168 Russell Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 6342
When it comes to good ramen, Melbourne is slowly but surely gaining legs. Just when I was ready to proclaim the fair southern capital as the ramen cesspool of Australia, it brings us gems like Mensousai Mugen and Fukuryu. And now, we have Hakata Gensuke.
Hakata Gensuke is that diminutive Russell Street eatery that’s got massive queues forming outside since day one. It’s a franchise created by Chef Kousuke Yoshimura and this is his first Australian restaurant. Unfortunately they don’t take bookings so if you’re craving a good honest milky Hakata-style pork bone-based broth ramen and missed the Jetstar flight sales to Japan once again, then you have to come here – and line up.
Pete and I rocked up at 11:45AM one Saturday afternoon, hoping that we’d be one of the first in line for when they did finally open at 12 – unfortunately, we weren’t. There was already a steady line of hungry customers by the time we got there. But like the Tokyo subway system, the guys at Hakata Gensuke are very efficient – a wait staff was already giving everyone in line ordering forms and pens so we could order before we were even seated. Thankfully, the turnover here is quick so we only had to wait half an hour for a table. Yes, only.
We walked in to cries of ‘Irasshaimase!’ and sat on the counter by the wall. The restaurant’s fast-paced vibrant atmosphere and simple timber furnishings was almost enough to make Pete think he was back in Tokyo.
Both Pete and I ordered the tonkotsu ramen. The dish starts at $13 and comes with noodles (you can decide whether to go soft, normal, hard – or very hard if you’re down for it), one slice of cha-shu pork and wood ear mushrooms. You can also decide whether you want the ‘normal’ broth, or one that’s lighter (presumably diluted with dashi). There is the option to get spring onions too at no extra cost.
You can also chuck in some add-ons for a couple of dollars. I requested the ‘special topping’ add-on: three slices of cha-shu, three pieces of seaweed and one egg ($8). This meant that I ended up paying $21 for my ramen; not cheap at all.
Look, the ramen was lovely – the noodles were beautifully chewy, the broth was equal parts milky, rich and flavoursome. I can certainly see why people would happily wait up to an hour just to sit down and pay more than $20 for a ramen. But would I do it again? Probably not. As good as the broth was, I just think $21 is ridiculous, especially when I can get ramen just as good, if not better, for almost half the price at Hakataya and Muso in Gold Coast. You’re all probably asking why I can’t just stick to the default $13 tonkotsu option – um sorry no, one slice of cha-shu, no seaweed and no egg ain’t going to cut it.
Conversely, the snacks are better-priced. We loved our chicken karaage, which was crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, made all the more addictive with a dash of spicy salt.
The pan-fried gyoza were also done well – think crispy bottoms, delicate skin and a juicy pork filling accentuated by lots of garlic and ginger.
While I love a good ramen, I don’t love the idea of waiting in line AND paying a fortune for something that’s meant to be the Japanese version of a dish that’s supposed to be comforting, filling and down-to-earth as the Vietnamese pho. Screw that.