The Melbourne ramen bible

If you don’t know what ramen is then you haven’t been living properly. This Japanese dish is a wholesome dish that consists of wheat noodles, soup, meat (typically pork), seaweed, fermented bamboo and spring onions. The wonderful thing about ramen is there are so many variations, so it’s unlikely you’ll get sick of it. In fact,  I practically lived off it during a recent trip to Japan.

In this on-going project, I’m going to take my learnings from that food holiday and assess Melbourne’s offerings.

Ippudo – Akamaru Shinaji

Being greeted by a loud chorus of “irasshaimase” ensured Ippudo immediately commenced the dining experience on the right note, taking you straight to an authentic Japanese ramen bar off a neon-filled street in Shibuya. You’d expect nothing less from Ippudo, who have formed a global reputation when it comes to ramen. My bowl of choice was the Akamaru Shinaji, which consists of Ippudo’s tonkotsu broth, signature dashi, blended miso paste, garlic oil, pork belly chashu, bean sprouts, black fungus and spring onions. The tonkotsu broth itself was light, smooth and slightly oily. While appearing creamy in texture its flavour is subtle, yet tasty – with the koyu (garlic oil) and umami-dama (miso paste) shining through. The highlight of this ramen was undoubtedly the tender chashu, which is steeped in flavour from the soy-based braising liquid. The pork is a slightly thicker cut than most traditional bowls, but for this dish, it’s a case of the more the merrier.

Rating 6.5/10 – be greedy and add more chashu.

Little Ramen Bar – Hokkaido ramen

Boasting a subtle tonkotsu broth with homemade miso, this interpretation of Hokkaido ramen incorporates corn and butter for added texture and richness. Onion, spring onion, cabbage, and carrot comprise this wholesome dish, but it’s undoubtedly the corn that steals the show. The sweet corn kernels provide bursts of freshness that helps balance the fatty combination of butter and broth. The pork flavour in this tonkotsu broth is discernible, and most likely aided by the abundance of juicy pork mince. The layers of thinly sliced chashu complete a lusty dish that will warm the cockles of your heart on a chilly winters’ day in Melbourne.

Rating 6/10 – go easy on the accompaniments because the portions are generous!

Shujinko – Black ramen

Seated at the wooden bar looking into the cosy kitchen, this felt like the truest ramen dining experience in Melbourne. Shujinko has done well to create a sense of authenticity in their bar, but in a different way to Ippudo, who thrived on traditional Japanese customer service. The layout is exactly what you’d find in Japan, endearing itself to solo dinners or small groups with its intimacy. The experience only gets better when the bowl arrives, because this broth is stunning. Shujinko’s black ramen is a blend of traditional tonkotsu and shellfish broths, which makes for a brilliantly balanced dish. The saltiness of the shellfish soup cuts through the fatty tonkotsu while the abundance of sesame adds even more flavour. The black ramen also includes bok choy, spring onion, egg, bean sprouts and smokey chashu. The pork is arguably the best on offer in Melbourne, embodying a delectable charred taste that will make you wish you ordered more.

Rating 7.75/10 – one of the best bowls in the city. The fact it’s open 24 hours only enhances Shujinko’s appeal.

Fukuryu Ramen – Tonkotsu

Hidden in the backstreets of China Town resides Fukuryu Ramen, who offer traditional and modern interpretations of ramen. I’m not sure what to make of their tonkotsu broth; on the surface it was bland but once I incorporated chilli paste it came to life. While I wasn’t sold on the pork broth the noodles certainly hit the right notes. Everyone has their own preference when it comes to noodles and their texture, but if you ask me Fukuryu nailed it – nice firm and al dente noodles. The house-made bamboo shoots were a welcome addition to this dish and added another dimension to the bowl.

Rating 5.5/10 – perfect lunch option in the heart of the CBD.

Fukuryu Ramen – Tonkotsu

Ramen Bankara – Bankara

In Melbourne, it’s difficult to find a bowl of ramen that’s consistently strong in all elements of the dish. For example, the broth will be great but the chashu won’t match its standards, or the noodles will be overcooked…inevitably, there’s an Achilles heel. Ramen Bankara is underrated in the Melbourne scene yet in my experience, it offers the most complete bowl. The ramen I sampled is a blend of tonkotsu and shoyu broths. It’s definitely closer to a shoyu than a tonkotsu, but the saltiness of the soy-based broth beautifully cuts through the pork bone soup. It also packs a welcome punch of spice, unlike traditional tonkotsu broths. The chashu has a delectable barbecue flavour and is supremely tender, but there wasn’t enough of it. The sticky noodles had just the right amount of chewiness and clung onto the broth for dear life. This ramen also includes a nori sheet (seaweed), a traditional boiled egg, leek and bamboo shoots.

Rating 7.25/10 – load up on chashu.

Hakata Gensuke – Signature tori

Squished together on tiny bar stools with queues of people lining up out the door ensured dining at Hakata Gensuke felt like an authentic ramen experience. Apart from the general atmosphere and the wonderful layout, the best aspect of Hakata Gensuke is the ability to customise your own bowl. When you take your seat you’re given a form to fill out variables such as the strength of flavour, saltiness, firmness of noodles and condiments. The signature tori boasts a light broth packed full of chicken flavour. This soup also incorporates dashi, which ensures a beautiful sense of umami. The chicken chashu is extremely tender and the bamboo shoots are unusually rustic for Japanese cuisine, which typically practices uniformity and precision.

Rating – 6.5/10 – this bowl puts traditional chicken noodle soup to shame.

Ramen Ya – Charshu ramen

In the bowels of Melbourne Emporium lies this bustling Japanese restaurant with a comprehensive lunch menu. Their tonkotsu broth is very milky and to its credit, feels and tastes light on for fat. This wholesome bowl includes three generous slices of chashu, spring onions, bamboo, fish cakes and an egg. For me, the highlight of this dish is the noodles, which have the perfect consistency – not too firm but just enough resistance. The barbecue pork disintegrates in your mouth, however, my slices were quite fatty.

Rating 5.75/10 – Soup could do with a bit more oomph but all-around a solid interpretation.

Hakata Gensuke – Black tonkotsu

You are guaranteed to run into a line for this ramen bar on Russell St, but it’s worth the wait. I’ve already covered Hakata Gensuke’s tori ramen outlet in the CBD but this is the original, featuring their signature tonkotsu broth made using the yobimodoshi method. The black tonkotsu incorporates fried garlic and black sesame paste for a nicely balanced broth. The soup is tasty and doesn’t come across as overly fatty, most likely due to the presence of sesame paste. This bowl also has black fungus, spring onions and of course, layers of tender pork chashu. The pork is quite rustic in appearance but the thin slices are beautifully prepared.

Rating 6.75/10 – This broth has so much depth.

Mugen – Wafu ramen

In terms of ambiance, Mugen nails it. Hidden down an alley in the CBD is this wonderful izakaya that specialises in tapas, ramen, and Japanese alcohol. I think the main reason this restaurant resonated with me is its unassuming nature, and how it reminded me of stumbling upon a ramen bar in the back streets of Shinjuku or Harajuku. The ramen itself was an infusion of soy and dashi, with the latter shining through as the more dominant flavour. This bowl is also served with a slice of chashu, bamboo shoots, a sheet of nori and spring onions. The noodles were slightly tough for my liking and the chashu was nondescript, but overall this is a solid bowl. My major gripe is the price point – there is better value for money on offer elsewhere ($6 for a glass of coke!)

Rating 5/10 – Love the floor-plan and general vibe of this bar but the soup itself lacked depth.

Mugen – Wafu ramen

Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen – Tonkotsu

I’m going to be honest, I had low expectations upon entering the La Trobe St restaurant because Ikkoryu Fukuoka didn’t register in any of my preliminary research for this project. I was pleasantly surprised by a wonderful bowl of tonkotsu filled with rich porky flavour. Like other popular establishments in the CBD, Ikkoryu Fukuoka allows you to customise your bowl to suit your preferences. Ordinarily, this tonkotsu comes with an egg, spring onions, black fungus, a sheet of nori and several slices of tender chashu. The thin noodles, however, were solid without being spectacular. Ikkoryu Fukuoka is an offshoot of the Yamagoya Ramen and boasts a second restaurant on Russell Street.

Rating 7/10 – Really underrated bar on the Melbourne ramen scene.

Yoku Ono – Yoku Ono ramen

Located behind Chapel Street is a wonderful two-storey bar littered with Japanese furniture and ornaments. This sake bar specialises in a chicken broth that is cooked for more than eight hours. The result is a tremendously milky soup that feels like being wrapped in a duvet on a cold winter’s morning. It’s such a hearty dish loaded with everything you’d expect in a traditional bowl of ramen, including black fungus, bamboo shoots and an egg. The Yoku Ono ramen comes with either chicken breast or pork belly; I had the chashu which was succulent as hell.

Rating 6.75/10 –  The best chicken-based broth I’ve had in Melbourne.

Unabara – Seafood ramen

Exclusive to Unabara’s Melbourne Central branch, this dish is only available on Mondays, which isn’t surprising considering it probably takes a whole week just to get enough produce for one serving! This hefty bowl contains a grilled lobster, a tiger prawn, scallop, an egg and chashu. And while all the focus might be on the bright lobster or the stunning scallop shell, it’s the creamy broth that steals the show. The rich soup has wonderful depth and will have you slurping in delight. Naturally, the seafood is messy to eat but I don’t think serving crustaceans in shells with ramen is ideal. I’m still not convinced the overload of seafood pairs amazingly well with this ramen but it was certainly yummy.

Rating 6.75/10 – Hard to find any seafood influenced broths in Melbourne but this is a truly wonderful soup.

*Please note: This page will be constantly updated to reflect new entries.

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