Gaijin Japanese Fusion

135 Commercial Rd, South Yarra
Phone: 9804 8873

With the exception of one aberrant year when I was living in the suburban wilds of Noble Park, I have spent the entirety of my time in Melbourne firmly entrenched on the North side of the Yarra. I have an unjustified and irrational dislike for things on the South, much like a Yook has for a Zook. Every now and then, I venture to the other side, however, and even more rarely, I find something I truly delight in. Gaijin is one of those things.

Nestled in the heart of the gay club district of Commercial Road, Gaijin serves up some innovative sushi, as well as some old classics, and some new classics. Mr N and I stumbled upon it last week, but having already eaten, had to wait until this week to come back. I was a little dubious at first, as I am at all Asian fusion restaurants, and their modern branding reminded me of the epically annoying Cho Gao ‘Asian beer bar’ in Melbourne Central. But one look at the menu, and trepidation quickly changed to anticipation.

I ordered the sushi platter, as my belly was feeling rather cavernous. The sushi platter lets you choose any four sushi rolls off the menu, of which you get a half-serve. Unless, like me, you choose one of the baked items, which comes only in a whole serve, and then you only get three types.

A the back, on the left is the Spider vs. Dragon Roll,and the right is the Tasmanian Roll. At the front it the Baked Dynamite Roll. Here’s a look from another angle for you:

Spider vs. Dragon combines two of my favourite seafoods: soft-shelled crab and unagi (eel). That was always going to be a winner in my book. I was a curious about the Tasmanian Roll, because it sounded a lot like the New Yorker (with salmon and cream cheese) which I’d tried at other contemporary sushi joints, and is probably a ‘new classic’ – only with avocado and crab stick, and DEEP FRIED. Oh yeah. It was quite good, though I would have omitted the crab stick, really. I’m no a fan of seafood extender, really.

Which is why my final choice was somewhat of a gamble. The Baked Dynamite is a California roll (inverted rice) topped with baked scallop, crab stick and negi. Essentially, a creamy scrambled eggs with seafood. Almost Mornay-ish, but it totally works. The eggs were supremely creamy and *almost* runny. Luscious.

All the ingredients tasted very fresh, although I must say with such interesting flavour combinations at work, I can’t really comment on the quality of the seafood. Also, I was a little put off by the fact I had to ask for wasabi. But I guess the chef didn’t feel it necessary or appropriate with the cheesy sauce and the deep-fried sushi. Silly chef! Wasabi is always appropriate! (Caveat: my father has wasabi with his steak.)

Mr N wasn’t feeling quite as hungry as I, so he ordered the Teriyaki Chicken. I tried a piece, and I have to report it was underwhelming. A little over-cooked, and just too damn salty.

So my advice? Get the too Gaijin, but stick to the sushi. The donburi was not that impressive. Oh, and for those insatiable gluttons out there like myself, Gaijin currently is running a promotion from Tuesday to Thursday where you can have all-you-can-eat sushi (from a select menu – don’t worry, it’s got all the good stuff on it) for $35 per head, providing the whole table chooses this option. I’m definitely heading back!

Gaijin Japanese Fusion on Urbanspoon

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.

Pumpkin Miso Noodles in Shiitake Dashi Broth

International incident noodles party

First of all I’d like to thank and congratulate Penny for coming up with such an innovative way for us to all share the joy of a noodle party, without having to eat them all ourselves, or leave out own homes, for that matter!

So for this party, I came up with this idea that I could infuse miso into udon noodles, and that I could teach myself to hand-pull sad udon noodles. Here is my FAILWHALE tale.

So it all started pretty well. I came across a hand-pulled noodle recipe, which wasn’t udon, but looked pretty good. The ingredients were pretty much:

  • 500gm plain flour
  • 300ml water

The dough came together looking like this:

Following the video, I rested it for 20 minutes, kneaded it until smooth, rested it for another five minutes and kneaded it again. Before the final kneading, I added about 2 tablespoons of white miso, and the same quantity of mashed pumpkin. In retrospect, the pumpkin was a big mistake. Far too watery, so I had to keep adding flour to compensate for the excess moisture. This was the beginning of the FAIL.

To cut a long, arduous, knead-y story short, the resulting dough was far too tight to be stretched, and I resorted to pulling out the pasta machine and super-laminating the dough with ever-increasing amounts of flour.

Not wanting to make ramen/spaghetti sized noodles, I continued on my lazy option, and went for fettucine-shaped noodles. If I had an obaasan (Japanese grandmother) she would have been rather upset. Although if I had an obaasan this travesty of noodle FAIL would never have happened! Seeing as I don’t, I persevered.

And boiled the noodles for about 3 minutes.

In the meantime, I had been simmering shiitake mushrooms and ginger for about two hours, to make a dashi broth.

It was lacking in flavour, so I added about 2 teaspoons of salt. Oh, by the way, that’s a quail egg I’m poaching in the soup ladle there.

My friend Mr R came around to help evaluate my Japanese experiment, which made me a little nervous because he is something of a Nihon-ophile, and had recently returned from Japan with tales of tonkotsu ramen and tonkatsu made from pork ribs, but I had caveated the exercise as experimentation, so he was quite gracious in his reception.

Time to plate up. Add noodles to broth (to keep them from sticking together as you assemble the other ingredients).

For my toppings, I included some silken tofu, shiitake mushrooms from the broth, grilled eggplant and snow peas. Mr R didn’t like quail’s eggs, so I had a poached one on mine, but omitted it from his.

Even though it was a strange fusion of fettucine and Japanese flavours, it all came together rather well.

Though next time, I’ll omit the pumpkin from the noodle, and add more miso. While the noodle had some flavour, it wasn’t nearly enough, considering I had left the broth quite simple (read bland) to compensate for flavoursome noodles.

I’m going to play around with putting other things in my noodles – the next candidate will be harissa!

You can find everyone links to everyone else’s noodles at!

International Incident Party Flickr page

Kenzan @ GPO

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

It was a cold and rainy Melbourne night in April. Not exactly the perfect environs to showcase the best of Melbourne to Ms J from Adelaide, but hey, she chose to visit that weekend! Making the most of the gloomy mise en scene, we trudged down to the GPO to check out the atmospheric little eateries which run along the side. Now regular readers will know of my ardent admiration of Ramen Ya, but on this occasion, we opted for Kenzan, as Ms L who was dining with us is a vegetarian, and one of the few flaws amen Ya has is that they don’t seem to have much on offer for vegetarians.

I was hoping to add to the ever-growing list of ramen offerings in Melbourne which I’m hunting down to review, but I was sadly informed that the ramen wasn’t on offer that night. Except the cold ramen, which didn’t sound too appetising in that weather. So I ordered the unajyu. Hard to go wrong with eel. Kenzan’s version is pretty minimal, though; just rice, eel and some shaved nori. Still, it works, though it’s a tad on the expensive side for what you get.

Ms J had some sort of gyu special – beef wrapped around spinach with a teriyaki sauce and something of a chunky vegetable salad. It was quite impressive to look at, and she enjoyed it immensely.

Ms L opted for the vegetable udon, which she also quite liked. Look at her shake that shichimi togarashi! Go Speed Racer, go!

I will be back to Kenzan@GPO, but mostly just to try their ramen – there’s reportedly a Tonkotsu Winter special! There are more reasonably priced Japanese restaurants in the city, with food that is just as good.

Kenzan @ GPO 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

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 –; 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?

Zen Japanese Restaurant

Siam Discovery Centre, Bangkok

On our last day in Bangkok, we just had enough time to hit the Siam malls. A big night out the night before meant we were both a little seedy, and as a result, the idea of shopping-centre chain restuarants was rather palatable. I’m being a little unfair here, because a) restaurants in shopping centres in Bangkok are generally not bad, and b) Japanese chain restaurants in Bangkok are also generally not bad. So anyway, we stopped in at Zen (because I couldn’t locate the Fuji chain restaurant in the chopping centre).

The funny thing about Zen was the staffing. There seemed to be a strange hierarchy of waitresses – the more senior waitresses dressed in kimonos ordering about the junior waitresses/bus girls who wore Zen polos and skirts. They all had a rather bored air of indifference, which was a tad annoying, but not too unexpected really, for teenage/college-aged girls to be working on a Sunday afternoon; there were no male waitstaff at all, funnily.

Anyway, we ordered the gyoza which were quite good, though the filling was a little bland. They also seemed to have been deep-fried, which was a good thing in this instance (fulfilling the requisite hang-over fried food quotient), but generally gyoza are better when they have been pan-fried.

I also ordered the sushi moriawase set, which seemed exceedingly fresh, and I had trouble finishing. It also came with some kim chi, a strange slaw, and miso. The miso was the best of the accompaniments. Oh, and the wasabi was fresh. Love fresh wasabi!

Mr N had some sort of donburi (pork with double-carb surprise of both noodle and rice!) that similarly came with the funny slaw. It wasn’t amazing, but it was passable for a seedy Sunday afternoon.

Ito Japanese Noodle Cafe

122 Bourke St (cnr Market Lane)
Phone: 9663 2788

While I must confess I am more than sated by my ramen experience at Ramen Ya, in the interests of being thorough, and of my belly, I continue to try more Japanese restaurants which serve ramen. On the recommendation of my soon-to-be brother-in-law, I tried Ito Japanese Noodle Cafe. He lived in Japan for a year, so I figure he would know something about Japanese food. It’s funny, but I find it hard to shake the memory of that place being a 50s style American Diner, even though Ito has been there for at least 5 years.

To my disappointment, Ito doesn’t offer tonkotsu ramen on the menu, so I had the Ito Jumbo ramen with a shoyu broth, and the twin toppings of chashu and spicy minced pork (of which I forget the name). In fact, I think I ordered it with chashu and fried chicken (kara-age) but the fact I can’t remember the name of what I did order might suggest I made the error in ordering.

The noodles arrived quickly, and I was pleasantly surprised at their quality. In fact, I would venture to say the toothsome, or al dente quality of the noodle was actually better than that of Ramen Ya! The little knob of butter melted quickly, melding with the soup quite nicely, though I still wished for the porky goodness of tonkotsu.

The chashu lacked the essential fattiness which I desire/require in good chashu, which was disappointing, because Ito otherwise made quite a good showing. It being the jumbo bowl, I left thoroughly satisfied. While I think Ramen Ya still represents better value, Ito’s definitely a contender for Melbourne’s best ramen (so far).

Ito Japanese Noodle Cafe on Urbanspoon

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