Flinders Hotel

Cnr. Cook and Wood Streets, Flinders
Phone: (03) 5989 0201

It being the tailing night of a long weekend, a lot of restaurants were disappointingly closed in the Mornington Peninsula. We had been recommended to try the Long Table, or La Petanque, but neither were open. So seeing as we were staying in Cape Schanck, we headed over to nearby Flinders, for a little pub fare. The place has a strangely modern decor, with a feel not unlike the airy sterility of those made-over McDonald’s restaurants. Still, let’s not hold that against them.

Mr N had the open souvlaki, which looked rather good, if a little lacking in garlic sauce. Still, I shouldn’t be complaining about that! Lack of garlic sauce equals lack of garlic breath! I tried a little of the lamb; it was well seasoned, and still tender and juicy.

I had a hankering for fish and chips, so I ordered the fisherman’s basket. The quality of the seafood was quite good, though the calamari was a little over-cooked. The fish was superb, however, and I must give them points for crinkle-cut chips. My main problem with the meal was that everything as salted. I understand salting the chips, but the scallop? The calamari? The PRAWNS!? It was rather off-putting. Thankfully, we had a bottle of delicious Tuck’s Ridge Shiraz (which we had earlier been told of at the cellar door, but denied a tasting of due to the cellar door having sold out of it) to help wash away the salt.

I would say this wine was the highlight of the meal, but then I would be lying. The highlight was the triple-layered chocolate indulgence mousse. White chocolate mousse on top of milk chocolate mousse, on a dark chocolate cake base. And yes, that’s some sort of chocolate syrup and condensed milk feathering around the sides, and spatterings of cocoa at the corners. We barely finished this between the two of us. It was THAT rich.

While Flinders Hotel is probably not up there with some of the fine dining establishments in the area, it does serve up some decent pub fare. I’d like to hope the over-salting was an abberrance, an unfortunate accent to an otherwise pleasant experience.


571 Chapel St, South Yarra
Phone: 9826 9516

It was a cold autumn’s night. A Tuesday night, which might explain why we were turned away at 11pm at the Italian Waiter’s Club; though I thought the point of that place was because it’s always open late. I guess not. With a hankering for pasta, the thought struck Mr N: Chapelli’s! The “we never close” sign remains conveniently etched somewhere in the recesses of my mind, so I was sure Mr N was onto a sure bet.

When we arrived, the place was still rather lively. So much so that we asked for a table up the back, away from the bustling crowds. This was something of a mistake, because it took a while for the waiters to remember we were there, and come take our order.

I ordered the spaghetti all’arrabiata, which interestingly came smothered with cheese. Not that it was a bad thing, but I’m fairly sure it’s not a traditional touch? It also didn’t stop me adding parmesan and chilli flakes. The all’arrabiata had a decent kick (after I added chilli) and was quite satisfying. Were it not closing in on midnight, and were I not keenly aware I was consuming large portions of carbs, I probably would’ve finished it off. As it was, I wasn’t up to the ask that night.

Mr N ordered the penne off the specials board. I believe there was spinach and chorizo involved? It, too, left him happily satisfied, and he also couldn’t finish it all.

Now I don’t think Chapelli’s is great, nor is it awfully bad. But I think during regular restaurant business hours, you could definitely find better places to go. Late at night, however, when you’re in that rare mood where Chinese, Malaysian, souvlakis or burgers just aren’t going to satisfy you, it’s something of an Italian godsend.

Chapelli's on Urbanspoon

Pugg Mahones

175 Elgin St, Carlton
Phone: 9347 0202

Let’s be frank: Pugg Mahones isn’t the sort of pub I’d choose to hang out in with my friends. But then I’m just not that sort of guy, I guess. Still, I have been there on multiple occasions, with workmates to inflict savage defeats upon our foes in Monday night trivia. It just sort of makes sense to arrive a little early and eat dinner there, because we’re all a little lazy on Mondays. And really, the food’s not bad. Not spectacular, but decent pub grub stuff.

The last time I was there, I had the beef and guiness pie. A satisfyng meal, though the chips have a variability of any busy pub kitchen, and on this occasion, they weren’t all that hot or crispy. The salad is uniformly mediocre.

One of mt workmates had the ‘steak sandwich’ wrap, which was purportedly not bad. Her chips looked better than mine – a different batch, I’m betting. I must have gotten the tail end of the previous one.

Oh, and since it’s a pub, I have of course tried the chicken parma there. It’s pretty pedestrian – I wouldn’t go there expressly for it, but it’s not a bad option on the menu.

Pugg Mahones Irish Pub on Urbanspoon

Charcoal Lane

36 Gertrude St, Fitzroy
Phone: 9418 3400

A while back, I was lucky enough to be invited to @jeroxie‘s birthday dinner, at Charcoal Lane. I’d been meaning to visit Charcoal Lane for a while, as it’s within walking distance of home, and has the twin attractions of a native ingredient-inspired menu, and being a chance to support Mission Australia’s training program for Aboriginal and disadvantaged youths. From their site:

Charcoal Lane enables Aboriginal and disadvantaged young people to gain experience in a supported, real work environment as part of an integrated program which includes personal skills development and accredited education in hospitality.

There was a big group of us, so we were upstairs in the function room, and Head Chef Damian Styles put together a six course menu for the event. We got to sample the highlights of the seasonal menu, as well as a couple of experimental dishes. An excellent night was had by all, and considering the size of our group, the service was very good.

The night started off with an amuse bouche of curried pumpkin veloute with native pepper berry. This was a nice way to start the meal, thought technically the size of it was far greater than an amuse should be. It was more of a mini-entree! The veloute was smooth and creamy. The richness of the pumpkin was well balanced with the sharpness of the pepper berry.

This was followed by the first of two entrees – an oddly named ‘ultra’ scallop, wagyu breasola, and tofu in dashi, with pickled daikon, shiso and native finger lime. This was great. The scallops were barely cooked; their sweetness married beautifully with the salt of the bresaola. The dashi was light, and kept lively with the pickled daikon and the little bursting vesicles of finger lime, which had the table guessing until we asked the waitress.

As you can see, I really liked this dish. I also really liked the second ‘entree’. Again, this was probably a little on the large side. But hey, I wasn’t complaining!

Native peppered kangaroo, bush tomato tart, with rosella flower jus. That’s what the menu read. Though looking back at the picture now, I don’t really see a bush tomato tart. Do you see it? Regardless, it was, again, wonderful. There were a few at the table who had either not eaten kangaroo before, or had a history of disliking it. Nobody at the table disliked this dish. The kangaroo was juicy and tender, and somehow lacked the distinct gamey-ness that usually makes kangaroo a bit of a divisive meat. While I like the gamey taste, this entree was certainly delicious even without it. Maybe it’s something about making native Australian ingredients more accessible?

Onto the main course! Bendigo duck breast, leg terrine, quandong and cluster fig. I’m not usually a huge fan of duck done in a Western style. Don’t get me wrong, duck is very likely my favourite meat, but I much prefer it in the various Chinese preparations. This, however, was memorable duck. The breast was cooked ever-so-slightly medium, a welcome change to the dry, well-done duck I’ve tried in the past in some French restaurants. It rested on a bed of wilted spinach, which was a clever way to soak up all the juices without adding a heavy, starchy component to the dish; clever because we were, after all, having six courses on the night. The terrine was packed with flavour – a touch too salty in my humble opinion – and the pistachios were an imaginative inclusion. This was well offset by the sweetness of the quandong puree and slice of fresh fig, which I left until last to cleanse my palate.
Because, apparently, you don’t go having two desserts, the first dessert was named a pre-dessert. Passion berry pannacotta. This pannacotta was smooth, and exceedingly fruity. I’m usually not a fan of pannacotta, only because my stomach objects to the lactose, but I felt very little guilt digging into this one.

Then the ‘real’ dessert followed. A slow-cooked lemon aspen tart, with yoghurt sorbet and maple syrup crunch. That lemon aspen tart, with a lightly bruleed top, was heavenly. It looks like a small-ish slice, but it was a big plate, and you really didn’t need much. It was super rich. I don’t remember exactly what the little pickled berry things were, but I remember them being a little unpleasantly bitter in the centre. The sorbet was refreshing, and the crunch was, well, crunchy! A texturally well-played dish.

For the quality of the food which is served, Charcoal Lane really does deliver good value. I’ll certainly be back soon.

Charcoal Lane on Urbanspoon

Pho at Co Do

196 Victoria St, Richmond
Phone: 9421 2418

I think it might be because I’m Asian. Or it might be that I lived in Sai Gon for a year. I’m not sure which is more to blame, really, but I always seem to get asked for recommendations for Vietnamese restaurants. Especially for restaurants along Victoria St, which makes sense, because it’s my closest Vina-hub (for now – I’m moving to the awesomeness that is Footscray in a few months).

Anyway, one of the places which always makes it onto my list of places you should go for Vietnamese food on Victoria St is Co Do. Or Co Ðo, if I could be bothered inserting the right character every time. Which I can’t, and I’m sure you googlers out there can’t either. Co Do (see? lazy) had been introduced to me by family as the place to go for Hue-style dishes such as banh beo and the eponymous bun bo Hue which I still find something of a contradiction, because the star of the dish, for me, is always the giant pig’s knuckle floating amongst the chilli beef broth.

But I digress. This post is about the pho at Co Do. I wasn’t actually aware that Co Do made pho, to be honest, until a friend told me recently. I suppose it’s not really surprising, as most restaurants along the strip are jack-of-all-trades types, if not pho specialists. I was a little sceptical, because jack-of-all-trades usually equals master-of-none, when it comes to restaurants. I was pleasantly surprised.

The broth was wonderfully fragrant – the hints of star anise and black cardamom were present, but not overpowering. The MSG in the broth wasn’t too noticeable. I’m fairly sure it’s Phil Lees that I have borrowed the phrase from – the use of MSG was judicious. Altogether, a successfully balanced broth. The pho was plentiful, and the accompaniments were pretty standard. The standout in all of this, however, was the tripe.

Now I understand that not all of you are fans of offal. And while I struggle to wrap my head around denying yourself the textural pleasures, I get the cultural squeamishness of eating an animal’s insides. Nonetheless, if you order “the special beef” as a lot of pho joints refer to pho bo dac biet, then you’ll know that the beef flank is usually the same, the rare beef is likewise, the beef sausage has a spectrum flavours, but often veers towards having too much pepper – that might be to do with the whole black peppercorns!? – and the distinguishing factor for beef balls is the springiness of the processed meat. My main issue with the tripe at a lot of places is that you get the thin part of the cow’s stomach, which is texturally interesting, a lot like jellyfish, but inferior to the thicker (though not the honeycomb-patterned) section of the stomach. It’s more than a lot of you will care to know, so suffice it to say Co Do serve just the right portion of the cow’s stomach in their pho bo dac biet.

For a restaurant that isn’t a pho specialist, Co Do does a more than admirable job. I’d heartily recommend the place, especially if Pho Chu The is full – as it often is on weekends.

Co Do on Urbanspoon

Khao San Road

696 Mount Alexander Road, Moonee Ponds
Phone: 9372 9113

I was a bit bummed I missed the outing with @jeroxie and @eatnik to this Thai restaurant, even though I’m not a great fan of Khao San Road in Bangkok. There’s far too much reggae and touting going on there for my liking! Mr N and I dropped in a couple of weeks ago for dinner before a show nearby. It was pretty bustling for a Thursday night, but they managed to squeeze us in without a booking. Throughout the whole night, theservice was friendly, quick and generally impeccable, even though they were busy.

We started off with a little entree of chicken and tapoica dumplings, which were an interesting mixture of textures, with the chewy, gelatinous tapioca contrasting with the crunch of water chestnuts in the filling inside, and the crisp juiciness of hte lettuce used to wrap the dumpling. Flavour-wise, however, I thought the dish could have benefited from a dipping sauce.

Next, we had the lamb fillet curry and grilled chicken salad. Now I wouldn’t consider either of these dishes traditional Thai, but they were both certainly good!

The lamb was well cooked, but still juicy and tender. It was a slightly odd take on a curry; huge chunks of potato, eggplant and pumpkin are hidden beneath the lamb, and it came on a plate. The ‘medium’ curry was probably too mild for me, but still pleasant.

The grilled chicken was well marinated, and the judicious use of thigh fillets meant the chicken stayed juicy. I’m not sure about the use of more Western salad leaves, but overall, the dish was refreshing and tasty.

I really liked the cute little ceramic ramekins the rice came in, too. I’d highly recommend the trip to Khao San Road – it’s even better than the real thing.

Khao San Road on Urbanspoon

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

The Commoner

122 Johnston St, Fitzroy
Phone: 9415 6876

Having lived in Collingwood for a year, and having been told by my housemates on a semi-regular basis that The Commoner does amazing breakfasts, I thought it might finally be time to put it to the test. I certainly wasn’t disappointed. I caught up with a friend over brunch, and neither of us could decide between the Honky sandwich or the Arabic pancake, so we decided to share both. Two-course brunch win!

The honky sandwich isn’t the most impressive looking meal, I must say. When it arrived at the table, it was immediately overshadowed by the scrumptious-looking Arabic pancake. I’m not an organic-wholefood nazi by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s rare to see sandwiches served on untoasted white bread outside of a food court or arcade cafe these days, no? However, the bread is delightfully soft, and the second you pick the sandwich up, you understand what’s going on here. These thick white pillows are there to cradle and cushion the awesomeness inside. The asweomeness is bacon, fried egg, spinach, aioli, and my personal favourite element, harissa. The flavours are all bold, and they work together beautifully. It may be Honky, but there’s nothing off-key going on here!

The Arabic pancake is similarly satisfying. The stewed apple and berries have now been replaced by lemon curd and pistachio on the menu, sadly. They added just the right amount of tartness (along with the house yoghurt) to the sweet, fluffy pancake, which itself secretly possessed hints of cinnamon and rose essence. OK, so I’ve effused enough. You get the idea; both dishes are perfectly fine choices from the brunch menu.
For a refreshing alternative to juice, I had the Vimto (also on my housemate’s recommendation) because I wasn’t quite up to the Bloody Mary that morning!

The Commoner on Urbanspoon

Sip in the city

A rather innocuous looking cafe/restaurant at the top (seedy) end of Thanon Suriyawong, opposite the alleyway where the ‘boy shows’ take place. The menu offers both Thai and Western dishes, like a fettucini carbonara.

Not the sort of place you’d expect to find Pad Thai greatness, but let me just repeat what it said in the menu: Pad Thai with soft-shell crab, wrapped in Thai omelette. For the record: win, win, WIN.

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

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

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

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
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?