I went back to Japan a year after my last visit. It's just hard to stay away from its sugoi-ness right?! After a relaxing onsen vacation at Hakone, we went straight to Tokyo. As you all know, this also means trying new ramen places! Tokyo never ceases to amaze me with what it has to offer especially in terms of ramen choices. When you think you've kinda seen and tried it all, Tokyo proves you wrong. I tried some newly opened places and some oldies but darn goodies.
|Chef Hide Ohata|
Kazami is tucked away in a little alley in Ginza. From the outside and even as you step inside, the place looks like a high-end sushi shop with blondwood fittings. Ohata-san's ramenya is so serene. There's a refined ramen movement going on in Tokyo right now and this has been rated amongst the best. Here are the "go to" ramen choices:
|Sake-kasu noko soba|
The sake-kasu noko soba (¥950) is Kazami's signature ramen. This is one of the best ramens I've had in my life! There is nothing like it. It tastes as beautiful as it looks. Thick noodles with a kotteri rich broth made from chicken bones, pork bones and residue from sake making. The broth is dense with lots of umami without being oily or salty. You get subtle sweet and subtle sharp flavours with every sip of the broth. Mix it with some ginger and green chilli miso and the broth brightens up. It is also topped with confit pork chat, tofu, agitate, coriander, and nori.
The shoyu ramen (¥950) was light but complex. The soup consists of a seafood broth from konbu and five types of dried fishes, shoyu tare, dash of chicken oil and Noilly Prat Vermouth that gives the broth sweet and spiced notes. The thin noodles were nice with a bit of bite to it. The sweetness and sharp notes from the chopped onions were a nice touch. You also get confit chashu, perfect ajitama, tofu and coriander as toppings. Add your complimentary ginger and proccini puree to give the broth a different spin. It was amazing!
Another great thing for foreigners like myself is that Ohata-san and his staff are more than happy to assist in English on how and what to order.
6-4-13 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Hours: 11.30am to 3pm, 5.30pm to 10pm
Nearest station: Ginza
Mensho at Kasuga
One of the most innovative ramen groups in Japan is the Mensho group. It is headed by the genius ramen chef and dubbed "the ramen creator" Mr Tomoharu Shono. They have 5 shops in Japan and one in San Francisco.
Dishes like salmon tsukemen, oyster tsukemen, and Hiyashi white coconut milk soup ramen served at their other shops (Mensho Ichigaya and Gachi Shinjuku). We visited the Kasuga branch, where the shop front is their ramenya and the back is like a ramen lab where they experiment and create new ramen. It is where they make their noodles for all their shops. The Kasuga shop even did a chocolate lamb ramen for Valentines 2016. Wait what?! Yep! You read that right.
|Lamb tonkotsu ramen|
We tried their signature lamb tonkotsu ramen (¥850). The broth was insane! The broth was made from lamb and pork bones. It came out milky with a bold and full body umami. There's also an added slice of sudachi citrus to cut through the richness. The noodles made in-house were cooked perfectly. You get tasty and tender slices of pork and lamb chashu. I couldn't get enough of it! The ajitama was on point and pack with flavour.
We also had their lamb mazemen (¥900) and it was out of this world. Mix all the toppings (which includes lamb chashu, minced mutton, 3 types of roasted nuts, corriander, minced garlic, negi, nori, egg yolk, tare), abura and noodles then you get a cocktail of flavours partying on your palate. The most notable flavours were sweet-ish pepper and cummin. Oishii desu!!
1-15-9 Bunkyo-Ku, Tokyo
Hours: 11am to 11pm (closed Tuesdays).
Nearest station: Korakuen
Nagi Golden Gai
There's a reason why ramen chain Nagi has done so well. They deliver the goods regardless of the style of ramen their shops sell. Most Nagi shops specialises in Tonkotsu ramen. At Nagi Golden Gai, they excel in niboshi ramen. Look for the red Nagi lantern and signage, climb the steep narrow stairs and enter a rustic ramenya full of character. It only has 10 seats so it easily gets packed out. No need to worry, they are open 24 hours! Come late at night or super early in the morning (like we did) and you are guaranteed a seat.
|Signature niboshi ramen with tamago|
Their signature ramen (¥950) is heavy on niboshi sardines and seasoned with shoyu tare. The broth is heavy on umami but the fishy flavour is actually perfect! It comes with hirauchi jukusei taka suimen or "matured flat noodles with higher water content" used in Kitakata style ramen. It also comes with what appears to be silky wonton sheets. The chashu they use appears to be tender confit pork. You can get a version with tamago and also get extra chashu on the side. It was a massive bowl but we managed to crush it within 10 minutes. The ramen here is so good that popular ramen bloggers and celebrity chefs like Ivan Orkin would visit this shop when they are in town.
2F, Shinjuku Golden Gai (G2 Street), 1-1-10 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku
Open 24 hours
Nearest station: Shinjuku and Shinjuku-Sanchome Station
I'm going to start by saying that this place has the best Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen I've had! This was picked up by my radar via Time Out Japan. They awarded this ramenya as one of the best new Tokyo ramen in 2016. Obviously, team Ramen Raff had to visit it!
|Tonkotsu ramen with tamago|
We ordered their standard tonkotsu ramen with ajitama (¥950). Straight away, the generous fatty slices of chashu stole my attention. Not only were they tender and rich, but also tasty. I normally prefer my kotteri broth but the milky consistency broth in this bowl packed a lot of umami and I liked the bold pork flavour without the funky smell Hakata style tonkotsu broths normally have. There was no need to add condiments to the broth as it was already beautiful as it was. The straight noodles were nice and firm. It had more than enough negi to give the broth sweetness. I love Japanese negi as they are sweeter compared to the ones we get in Sydney.
We also ordered gyoza! They were small than usual but the filling was bursting with so much flavour.
City Gyoen Bldg A 1F, 1-4-12 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
11am-3pm, 5pm-11pm daily
Nearest station: Shinjuku-Gyoenmae Station (Marunouchi line)
Another innovator in the Tokyo ramen scene is Afuri. Whilst everyone else is trying to go with bold flavours and rich broths, this ramen chain has gone with lighter broths brighten up by yuzu. They now have 9 shops including a shop in Portland, Oregon!
|Yuzu shoyu ramen|
We tried their yuzu shoyu ramen (¥980) that has chicken & dashi broth with shoyu tare, yuzu, ajitama, tender & tasty grilled chashu, mizuna, menma and nori. I like how the contrast of flavours of the broth and yuzu comes to a nice balance. I'm also a fan of their straight firm noodles. I prefer the yuzu ratanmen's (¥1,230) broth. I feel like the spicy factor gave the broth more complexity. Also, the caramelisation on their grilled chat was insane!
B2F LUMINE1, 1-1-5 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
11:00am - 10:00pm (Open 7 days a week)
Nearest station: Shinjuku
Check their website for other locations: http://afuri.com/findus/
Gachi abura soba
One of my favourite styles of ramen has gotta be abura (oil) soba, which is soupless ramen dressed with flavoured oil and topped with chashu etc. In most cases, sesame oil blended with tare and some cases, umami based flavouring. Gachi is also part of the Mensho group and is at the top of the Tokyo abura soba game.
|Loaded abura soba with agitate|
Like most ramen, you can get loaded versions of abura soba at Gachi. I got the loaded version with tamago (¥1000). It came with two types of chashu: flavoursome caramelised cubes of fatty pork belly and confit pork chashu. There was also naruto, shredded nori and negi. The oil sits at the bottom so you will have to mix everything until everything is dressed in oil and tare! This was rich, full of umami and damn amazing! You can also add condiments like garlic, chilli and ginger to give the abura soba more complexity. It was so addictive and the noodles were amazing!
7-10 Sumiyoshicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Mon-Sat 11am-3pm, 5pm-10pm
Closed on Sundays
Nearest station: Akebonobashi