Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ajisen Ramen (味千ラーメン), Bourke Street, Melbourne

I haven't been keeeping up my Ramen Diary much, simply because I haven't been eating very much ramen. Back in Australia, you see - after tasting the divine ramens of Osaka, I was worried that I would be unable to enjoy the sub-par ramens that I have experienced in Australia. But today, I had a craving for ramen so deep that I decided to brave a ramen house here in Melbourne. And I am thankful that I did. Yes, I have had better ramens; but this one satisfied my craving for the salty, garlicy white pork bone broth, and the firm elastic noodles of a genuine ramen.

Ajisen ramen is a chain store, originally from Kumamoto city, Kumamoto prefecture with 120 branches througout the world. I decided that I would try their name-sake ramen "Ajisen ramen" on my first visit. I entered the door, slightly unsure as to how I should approach this ersatz ramen-ya. No one shouted "irashaimase" - I stood and waited to be seated - but the familiar indication of how many diners were expected using fingers seemed like a nice continuity. I was placed at a bar by the window.

Firstly, I might just say that the ambiance of this ramen store was somewhere between just right and all wrong. The dark wood furniture seemed authentic enough, but I could barely make out what the music was on the stereo for the sound of people talking. No one talks at a good ramen store! I began to feel concerned. If people are doing things other than slurping soupy noodles, this made me fearful for the quality of the ramen. Fifteen minutes later I was still reading my book not eating soup. Again! Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Ramen appears almost instantly. The young woman who seated me took too long to bring the menu, took too long to take my order, and then took too long to bring my soup. She clumsily elbowed me out of the way to put the ramen down in front of me. I'm used to someone throwing a ramen at me from over the bar with a gruff grunt and little else.

But then when we get to the business end of the ramen, I was pretty happy with what got served up to me. It looked, most certainly, like an authentic tonkotsu style broth. There was the black jelly fungus and accompanying oil, green onions, two slices of roast pork, and half a boiled egg.

The noodles were great. Thin, slurpy, elastic, nice to bite with the front teeth, good to chew with the back. The soup had nice body, not too rich, not too salty. It's hard to say just how much oil should be slicking around on the top of a ramen, but this one was not sickly, and added to the mouth feel of the soup without leaving me with an oily chin.

The toppings were a bit lack lustre. An egg in the top of a ramen is ideally juuuuust firm, still a little runny and brightly coloured. This egg looked like a tea egg, had a chalky pale yolk and barely added to the meal at all. The pork was very thinly sliced, and perhaps a bit of a skimpy portion. The green onions and black jelly fungus were fine. There were some chunks of garlic in there and a few sesame seeds but there were absolutely no sides at all. No chili oil, no garlic chips, no nothing.

It was expensive too. $9.50 for their cheapest ramen. I looked at the website and the same ramen was a dollar more in Brisbane (lending more weight to my theory that Brisbane has the worst food prices in Australia). But that said, it was most definitely ramen, and I think I will try another style of ramen on their menu next time. They had about 14 ramen items on the menu (including curry ramens and other weird things).

It's nice to know that I can still get a ramen even if I do have to live in Australia.

Broth: 3.5/5
Toppings: 2/5
Noodles: 4/5
Atmosphere: 2/5
Service: 2/5

Monday, February 16, 2009

Shi Ten Noh

Mmmm, delicious ramen. My apologies for not writing any more reviews sooner, but I`ve not been searching the ramen world as much as I had been before. I also suffered a computer disaster, followed by a computer replacement, and well... things have been working out a little differently to how I had expected. Please see my other blog for further details.

When I first came across Shi Ten Noh, I was impressed. Nestled by the Dotomobori River, amongst the many tourist feeding vendors, was an unassuming ramen place. Although there is a vending machine for you to place your order, the staff were extremely affable. The music was an excellent assortment of 50`s rock and roll, and 60`s modern rock. Just sitting in this place was a pleasure.

I ordered the Shio (salt) ramen with egg, and my partner in crime ordered the Miso ramen with egg. It didn't take very long before our piping hot, delicious soups were delivered to us. Steam poured off the top of the bowls, and the first slurp nearly scalded the roof of my mouth. It was flavoursome, with a hint of garlic. The toppings included pork, long onions, bean shoots, and a little black oil, which I'm not sure exactly what it was...

The soup was full bodied, and almost creamy in texture, but not oily or sickly. The pork was exquisitely sweet, and the noodles were excellent. The noodles were nigh on perfect, they were firm to the tooth, with a bright springiness when bitten or slurped. Delicious. The sides included chili paste, garlic chips, gyoza sauce, salt and pepper. The serves were a generous meal. I was very satisfied, and have returned several times. Only once have I been a little disappointed, but that was only a noodle related disappointment, and well, I'm picky about noodles.

Broth - 4.5/5
Toppings - 4/5
Noodles - 4/5
Atmosphere - 4/5
Service - 3.5/5

Friday, October 31, 2008

Gyoza no Osho, Namba

Tucked in behind Namba Hips Pachinko Parlour to the left is an unassuming branch of the Japanese gyoza chain store "Osho." Osho is incredibly cheap, and does a variety of Chinese dishes, including a great mapo dofu, sweet and sour pork, fried rice, and massive set menu items. They vary a fair bit from store to store, some of them lay on the chili nice and thick, some places verge on bland, but they always have chili oil amongst their sides if the dish needs spicing up.

The staff were two pretty young Japanese girls, and they were very helpful and efficient when we placed our order and paid. We now have a "pointo cado" for this Gyoza no Osho. How nice. The sides included pepper, salt, shoyu, gyoza sauce, chili oil and chili sauce. The main ply of their trade is gyoza, so the sides are geared toward making your own gyoza sauce in the wide flat little bowls that they have under a little dust cover to the side. The atmosphere was clean, the lighting was soft, but the music was ridiculous, frantic, keyboard instrumental music.

I have tried the Osho "stamina" ramen on a previous occasion at the Tennoji branch of Osho, and it had a lot of tomato, cabbage and carrots in it, and I didn't really rate it that highly, so when I ordered the Kotteri Ramen, I didn't expect anything amazing. And rightly so. It was an unusal ramen, at best. The broth was so thick it was almost like sauce rather than soup. It was flavoursome, savory, but a bit oily and the body was bordering on unpleasantly viscous. I didn't end up finishing the broth, which is unheard of for me.

The toppings were very ordinary too. The sliced pork came from a packet, the preserved bamboo shoots were a bit tough, but the long onion tops were fresh, and it came with a nice big dollop of chili/garlic paste on top. What was extraordinary though, was that the noodles were either hand made, or failing that, very, very good packet ramen noodles. They had a perfect texture and remained tender, yet al dente until the last bite.

These gyoza were incredible, the dough was fine, and the bases crispy. Better than I have had at other Gyoza no Osho. For ¥500, you'd be hard pressed to find better ramen. So, the verdict is: go for the ramen, but stay for the gyoza.

Broth - 2.5/5
Toppings - 2/5
Noodles - 4/5
Atmosphere - 2/5
Service - 3.5/5

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Nishi Tanabe Ramen Joint

Unfortunately I can not read the sign for this ramen place, so I will just have to tell you that it is next to Gyoza no Osho and the 7/11 near the North West exit of Nishi Tanabe Station on the Mido-Suji Subway line.

It looks like this:

When we first arrived we were served by a positively surly young lass, who took one look at us and produced an English menu. It was efficient of her, but unnecessary as I could read the hiragana menu. Either way, I ordered a Chaashuu men and took in the atmosphere.

The music was slightly grating, sentimental Japanese pop, but the general ambience of the place was quite high class for a ramen joint. Clean surfaces, clean kitchen, and beautiful wooden surroundings. If the music hadn't been quite so intrusive it would have been more pleasant, but all in all, I thought it was quite a nice ramen store.

Tom ordered the miso ramen, which looked like this. It wasn't as piping hot as some ramen's I have tried, and the miso broth was very mellow. I quite enjoyed the taste of his that I had.

The toppings included long onion tops, sesame seeds, bean shoots, a square of nori and a generous amount of sliced roast pork. The pork was moist and salty, rather than sweet, which was a departure from previous ramen's I have enjoyed in a similar style.

My broth was hearty but not at all oily. It had a strong salty flavour and a good body to it. It seemed quite rich but not fatty.

The noodles were mass produced. I was a little disappointed, but they seemed to be the expensive sort of mass produced noodles, so I will rate them accordingly. They were firm to the tooth and completely acceptable, but not like some of the amazing, heavenly ramen store produced noodles I've been lucky enough to enjoy.

Among the sides were salt, soy, gyoza sauce, salad oil, white pepper, mixed spice (I love this stuff), chili paste and crushed garlic. I had a little garlic in mine, because I've had a cold recently. They also sold onigiri, and three plates of onigiri moved through the store when I was there, so I believe the onigiri may be rather good.

As we were leaving, the chef took our money and beamed at us, and my opinion of the service was instantaneously improved ten-fold. The surly teenager was slurping down her lunch noodles in the corner. You can't write off a whole place on the rudeness of one staff member.

Broth - 4/5
Toppings - 3.5/5
Noodles - 3/5
Atmosphere - 2/5
Service - 3/5

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Ma and Pa Ramen Place

The next ramen adventure was in Tezukayama, near where we live. There is a tram line that heads south to Sumiyoshi Taisha. North of where the tram line goes over the Nankai Koya line, the tram leaves the road - when heading south, the road veers off to the left, the tram veers off to the right. About 20 metres south of the Y shaped intersection, you will find this little ramen place.

We parted the red, head high, curtains that sit outside most ramen stores, and came face to face with two kindly, elderly Osakans.


It felt a bit like going to grandma and grandpa's for a ramen. The decor was a little drab, but this is a Chinese food joint in Osaka near a train-line, so it's not going to be the Ritz Carlton.

We took off our shoes and sat facing each other on a raised platform. The little red cushions were comfortable enough, but for people who don't spend much time sitting on the floor, this is tough stuff on the lower back. The TV behind me was a little too loud, but that's OK. I think Ma and Pa might be a little deaf, and if not Ma and Pa, the clientele seemed to be all over 70, so it was probably for their benefit too.

The menu was pictureless, and full of kanji (beyond my reading ability) and so I struggled through the katakana/hiragana options and we settled on ordering a kimchi ramen. For no better reason than because I can read "キムチ."

The broth was a Tokyo style, soy broth, but made with Osakan light soy sauce, so the colour was lighter than many of the ramens I have enjoyed in Eastern Japan. The toppings included bean shoots, preserved bamboo shoots, green onion tops, three slices of roasted pork back and, of course, kimuchi.

The noodles were a bit Maggi, two minute noodles, but really, for ¥550 it was more than passable. I don't expect gourmet noodles for ¥550. I do when I'm paying ¥800-900 yen for a bowl of noodles, but this was more than acceptable. I looked around and saw that they do a variety of Japanese and Chinese dishes including gyoza, fried chicken bento, and other bigger soups.

The sides were fairly stock standard. Salt, soy, gyoza sauce, salad oil, and white pepper, but I was particularly taken by the Szechwan sauce that they had on the side that tasted of "Flower Pepper" - I would like to know where I could buy some of that stuff.

Ma and Pa were both very nice to us, and smiled a lot, but didn't fawn over us. Pa supplied the requisite "gruffness" where as Ma supplied the homely vibe. I would come again because it didn't leave me feeling like I'd been smacked in the head with a ramen overdose. It filled my belly, and left me content.

Broth - 2.5/5
Toppings - 3/5
Noodles - 2/5
Atmosphere - 3/5
Service - 4/5

Friday, October 10, 2008

Sisen Ramen

On the road that runs up the left hand side of the Namba City building, on the left hand side of the street, under the expressway, you may come across this lovely little Chinese style ramen joint. The sign says Sisen Ramen in English, so you shouldn't have too much trouble finding it.

The atmosphere is relaxing, with wooden panels, soft lighting, and what appears to be Chinese film score music being softly piped through the place. The service is loud, but not particularly friendly - though it has varied from visit to visit, this being my third visit, or maybe fourth. We are handed an oshibori (moistened towelette) and a glass of water.

We order the number one recommendation on the menu, the Tenten-men. This is not technically a ramen, but I'm not here to split hairs. I'm here to eat noodles in broth. The sides include chili oil, pickled gourd strips, roast garlic chips, soy sauce, salad oil, shichimi (Japanese 7 spice mix), salt, pepper, crushed fresh chili, crushed garlic, and S+B brand season all.

The broth in today's noodles is slightly oily compared to other visits, but it is still richly flavoured. It is a little spicy, but the dominant flavour is sesame. The sesame nuttiness is extremely appetising. The toppings include bok-choy, bean shoots, green onion tops, sesame seeds, and the all important roast pork, which comes in moist, sweet chunks, rather than the usual slices. This is some of the best pork that has ever passed my lips. Beautiful, tender stuff. It begs description. The vegetables match well with the flavour of the broth, and the entire flavour sensation dances between sweet, hot, spicy, and richness in a very pleasing way.

The broth is very hot, even for a ramen, and almost scalds me when I am slurping my noodles. The noodles are pretty good, but nothing much to write home about. On the side sits a little frosty lychee, which refreshes me greatly afterwards, and I dab my fingers and mouth with a knapkin. It was just a little too oily today. Pity, I've had it on other days and it's been magnificent, but today is the day we do the write up, so unfortunately I won't be rating it as highly as I would have on other visits.

A very Chinese styled ramen place, but well worth visiting. I left full and satisfied.

Broth - 3.5/5
Toppings - 4/5
Noodles - 3/5
Atmosphere - 4/5
Service - 2.5/5

Huka-huka Ramen

Recommended to us by our friend Joe.

As you walk north of Showacho Station on the right hand side of the road, you will come across this rustic little ramen joint. The decor is clean, but cluttered. However, in the world of ramen, it is a positively light and airy restaurant, as most ramen joints resemble damp cupboards - a bit more wabi than sabi, so to coin a phrase.

We were served by a lovely, earnest young chap, who recommended the Tonkotsu Chaashuu men (Tonkotsu describes the broth, Chaashuu is roasted pork, and men - well, that's noodles). We asked for garlic and a mixture of the sliced loin and the chunks of belly pork. The sides included gyoza sauce, chili oil, pepper, sesame seeds, fermented long onions with garlic chips and dried chilis, kimchi flavoured beanshoots, and pickled ginger.

The broth was rich, cloudy in the Tonkotsu style, but not oily. Toppings included garlic, long onion tops, sesame, black fungus strips, two types of pork, and sesame seeds. The meat was fantastic! Tender, rich, moist and crumbly. Not too sweet either - it was as we say 'chodo' - just right.

Unfortunately, when I slurped down the noodles, I realised that these were cheap packet noodles. The texture was barely passable. For such a superb broth, great meat, the noodles were a real disappointment.

I left feeling as full as a goog, but I really wish they'd used better noodles.

Broth - 4/5
Toppings - 4.5/5
Noodles - 2/5
Atmosphere - 3/5
Service - 3.5/5