157-159 Lonsdale Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9650 1215
You wouldn’t expect ramen to be on your list of top things to eat in the middle of summer but when Melbourne’s weather starts playing up (WTF? Snow this weekend?), a delicious and comforting bowl of ramen would certainly not go astray – especially since a new ramen restaurant, Kokoro Ramen, opened up on Lonsdale Street only a few weeks ago. Given that both Dave and I work in the vicinity of Kokoro Ramen, we decided to try this place out after work last night.
The restaurant opens for dinner at 5pm, great for early diners like us (which is essentially another way of saying that we’re old *sob*). They have, however, decided to extend their hours to cater to the lunch time crowd so I’m guessing that those with a craving for ramen at 3:30pm would be sated.
Apparently, the ramen they serve at Kokoro is pretty close to the real thing. From the extensive menu, you can choose from a variety of flavoured tonkotsu (pork bone) bases, including miso and soy either with pre-selected toppings or you can build your own from a list of ingredients. Feeling hungry and indecisive at the same time? You can get the ramen with ‘the lot’ for $23.
After ordering at the counter (but not waiting patiently behind a pair of teenyboppers who took FOREVER to make their selections), we made our way back to our table and waited patiently for our food to come. It wasn’t long between our shared entrée of 10 gyoza ($5.50) arrived. For $5.50, the gyozas were definitely a steal. I loved their delicate yet sturdy, paper-thin skins and their ultra-crispy bottoms as well as the soy dipping sauce that had a small hint of chilli in it. What didn’t impress me as much, however, was the filling for it lacked in pork but had a motherload of cabbage and garlic.
I ordered a tonkotsu shio (pork bone and chicken base with salt) ramen with chashu ($12). In hindsight, I should have ordered a ramen with a tonkotsu shoyu (soy) base for I felt that this soup was too salty. This was surprising given how I am normally a sodium fiend. That said, I did appreciate the clarity of the soup which had very little, if any, MSG though others would probably say that it was verging on the edge of blandness – something that I would have agreed to if I was in a grumpier mood that night.
Elsewhere, the hand-made noodles were surprisingly thinner than what I’m used to. Whether they’re actually of this width in Japan, I’m not sure. They were amazingly chewy and firm, giving way to a bite that’s bigger than Bill’s from True Blood. They were also generous with the slices of chashu (roast pork) which were thick and the edges, appropriately fatty. I also give props to the tea-smoked egg which was still gooey in the middle (though it has nothing on the tea-smoked eggs that they serve in ramens at Don Too at night) and the sprinkling of roasted sesame seeds in the broth. The whole thing was light, yet filling and it would have easily been the best ramen I’ve eaten had it not been for the overly salty-slash-bland-and-omg-is-that-an-oxymoron broth which counted for, well, almost everything.
Dave chose better with his tonkotsu miso (pork bone base with soybean paste) ramen with butter and corn ($14.50). There was a civilised balance between the levels of nuttiness and spiciness which already meant that it was better than my ramen. The sweet corn kernels also brought out the beautiful flavours, and the melted slabs of butter gave the broth a slightly creamy texture. They also popped in a couple of slices of charshu in the mix, too.
I’m not sure what to think of this place. On one hand, I liked Dave’s ramen whereas mine was a bit ‘meh’ largely thanks to the broth which didn’t exactly get me as excited as seeing a photo of Tim Tebow’s shoulders. I also liked the fact that they didn’t use a lot of, if any, MSG in their broth. The problem, however, is that this made their tonkotsu shio broth almost bland. So while I’m glad that there is another ramen restaurant in Melbourne, I think that, for now, I’ll stick to Don Too or Momotaro Rahmen should I need my ramen fix.