27 Russell St, Melbourne CBD. Phone: (03) 9650 3708
Disclaimer: Guest reviewer Richard, a keen connoisseur of ramen, ate as a guest of Ikkoryu.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!