Monday, February 16, 2009
Review: Ramen Kan, Haymarket
Originally I had planned to go to Menya on the way to the Star Wars Exhibit until I remembered we have to walk straight past Ramen Kan and so our plan altered slightly. After a slightly confused couple of minutes I found the door I was looking for, when reviewing the address I had mistaken the location of Ramen Kan with that of Ajisen which is about 3 doors up.
Many of the Japanese restaurants I go to are squarely aimed at the migrant student population, cheerful, authentic and cheap. Ramen Kan is not that restaurant, with its stylish interior and slightly older clientele I suspect that this is the ramen restaurant that residents rather than visitors attend. Certainly the crockery is a step above most ramen restaurants, though the boy wrangles unhappily with his traditional style ramen spoon and wishes unsuccessfully for a Chinese soup spoon as comes at many ramen places.
The restaurant is bright and airy with pleasant wooden furniture and sheafs of wheat on the walls.
While a pictorial menu is a bee in the bonnet of many a foodie in this case, with some of the party not versed in Asian food it comes in handy for explanations of the various dishes.
Wasabi Tofu $4.90
I'm a sucker for agedashi tofu and I was very interested to see this spin on it on the menu; as I was tossing up between this and the teriyaki pepper tofu the boy cited my endless lust for anything smeared, coated and indeed smothered in wasabi and wondered how this was even a contest. When it arrives it is piping hot and just out of the fryer, the coating is thick and sweet, much heftier than the skin on many fried tofus. Biting through I find a mild sweet wasabi paste and onion covering a smooth and fresh silken tofu all of which is excellent. My only complaint is with the execution in that the majority of the wasabi is piled into the middle of the square of tofu and ergo for best effect I must deconstruct my tofu piece and redistribute however after eating I am somewhat amazed that a tofu this soft has the paste held to it at all.
The pickles here are excellent and I suspect made from a local supplier as these are fresh and crunchy and lack the mouth feel of vacuum packed pickles usually served at similar restaurants; while you get pickles with the miso set meal if you're a fan of akakabure-tsuki (the red turnip pickle) you are advised to order separately as it does not appear on the other plates.
Katsu curry gohan $11.50
Though I did not try the katsu I did have a go at the curry sauce which surprised me by containing tomato and ergo has a heftier Western stew feel to it. As with all good Japanese restarants the curry sauce is served in a bowl separately to the katsu to allow for dipping/saucing/mixing to taste with the meat and rice. For those unschooled Japanese curry is very mild and sweet and suitable for children or the unadventurous of palette.
Miso ramen $11.50 (with a set meal of rice, salad, pickles and gyoza $15)
Miso ramen is rarely my favourite, but the boy is obsessed and often orders miso ramen with a side order of miso soup. This miso is so good he is still trying to dig in the bottom of the bowl for one last spoonful of soup as the party is leaving the restaurant, enough said really.
Shio ramen with added sweet corn $12.10 (set meal as shown here $15)
The waitress is a little confused when my friend tries to order corn in her ramen, I suspect they are not used to the myriad of variations the way Ichi Ban Boshi is. Shio ramen is quite plain salted soup which leaves me a little cold but my friend slurps up the meal with a variety of happy making noises that lead me to believe the chef has hit his mark.
Tan tan ramen $11.50
Apart from the fact that it's a minor obsession of mine, having a single dish that I try at every ramen restaurant I come to gives an interesting comparison. This one loses immediate points with me for containing no egg, but thankfully the boy is not a fan and I get his which I'm delighted to find is obviously free range and perfectly soft boiled to soak up the soup. Unusually for tantanmen the vegetable is shaved leeks rather than choy sum or bean sprouts but it adds the same fresh crunch I'm looking for so I'm not bothered. What is strange about this version is the thinness of the meat and the scarcity of the sesame, and I wonder that they haven't instead made just a simple chilli pork ramen soup rather than a traditional tantanmen.
The noodles are a little chewy at first and take a fair few minutes of eating before they're at a consistency I'd like, I wonder how freshly they make their noodles or indeed if they buy in as the texture leads me to believe they're not as fresh as other local ramen vendors. As the meal goes on tantanmen can become a heartier and heartier dish as the fat from the pork dissipates into the soup and this is mostly lost on this version which saddens me a little. If Condor Ramen's tantanmen is too rich then this version is too thin and I will be sating cravings for it at other restaurants.
This is not to say that the food here was not excellent, more that when you have a favourite dish it can be easy to offend the eater. I am very interested to try some of their donburi dishes, and to be honest their tofu is to die for and I want to try every variation on the menu.
90 Hay Street
(02) 9211 6677
Dinner Mon-Sat (hours unlisted)
Bookings unnecessary but turn up early for lunch or expect to wait for a seat