After toiling away at RMIT’s business library this afternoon, I decided to treat myself by feasting on some ramen at Ramen Ya which was recommended by Jan. Grabbing Adam straight after his shift at the war zone that is currently his workplace (sorry, can’t reveal anything here), we hopped, skipped and jumped across to GPO where the place that claims to make “the best Japanese noodle in Victoria, Melbourne” (their words) was hiding. Although it is a relative newcomer to the GPO scene, the small but cozy ramen cafe has already attracted a decent band of followers despite the fact that it never appears to be as busy as the adjacent Kenzan @ GPO.
It was just after 4pm when Adam and I walked in, which meant that we were either there for a very late lunch or a very early dinner (I dunno, you decide). While the menu isn’t overly extensive. there is definitely something for everyone including bento boxes and rice dishes for those who hate ramen with a vengeance (though I don’t know what reasonable human being could possibly hate ramen). What I found ironic for a place that supposedly specialises in ramen though was that there were only four types of ramen to choose from (charshu ramen, gyoza ramen, seafood gyoza ramen and tsukune ramen) compared to eight bento boxes. Having said that though, you do get to choose from three ramen soup bases (tonkotsu, shoyu or miso) so I suppose the total number of ramen permutations exceeds the eight bento boxes on offer.
After ordering at the counter, we grabbed a table outside purely on the basis of the pretty lanterns placed on each table. In hindsight though, a table inside would have been better for the sake of photo-taking because it was as bright as a beach compared to the outside dining area which had the atmosphere of a cave. Grainy images are no good! *kicks herself*
Adam’s chicken katsu bento box ($10). The offerings were pretty standard, two fried pork gyoza, steamed rice, seaweed salad and crispy strips of fried crumbed chicken pieces. I only managed one bite of chicken which was a little dry but otherwise just okay. Adam managed to finish this off in a matter of minutes (I kid you not) before announcing that he was still hungry and upon asking him what he thought of the bento box overall, he shrugged and said “boring.” Yeah, I think I would have said the same thing too if looks are anything to go by.
Thankfully, my gyoza (in tonkotsu soup base) ramen ($9.80) fared a bit better. A generous serving of what suspiciously looked and tasted like Chinese egg noodles was drenched in a delicate and milky pork-flavoured broth before being decorated with various ingredients, all arranged neatly in sections for contrasting visual effects. The six gyozas, filled with pork and chives, were of the home-made variety which was a refreshing change to the bought ones that many other Japanese restaurants use. What I found frustrating though was that the skins were so fragile that by the time the bowl arrived on my table, half the dumplings had already split open leaving pork mince all over the place. Not good! Real gyoza they may be, but I do like mine intact thankyouverymuch!
The other players were nothing to sing a song about – preserved greens and pickles, bamboo shoots, Japanese fishcakes, spring onions, wakame sheets and half a a tiny boiled egg (definitely of the caged kind). What I do want to whinge about are the noodles which, as mentioned, seemed a bit more “Chinese” than “Japanese.” I always thought that ramen noodles were thicker and chewier but either I have been misinformed or perhaps the folks at Ramen Ya do things differently, who knows… Despite my gripes, however, I actually did like my ramen in that it was refreshing to taste one with absolutely no trace of MSG. In most circumstances, I would be downing 10 billion glasses of water but I was fine with my single bottle of Yebishu. Adam, on the other hand, thought that the soup was very bland and boring. He did make a good point – it wasn’t as tasty as I had expected – but after having too many a bowl of overly salty servings of ramen, light and delicate hits the spot. Oh, another thing I found strange was that I was still a little bit hungry after finishing off my ramen down to the last drop. Weird, because the bowls were of a decent size and weird, because I’m usually so full when I eat ramen that I can barely finish the rest of it off.
The total was a mere $23.80 which I found weird because both our dishes all up would total $19.80 which meant that we were only charged $4 for our drinks… and given that I had a beer, it was definitely not right. Hmmmm (I only realised this just now as I’m typing this). Jury is still out on whether Ramen Ya really makes “the best Japanese noodle in Victoria, Melbourne” (funny that, I always thought that the state of Victoria was larger than the city of Melbourne!). I’m pretty sure that a better one still exists out there (Adam reckons Momotoro Ramen is way better, so I’m keen to try it out some day!) but for now, I’ll go to Ramen Ya if I feel like a ramen without MSG!