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Monday, April 12, 2010

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting

Last Monday, a group of us headed out for an epic ramen hunt in in an effort to find the best ramen in the Melbourne CBD. I was very happy to be part of the group, particularly after eating ramen in Japan.

This is a long post, so settle in! My fellow ramen hunters were Penny from Addictive and Consuming, th0i3, Maria and Daz from The Gourmet Challenge, Adrian from Food Rehab, and Billy from Half-eaten.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: score cards

We ate at seven different restaurants to try out their ramen, and gave scores out of five on three categories - broth, toppings and noodles. Billy put together score cards and scoring sheets for us to use - cute!

Just a quick note, the scores are no indication of the restaurants as a whole, as we were only scoring the ramen.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Menya

Stop 1: Menya
Shop L01 146A, Melbourne Central,
211 LaTrobe Street, Melbourne
Tel: 03 9639 3383

Our quest started at Menya. Because it's so teeny, we split into two groups. Alastair and I shared a table with Maria and Daz where we tried the Sapporo ramen in shoyu (soy based) soup ($9.20) and Maria and Daz had the chashu (pork) ramen. The two ramen were essentially the same except for a slight variation in toppings.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Menya

The Sapporo ramen came with pork, vegetables, egg and seafood extender.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Menya

Topping wise, I found the egg was too salty. It must have been soaked in soy sauce, judging by the brown colour. I wasn’t fond of the pork either - you know that taste and dryness that boiled pork has? It tasted like soup pork, which is fine if you're drinking Chinese soup but not for ramen. The broth was thin, although I did write in my notes that it was okay for what it was. The noodles however, were gluggy and overcooked. Not a great start to the ramen hunt, unfortunately.

My scores for Menya were:

Broth: 3/5
Noodles: 2/5
Topping: 2/5
Total: 7/15

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Hanaichi

Stop 2: Hanaichi (unscheduled)
QV Square Lonsdale St, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9662 9409

Our next stop was Meshiya in QV. As we were walking there, we passed by Hanaichi, a little shop above the QV food court (where Wagamama used to be located). Someone (I believe it was Billy!) insisted that we had to try it. There was only one ramen on the menu and it was described on the menu as ramen (egg noodle soup) - $6.90.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Hanaichi

As you can see, it came out in paper bowls - this was real food court stuff. The noodles, which you may be able to just see under the pork, were a scary, fluorescent yellow, but were not that bad. At least they weren't overcooked. However, the pork was tasteless and below average, and the broth, well that was also not great.

My scores for Hanaichi were:

Broth: 2/5
Noodle: 3/5
Toppings: 1/5
Total: 6/15

Stop 3: Meshiya
200 Lonsdale St, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9654 6242

Our next stop was Meshiya. We sat down, after rearranging their tables to accommodate the nine of us, looked at menus and decided what to order... and then we discovered that Meshiya was OUT OF RAMEN. Whaaaaaaa? How does that happen? We decided not to order anything, apologised, put the tables back and continued on the ramen hunt.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Edoya

Proper Stop 3: Edoya (unscheduled)
138 Russell St, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9654 7358)

So on we went, making another unscheduled stop, and went to Edoya. We all got a little side tracked here and everyone ordered items other than ramen. I blame the complimentary edamame and seaweed salad that we received.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Edoya

Alastair and I had some sashimi, while others ordered ox tongue, yukke, and soft shell crab! There was beer too. What a terrible lack of focus. Tsk tsk.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Edoya

In addition to everything else, we did also order two bowls of ramen to share. On the menu, it just said ramen ($14). Sadly, it was another very average bowl of ramen. I thought the noodles were okay, and found that the pork was pretty good, but the broth had a VERY strange taste that I couldn't stomach. I marked down the broth quite heavily for this.

The other food we ate from Edoya was fine though.

My scores for Edoya were:

Broth: 1/5 (ouch - but I think someone else gave a 0/5...!)
Noodles: 2/5
Topping: 3/5
Total: 6/15

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ito Noodle Cafe

Stop 4: Ito Japanese Noodle Cafe
122 Bourke St, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9663 2788

Stop 4 was Ito Japanese Noodle Cafe, where we ordered three bowls to share between us - the chashu in shoyu, the tori kara in miso, and the tonkatsu in miso (all $9.80) We wanted to order the tonkotsu, but this wasn't available that day. I wonder how often it's available to order?

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ito Noodle Cafe

At this point, Alastair decided he needed to eat lunch and scoffed down a bowl of katsu curry don - apparently the noodles weren't doing enough to fill him up!

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ito Noodle Cafe

The rest of us stuck with ramen. This was the chashu ramen in shoyu soup. I thought it was the best out of the three bowls.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ito Noodle Cafe

The tori kara in miso soup - basically deep fried chicken.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ito Noodle Cafe

And the tonkatsu in miso soup - deep fried pork cutlet.

Hallejuah! Finally some good ramen. The noodles were good, the toppings were great and overall the broth was tasty. I found the miso soups a bit too salty, but the shoyu was really good. The chashu was really tender, and all the toppings were done well, although there were comments that the bamboo shoots in the bowls had a very strong and distracting flavour.

My scores for Ito Noodle Cafe were:

Broth: 4/5
Noodle: 4/5
Toppings: 4/5
Total: 12/15

Stop 5: Ajisen Ramen
130 Bourke St, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9662 1100

Our next stop was just down the road - to be honest we could've used a longer walk due to all the noodles already consumed - but we pushed on. Again, we ordered three bowls to share - chargrilled ramen ($12.50), spicy miso ramen ($11) and chashu ramen ($11). I haven't noted down what soups we had, I assume the chargrilled and chashu ramen were shoyu, and the spicy miso was miso.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ajisen Ramen

This was the chargrilled ramen - basically seared steak (which we requested to be rare) on top of the noodles. It was rather garlicky.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ajisen Ramen

And here's the chashu ramen.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ajisen Ramen

And finally the spicy miso. In the small bowl to the right is the spicy meat. We were asked if we wanted to keep it separate as it was quite spicy. It did have a fair kick to it, but I'm sure we could've coped with it in the big bowl.

The noodles at Ajisen Ramen were really strange - they were similar to spaghetti, not like other ramen noodles at all. While they weren't bad, they weren't ramen noodles! Broth-wise, in all three bowls, it was SALTY SALTY SALTY. I would've given the broth a higher score if it hadn't been so FREAKIN' SALTY as it was rather flavoursome. The toppings were good too, so the broth (and strange noodles) did let Ajisen down.

My scores for Ajisen Ramen were:

Broth: 3/5
Noodle: 3/5
Toppings: 4/5
Total: 10/15

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ramen Ya

Stop 6: Ramen Ya
Shop 25G Melbourne GPO
350 Bourke St, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9654 5838

Ramen Ya was up next. At Ramen Ya, you can select your soup base - tonkotsu (FINALLY!), shoyu or miso. And then the topping - chashu, tsukune (minced chicken), and gyoza. We ordered three bowls - chashu in tonkotsu, chashu in shoyu and tsukune (minced chicken) in miso.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ramen Ya

This was the tsukune (minced chicken) in miso soup.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ramen Ya

I'm pretty sure this one was the chashu in tonkotsu.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ramen Ya

Which would make this the chashu in shoyu.

A hush descended over the table as we started slurping up the noodles. Even though it was our second to last stop we polished off all the bowls, and looking around at the scores, it was obvious that it was the best ramen so far. All the broths were good, particularly the tonkotsu (naturally!), and the toppings were fantastic, although there wasn't much of the chashu, which was a shame because it was tender and delicious. The noodles were also good - springy with a bit of bite.

My scores for Ramen Ya were:

Broth: 4.5/5
Noodle: 4/5
Toppings: 4.5/5

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting

Stop 7: Chocolate Buddha
Federation Square, Melbourne
Phone:(03) 9654 5688

Our group wandered down to Fed Square for our LAST STOP - Chocolate Buddha. We nabbed a table outside, sitting in the sun and looking over Fed Square. It was a very nice way to end the day!

We ordered two bowls - the gyu ramen ($19.80) and the tori miso ramen ($19.80). There was also a salmon ramen on the menu, but I think our bellies would have burst if we had tried all three. Expectations were high for Chocolate Buddha as the ramen cost twice the amount of other restaurants.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Chocolate Buddha

The gyu ramen was nice. The beef was tender and full of flavour, and the broth (a shoyu broth?) was tasty.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Chocolate Buddha

However, the tori miso ramen was a mixed bag. The chicken was really good - juicy and soft. But the broth, oh the broth! It was REALLY sweet. It let the whole bowl down. Disappointing for a $20 bowl of ramen.

My scores for Chocolate Buddha were:

Broth: 3/5
Noodle: 4/5
Toppings: 4/5
Total: 11/15

We completed the ramen hunt by tallying up the scores. Here they are - 5.5 hours and 19 bowls later, we had a very conclusive result.

7th place: Hanaichi - 45/105

6th place: Edoya - 51/105

5th place: Menya - 58/105

4th place: Ajisen - 63/105

3rd place: Chocolate Buddha - 70/105

2nd place: Ito Noodle Cafe - 82/105

And the winner..... the best ramen in the Melbourne CBD was -

1st place: Ramen Ya - 89.5/105

Well I certainly can't eat ramen again for a while, but I had a great day. I wasn't particularly surprised that Ramen Ya came out on top, but I hadn't expected Ito Japanese Noodle Cafe to score so well. A big thanks to my fellow ramen hunters for the company and laughs!

We discussed doing more hunts in the future - any suggestions for what we could do next?

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