better than Menya’s (on the day) though still too soft for my liking. The toppings were rather meagre – a few slices of unimpressive chashu, a sheet of nori, and some spring onions – though for $6.90, it’s hard to complain too much. The broth was, again, unimpressive. There was definite MSG action, but my main problem with it was that is lacked any real flavour beyond being salty.

Broth 1/5
Noodles 3/5
Toppings 1/5
Total 5/15

Edoya
138 Russell St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9654 7358
Edoya Japanese on Urbanspoon

Another unplanned stop. We were sadly informed by Meshiya that they were out of ramen, so headed towards Ito and Ajisen. At that point, someone came up with the genius idea that Edoya would probably have ramen, and that they did, though only one variant – a Sapporo style ramen, in a shoyu broth. We ordered two bowls for the table, but given that this was the first real restaurant – as opposed to a noodle joint – we also succumbed and ordered a few other dishes. It was lunch time, alright!?


The ramen here reminded me of Izakaya Chuji’s ramen – ramen made by a place that doesn’t specialise in it – OK, but unremarkable. The broth was a little overpowering, but not with MSG, which is a nice change. The noodles were, again, too soft for my liking. Are we sensing a pattern here? The toppings were quite generous, but I was put off a little by seafood extender again. If you’re going to put reconstituted fish on my ramen, at least make it that sliced fish cake with the cute pink squiggle in the middle! Also, the two bowls we ordered had varying quality chashu – one bowl was gifted with tender, tasty pork, and the other had chashu which was a bit on the dry and tough side. Oh, also, the service here was great – though funnily the waitress who works here told us she also works at Ajisen Ramen!

Broth 2/5
Noodles 2/5
Toppings 3/5
Total 7/15

Ito Noodle Cafe
122 Bourke St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9663 2788
Ito Japanese Noodle Cafe on Urbanspoon

I’d been to Ito Noodle Cafe before, and this repeat visit confirmed in my opinion that it is definitely one of he better options for ramen in the CBD. A semi-open kitchen layout allowed us to spy on our ramen as it was being assembled. Just as well, as the service was a little slow.

There’s a reasonable selection of ramen on offer at Ito, though the tonkotsu which is on the menu never seems to be available. They’re tonkotsu teases! This time, we decided to have the tonKATsu (crumbed pork cutlet, not dreamy pork bone broth) ramen, the tori kara (fried chicken) and of course, the classic chashu ramen. We tried both shoyu and miso broths.


This was the first point in the day where I was close to being satisfied. Both broths were well flavoured, and the use of MSG was well balanced with other ingredients. I usually prefer miso to shoyu, but Ito’s shoyu has a wonderful complexity of flavour. The ramen noodles at Ito were wonderfully toothsome, having the slight al dente springiness that ramen should. The toppings were also impressive. I particularly liked the tori kara, which remained crispy on the outside, but moist and tender inside, even when sitting in a bowl of broth for five minutes.

Faults? The bamboo shoots were universally decried as being too overpowering, and the egg was quite solidly over-cooked. But then none of the places we tried which served egg with the ramen managed to master the elusive soft-boiled egg. I guess boiling eggs to order would only be feasible if you’re a dedicated ramen joint with rapid turnover. Menya got close, in this regard.

Broth 3/5
Noodles 4/5
Toppings 4/5
Total 11/15

Ajisen Ramen
130 Bourke St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9662 1100
Ajisen Ramen on Urbanspoon

Let me just say this at the outset: I’m not a fan of Ajisen. I’ve only been a couple of times, and each time has been somewhat of a let-down. I will admit I hadn’t tried the more adventurous items on the menu, which we did on this visit. We sampled three different ramen: the chashu ramen (shoyu), the chargrilled beef ramen (shoyu) and the spicy miso ramen.

Let’s start with the positives. The toppings for each ramen were pretty good. The standout is clearly the chargrilled beef. They asked us how we’d like it done (a good sign) and requested medium rare. On my own, I would probably get this rare, as the beef keeps cooking in the broth after it arrives at your table. The chashu was reasonably tender, though it lacked flavour, I thought. The servings certainly were generous, though. The spicy miso ramen came with the spicy pork mince on the side, though it wasn’t particularly crazy-spicy, so I’m not sure why the waitress suggested we do this. The broth was pretty good, though the MSG was palpable in the shoyu broth.

Where Ajisen falls down is in the all-important noodle category. First of all, the noodles are round. Ramen is traditionally square in (cross-sectional) shape, because it is traditionally hand cut. I understand that virtually no restaurant would hand cut ramen these days, but there was something distastefully spaghetti-ish about Ajisen’s round noodles. Ajisen also has regular or ‘softer’ options for their noodles. The softer option is available upon request. We didn’t request it, though I have tried it in the past. I prefer the standard noodle, which I still find too soft to begin with! I wouldn’t recommend Ajisen to anyone unless Ito Noodle Cafe is full or closed. Or you were looking to eat something other than ramen. Some of the side dishes looked quite tasty.

Broth 2/5
Noodles 1/5
Toppings 4/5
Total 7/15

Ramen Ya
Shop 25G Melbourne GPO 350 Bourke St
Phone: 9654 5838
Ramen Ya on Urbanspoon

Ramen Ya was always the favourite, coming into this enterprise, and let’s not beat about the bush, its consistent quality did not waver on the day, and it came out a clear winner. In a way, it seems a little unfair, as Ramen Ya was the only place offering the elusively delicious tonkotsu broth. Tonkotsu aside, however, I think Ramen Ya is still a few steps ahead of most of its competitors. This day, we sampled two chashu ramen (one with tonkotsu broth, one with shoyu) and the tsukune (minced chicken) ramen with a miso broth.


All three broths were flavoursome, with some MSG detectable, but not overly so. The shoyu was a little too salty for my liking, so choose the miso if the spectacular tonkotsu isn’t available. The noodle was pretty spot-on, being al dente and springy, and supremely slurpable. The toppings, though not quite as plentiful as some other restaurants, were of a very high standard. The chashu was melt-in-the-mouth tender, and the bamboo shoot was pleasant, and not too overpowering. The chicken mince was nice, but I’d take the chashu option any day.

Broth 4/5
Noodles 5/5
Toppings 4/5
Total 13/15

Chocolate Buddha
Federation Square, Swanston St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9654 5688

Chocolate Buddha on Urbanspoon

Chocolate Buddha was always going to be facing an uphill battle. Previous visits to the restaurant have cemented the notion that the place is rather overpriced – the ramen we tried this day were about double the price ($20ish) of most other restaurants –  and it was also our final stop of the day, so our bellies weren’t craving more noodle, nor were our tongues crazy for an MSG umami hit.

Working in its favour were the brilliant Autumn afternoon, an outdoor seat overlooking Fed Square, and an extensive drinks list, which we all took advantage of at the end of an arduous hunting expedition. We ordered two of the three ramen in the menu; the gyu ramen (with beef – and dumplings! – in a shoyu broth) and the tori miso ramen (chicken). We all decided we’d skip the seafood version – I think it was salmon?


Overall, the ramen was pretty good. The servings were certainly large enough! The broth was tasty, though oddly sweet. I’d recommend the gyu ramen over the tori miso. The noodles were a disappointment, especially after Ramen Ya’s noodles. They were far too soft. I wonder if our scores would have been a little kinder if we’d hit Chocolate Buddha earlier in the day? The toppings were great – the beef came on the rare side of medium (just) and the chicken was tender and succulent. An odd choice of some sort of lettuce green (or are they baby chard leaves?) and bok choi respectively certainly was a twist on the traditional, but they added a freshness and a textural crunch to both dishes. All in all, respectable dishes – or bowls – but certainly not good value, considering what else is on offer in the city.

Broth 3/5
Noodles 2/5
Toppings 4/5
Total 9/15

Meshiya
200 Lonsdale St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9654 6242
Meshiya on Urbanspoon

I’m one for completeness, and there was a gap in my dance card, so to speak. So a week or so later, I stopped in at Meshiya to try their ramen. I tried the buta kakuni ramen; they had no chashu ramen, but who am I to argue with slabs of belly pork?


The ramen came out pretty quickly, and piping hot! The noodles were reasonably good; a little springy, though again, slightly over-cooked, as most places in Melbourne seem to serve. The broth was somewhat of a let-down. Quite a bit of MSG, and a touch too salty overall. I was a little overwhelmed by the amount of sesame seeds floating around the bowl, and the rest of the toppings weren’t that special, but the pork. Oh, the pork! The pork belly was heavenly, but belly pork often is. Meshiya’s is melty and well-infused with flavour, which is a little heavy-handed in ramen, but makes sense as you can also order the buta kakuni as an entree on its own!

Broth 2/5
Noodles 3/5
Toppings 4/5
Total 9/15
Overall Results

Clearly, the winner on the day was Ramen Ya. Respectable showings from Ito Noodle Cafe, as well as Meshiya and Chocolate Buddha. I’d recommend the first three, though not Chocolate Buddha on account of the cost factor. Good ramen, but not good value.

My scores

Broth (/5) Noodle (/5) Toppings (/5) Total (/15)
Ramen Ya 4 5 4 13
Ito Noodle Cafe 3 4 4 11
Meiji Japanese Cafe 4 3 3 10
Kenzan@GPO 3 3 3 9
Meshiya 2 3 4 9
Chocolate Buddha 3 2 4 9
Ume Sushi House
Menya Ramen
2
2
3
2
3
3
8
7
Sushi Deli 3 2 2 7
Ume Hana 2 2 3 7
Ajisen Ramen 2 1 4 7
Edoya 2 2 3 7
Hanaichi 1 3 1 5

Red entries: Places which I reviewed solo, on other occasions.

Ramen hunter team scores

Total (/105)
Ramen Ya 89.5
Ito Noodle Cafe 82
Chocolate Buddha 70
Ajisen Ramen 63
Menya Ramen 58
Edoya 51
Hanaichi 45
Meshiya N/A

The ramen hunters

Penny & Mister @Th0i3 – jeroxie.com; Flickr album
Agnes & partner –  Off the Spork
Maria & partner – The Gourmet Challenge
Adrian – Food Rehab
Me and my friend Debbie.
Alex and Jess over at MSG: The Melbourne Social Guide have also been testing out Melbourne’s ramen joints. Check out their findings.

The hunt goes on! I’ve already scouted out a few more places to try in the city, so look forward to more ramen posts! Obsessed much?