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.

Ramen Ya

Shop 25G Melbourne GPO
Cnr Elizabeth and Lt Bourke Sts
Phone: 9654 5838

Last night, a group of ramen-o-philes (brought together by their love of noodle and twitter) descended upon Ramen Ya in the city. While the turnout was somewhat diminished by the torrential rain which had lashed the city only hours before, those of us who made it were not disappointed.

I think I can fairly safely announce that the hunt for good ramen in Melbourne is over. I will stop short of saying that it is the best, but it is certainly the best I’ve tried. I ordered the tonkotsu chashu ramen, with extra noodles, because I love my carbs, and I was feeling particularly hungies last night. When it arrived, it didn’t disappoint.

The chashu was melty and tender, with just enough fat to form a mystical bond with the overwhelmingly gelatinous tonkotsu broth. I know, it sounds a little gross when I say gelatinous, but trust me, tonkotsu broth – GOOD tonkotsu broth – should stick to your lips after you’ve finished each mouthful. It’s part of the goodness that comes from boiling down pork bones for six hours.

One thing I might do next time is ask for more soup, when ordering extra noodles. I couldn’t help slurping as much soup as I did ramen, and soon was running at a soup deficit. Which is never a good thing.

Another cute thing Ramen Ya has going for it (though let’s be honest, with ramen of that quality, it doesn’t need much else) is the handy provision of disposable bibs! Not entirely necessary in my book, but lots of fun and helpful if you’re a little sloppy, or wearing something fancy. I arrived early, and ramen being essentially a fast food, didn’t wait for everyone to arrive before ordering, and indeed, chowing down.

This meant that I finished before just about everyone else. Thankfully, the thoughtful folk at Ramen Ya have also provided neatly Japanese entertainment for just this situation. Little square sheets of paper, with origami instructions! Just a tip: get two sheets, because you can’t really follow the instructions on the sheet you’re folding!

I made the ‘inflatable bunny’.

I highly recommend you all go try the ramen at Ramen Ya. For $10 a bowl, you’d be a fool not to. Oh, and they also have a loyalty card, so I’ll be heading back soon, to fill out my card and get my 10th bowl free!

Ramen Ya on Urbanspoon