346 Little Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9670 5558
If my friend Aaron proves to be correct, Melbourne will receive what was historically its average monthly rainfall for June by the end of this weekend. If last night’s deluge, thunderstorms and lightning rock concert is anything to go by, he’s probably right.
This cold and wet weather naturally makes me earn for a comforting bowl of rich, thick ramen with lots and lots of noodles. I’ve been known to say that Queensland makes better ramen than Melbourne (case in point, Taro’s in Brisbane and Hakataya in Surfers Paradise). Don’t get me wrong, I won’t say no to a bowl from Momotaro Rahmen or Don Too but when I heard that a new ramen eatery was opening up in the city, I automatically assumed that it was going to be mediocre.
Little Ramen Bar might not have such a creative name, but it has proven to have more star power than Ricky Martin in the Twitterverse and Melbourne blogosphere. People were raving about it, people were saying that it was the best ramen they’ve ever had in Melbourne and people were wanting more. Perhaps there was a change in the air? I was ready to find out.
I rocked up one Saturday, eager to get my ramen fix. There was a sign at the eatery saying that it was closed because one of the staff was sick in hospital. While I do have sympathy for the sick, I was somewhat astonished. Assuming that the poor person was someone integral, I wonder if the eatery was going to close every time this person was sick, on leave or had a case of CBFness. Hmmm.
A week later, I decided to try again with Daisy, Ricky and their friend, Kirk. Knowing that this eatery was small, we decided to book a table just to be safe. I rang the restaurant the night before, asking for a booking for four. ‘Sure!’ replied the lady before she told me to hold, presumably to find the reservations book.
She then came back and said that the restaurant actually didn’t take bookings for less than six people, something which I think could have been communicated earlier on. On the other hand, it sounded like she didn’t know about the ‘no bookings’ policy, so the folk here definitely need to iron out a few training and communication-related issues. Regardless, I thanked her for her time and said that we’ll be there the next evening.
The next evening came around and we were confronted by a sign on the door that stated that LRB was closed due to a ‘private event.’ Now, I don’t know much about organising private events that require an entire restaurant to be closed but surely LRB would have been given more than one night’s notice? It seems to me that the restaurant knew that they’d be closed for the private function when I rang up the previous night. I’m going to assume the lady on the phone had no idea about the event when I spoke to her, which means that bad communication was responsible for this. We ended up going elsewhere for dinner.
I FINALLY got my chance to have a meal at LRB a week or two later. I was in between classes one Thursday afternoon so I decided to grab some noodles. I rocked up at around 12:40pm to find a massive line snaking up Little Bourke Street. My next class wasn’t until 2:15pm so I decided that I would wait. Half an hour later (!), I finally secured a nook by the window.
I ordered the chashu tamago ($12.90), LRB’s signature ramen dish. LRB’s classic tonkotsu broth provided the foundation for a very rich ramen which was topped with extra chashu pork slices, bamboo shoots and a soft-boiled egg. To be honest, I found the ramen and the egg really salty – and this is coming from a girl who loves salty food more than Eddie loves Collingwood. In fact, all that salt pretty much spoilt the dish for me and my throat was parched when I left. Melbourne’s best ramen? I still preferred Momotaro and Don Too’s ramen, to be honest.
Still, I wasn’t quite ready to give up. In the name of ‘research’, I decided to go again. This time, I arrived earlier to avoid the Thursday lunchtime peak. At 11:55am, LRB was five minutes away from being open but there was already a small queue outside. Thankfully, it wasn’t too big so when the doors finally opened, I was able to get a seat (in fact, the same nook by the window). I should also mention here that I bumped into Dave’s brother, Peter, who I finally met for the first time. I swear, I’ve never met anyone who can polish off a bowl of ramen so quickly like that!
Anyway, I’ve heard that the gyoza (pork dumplings) were to die for so I ordered a serving. For $5.50, you get six pieces of dumplings that were adorned with crunchy tops. The pork filling was sweet thanks to the lovely ginger and coriander, while the skins were beautifully delicate. Easily the best gyoza I’ve had in Melbourne.
I went for the miso ramen ($11.90) this time. Here, homemade miso was mixed with ‘slow-cooked pork soup’ (tonkotsu, I presume), minced pork and mixed vegetables (essentially, cabbage and carrots). It was topped with one slice of chashu pork, spring onions and roasted sesame seeds and a little bit of chilli for a mild kick.
It was still pretty salty but not as much as the chashu tamago, which makes this dish a winner by default. While I liked the roasted sesame seeds and the added chilli, I didn’t like that they used almost enough cabbage to ferment a batch of sauerkraut.
Yes, I know that a big bowl of ramen and a side of gyoza is a lot for such a skinny girl. But hey, this was my breakfast and lunch combined and I was hungry! If only I could tell that to all the folk who passed by and gawked at me and all my food through the window.
Given that Little Ramen Bar specialises in ramen, it comes as a surprise that my favourite dish there were the gyoza dumplings. I know I’ll probably look like a freak but the next time I’m here, I’ll probably order three servings of gyoza instead of a bowl of ramen. For that, I’d walk an extra block or two to Don Too.