Saturday, July 23, 2011

Menya Iroha (麺屋いろは) - Negi Ramen, Ramen Champion, Iluma

Visited Ramen Champion today to continue my quest to finish all the 6 ramen brands.

And there I'm, greeted by a queue!

Really? I have to queue to enter?

The advertisements at the MRT station screens sure did work to bring in the crowd. Iluma is usually pretty empty and when I was at Ramen Champion on its opening day it was quiet too. Happy that ramen is creating another storm in Singapore!

Today, my feet bring me to Menya Iroha (麺屋いろは).

Another queue, but I'm happy to wait

Iroha comes from Toyama Prefecture (富山県), a prefecture in central Japan on the side of the Sea of Japan. A place that is little known by people overseas. Some adventurous tourist might have been to the Kurobe dam and Tateyama mountain, which are located in Toyama.

location of Iroha HQ

Iroha seemed to have received many accolades - It achieved top sales for 2 consecutive years in Tokyo Ramen Show 2009 and 2010, selling 13355 bowls of ramen over 5 days. Assuming a bowl of ramen was sold at 700yen, they would have earned about S$150k just in that 5 days. It also received an award from the prefecture governor of Toyama as an outstanding enterprise.

Iroha has several specialties, and one of them is the Toyama Black Soy Sauce Ramen.
I ordered the Negi Tama Ramen (leek & egg ramen, $13) version of this specialty today.

The toppings of char siew (x2), egg, chopped & shredded leek, seaweed, bamboo shoot and a sprinkle of black pepper sit on top of curly noodles and the signature black soup. Presentation was good, and the colors contrast well on top of the black soup.

The soup base is made from a mix of seafood (dried fish, kelp, etc.), chicken and vegetables. The black color is due to its secret black soy sauce, which is said to be made in such a way that it maximises the "umami" of the sauce while keeping salt content low. Together with the seafood and chicken broth, although the soup looks salty, but surprisingly it is light but full of flavour. I think that it goes down very easily and you won't get sick of it.

The egg, I must say that it is so far the most runny among the 6 stores in Ramen champion. Some of them are too well-done.

Runny yolk

Another part that I enjoyed a lot is the char siew. A harmless looking piece, but it was very tender. The fatty part of the char siew literally melted inside my mouth. Was impressed by how well it was done.

Last but not least, the leeks, intentionally hand-shredded to preserve the crunchiness according to Iroha's website, complemented the noodles well. I enjoyed the feeling of chewing the noodles amid the crunchy shreds of leek.

Although shoyu ramen is usually not my top favourites, Iroha's black shoyu ramen scored high in my list. From the immediate reaction of my taste buds, it is so far the best among the 6 ramens in Ramen Champion.

Reading through Iroha's website, there seem to be items that they were not able to bring it to Singapore. Really want to try them...
1) Noodles - The noodles in Japan are made using deep-sea water taken from the Toyama bay, which is supposed to have positive health effects. The flour used are made from the whole grain flour that is more nutritious. Whats more, they have also kneaded lotus roots into the noodles to give it more chewiness.
2) White prawn soup (白エビだしスープ) ramen - An item on Iroha Japan's menu, the ramen's soup is taken from dried shells of white prawn, a premium ingredients even used in sushi. Sounds delicious.

I think that we should count ourselves lucky, because looking for an Iroha is not easy.
They don't even have an outlet in Tokyo yet!
Their 9 stores in Japan are in Toyama, Ishikawa, Hakata, Kyoto and Kanagawa. And there we have it here in Singapore.

Will definitely go back and try their other offerings.

Ramen Data - Menya Iroha @ Ramen Champion, Iluma
Address: 201 Victoria Street, 4F Iluma, Ramen Champion
Types: Shoyu Ramen (Black Soy Sauce), Spicy Miso Ramen
Price: S$11-18
Rating: 9/10

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Tsukemen TETSU (つけめんTETSU) - Ramen Champion, Iluma

Following my last visit to Ramen Champion, today's visit brings me to ...

Tsukemen TETSU!

Tetsu is one of the pioneers of tsukemen (dipped noodles) in Japan. While tsukemen was not new in the ramen scene, it used to be served cold - cold noodles served in cold soup - to be eaten in summer when the weather is too hot for a bowl of hot ramen. However, there are people (like me) who doesn't like soup cold. Started in 2005, Tetsu was one of the first ramen brands to serve tsukemen hot. Its popularity soon caused many to follow.

In a short 6 years, it has quickly expanded to about 10 outlets around Japan, including iconic locations such as Roppongi Hills in Tokyo, Landmark Tower in Yokohama and the station mall in Kyoto.

I ordered the "Very Rich Special Paitan Tsukemen", the standard item on their menu, plus an addition egg.
In Japan, they are famous for their rich seafood-tonkontsu soup, but I think they have modified their menu to cater to the Singapore crowd who might not like the seafood taste.

The thick dipping soup is made from chicken and tonkotsu soup, and a clear layer of oil coats the surface of the soup. Char siew, bamboo shoot and chopped leeks swimming inside the soup. Noodles used are normal, straight noodles.

I like the taste of the soup and it holds onto the noodles well. The char siew was also tender although I would hope for more. The part that I would hope that it can do better is the egg, which came fully cooked an not runny.

Half way into the noodles, the soup turned a little cold. And it is where you can try the first-of-its-kind service in Singapore, that is unique to Tetsu...

The hot stone! (焼き石)

see the stone in the middle?

You can approach the staff at the TETSU store to give you some "Yaki-ishi", and they will then deliver to you a piping-hot stone into your soup. It sizzles for about 5-10 seconds, transferring the heat into the soup. Your dipping soup is hot again now!

And when you are finished with the noodles, the experience is not done yet.

You can bring the soup to the TETSU counter again, and look for a thermal pot labeled "Dashi Soup". The purpose of the soup (made from bonito flakes I think) is to dilute the thick soup, so that you can down the delicious soup till its last drop. When diluted, the soup has an added seafood taste and the fragrance of katsuo.

Soup for drinking, not dipping

All in all, the overall experience at TETSU was good. It was enjoyable eating the ramen, with the dipping, hot stone, dashi soup and all. It was slightly disappointing that the egg wasn't runny, and I personally think that they could bring in the bowls they use in Tokyo to Singapore too, just like Bario and other stores. It will make the noodle much more appealing, and reinforces their branding too. The shape of their bowl in Tokyo resembles the logo of Tetsu.

Ramen Data - Tsukemen TETSU @ Ramen Champion, Iluma
Address: 201 Victoria Street, 4F Iluma, Ramen Champion
Types: Tsukemen
Rating: 8.5/10

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bario (バリ男) - Ramen Champion, Iluma

The ramen scene in Singapore as been quiet for a while with no new entrants, and I had some trouble looking for what to write.
But all of a sudden, 6 ramen champions descended onto Singapore at one go!

Taking over the previous location of a Japanese theme restaurant park Ebisuboshi-Shotengai, a ramen-only restaurant park called らーめんチャンピオン (Ramen Champion) opened on 1 July 2011, bringing into Singapore 6 renowned ramen stores from Japan. Such concepts are not uncommon in Japan - for example there is Tokyo Ramen Street at the Tokyo station and Ramen Museum in Yokohama. But having one in Singapore is another thing. I'm not sure is this the first of its kind outside of Japan.

The 6 ramen stores in Ramen Champion are Taishoken (大勝軒), Gantetsu (がんてつ), Bario (バリ男), Tetsu, Iroha (いろは) and Ikkousha (一幸舎). They came from different parts of Tokyo and have a good mix of styles, such as shoyu, tonkotsu, miso or dipped-noodles. They have respectively won many accolades in Japan, and I'm really happy that they are here!

The restaurant uses a card system for ordering like some of those in Singapore.

Owner of Bario, Mr Iwasaki

The interior of the restaurant is similar to that of Ebisuboshi Shotengai. The induction cooker on some of the tables reminds me of the shabu-shabu restaurant that was there. I was there on a Saturday lunchtime - considering that it was the 2nd day of operation, the crowd was a bit thin. Its a pity because on this first week of operation, the owner of the respective brands' owners are all present in Singapore.

The next question is - which one should I eat?

As a man (achem...), I've chosen to try Bario, which means "super guy" in Japanese according to the owner. Well this is more of a joke. The real reason is that I've heard a lot of good things about Bario from Japan.

Your ramen is ready

After ordering your ramen, the stores at Ramen Champion hands you a tag that will ring when your ramen is ready. A good way to keep our waiting time down while being able to enjoy it hot.

Bario offers Jiro-style (二郎系) ramen - ramen in ultra large portion that comes with a mountain of vegetables. Another place in Singapore that you can have this in Menya Shinchan.

I ordered the signature ramen ($13) from Bario.
And it does come with a bang!

The ramen is topped with a mountain of bean sprouts and cabbage, with a few blocks of chunky char siew. The bean sprouts have their tips picked off, keeping the more juicy and crunchy part. It is a sign of its attention to details.

The char siew is really chunky, with the surface / skin charred but the inside still soft and juicy. It was good, but the only thing is that it was slightly salty for me.

The noodles are thick, flat and curly, giving the bowl of noodle a chewy and rugged "manly" feel just like its name.

At first I was dreading that I might not be able to finish the big bowl, and I have to leave behind some food to the horror of the owner. But it was good that I had no problem finishing it.

And... you shouldn't stop there and should finish the last drop of soup!


Because you will be rewarded with this compliment -

Thank you. You are a man

For ladies (or beginners), the portion could be quite big for your to finish. You might want to start with trying the half-sized ramen, unless you are very hungry.

Ramen Data - Bario @ Ramen Champion, Iluma
Address: 201 Victoria Street, 4F Iluma, Ramen Champion
Types: Jiro-style Ramen
Rating: 8.5/10
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