Monday, July 16, 2012

Ramen season update: Ajisen Ramen

'Twas a cold Friday night in Melbourne town and with one sick Weazelby, TGIF was getting sidelined in favour of a good (hopefully...) honest ramen remedy. I had planned to hit up Ramen Ya on Bourke St but due to my misdirection I ended up finding Weazelby at Ajisen Ramen a few doors down. I wouldn't say I was overly excited about eating at Ajisen but the enticing wafts permeating the dining hall soon intoxicated my mind and stomach. On the dining hall note, the floor space was not overly innovative or homely and had a bit of a cafeteria vibe. It's forgivable considering Ajisen is basically fast food.

Ajisen Ramen
130 Bourke Street
Open: 7 days, lunch + dinner
BYO: No, but cheap beer and sake - $10 for a 600mL Sapporo can

Ajisen Ramen on Urbanspoon

I wasn't sick so naturally I was guerning for overeating, and my mind could justify this with a fun-run coming up (something about protein and carbo loading..). We ordered a couple of entree staples - gyoza and takoyaki. I love takoyaki, even more so since making them at my brothers home in Himeji, however I am well aware that most takoyaki served in Japanese restaurants are from a big bag of frozen balls (how are you going to deal with them Sophie Monk?).. so the real test is whether a place can dish them up in a nice enough fashion and not fuck up the deep frying.

I'd say they did a pretty good job. Delicious crispy outer, filled with chewy pieces of octopus, smothered in kewpie mayo, sweet okinomi (I always think economy when I read it..) sauce and a generous pile of bonito flakes - twisting and curling from the heat. Shredded cabbage added a welcome fresh, crunch to ease the grease.

Takoyaki 6 pieces $7

The gyoza were less impressive. In fact they were the worst gyoza I have had in a long time. Generous serving size, but the gyoza skin was slightly tough - a sign of pre-steaming and a whirlwhind flash in the pan moment to give them a seared edge - which ended up being more of a charcoal taint. The pork filling lacked any juicy punch, and perhaps I was already marred by disappointment - but I didn't think the gyoza dipping sauce was that great either. Lesson learnt - try something more adventurous next time!

Gyoza 7 pieces, ~$7

Onto the ramen - knowing Weazelby would order the chargrilled beef option, I went for the Paiku Ramen ~$12 which is apparently their No. 1 bestseller HAI HAI HAI - served with tenderloin ribs and the usual suspects. To satisfy my inner glutton, I double-upped it by adding corn 50cents (!) and one piece of tori karaage $2. Why not?

It was enormous. Big fat chunks of soft pork spareribs nestled beside a perfectly soft centered egg, cabbage, spring onion and crunchy slices of wood ear mushroom. The corn was ..corny.. and the piece of karaage was a sinful, peppery, deep fried delight. I say hell yeah to all the toppings, however what lay beneath was less impressive...

The noodles ! Ai yaaah. They were thin, chalky blergh. I don't like these hakata style noodles, and I don't give a damn if they're supposed to be a more sophisticated style of ramen noodles - ramen is fast food. Such a shame.. things were going so well. And about that milky white broth, well apparently it is a blend of tonkotsu and senmiyu broth, so quite rich and porky without being too fatty like a classic tonkotsu. I was really enjoying it until I start feeling those jittery little MSG palpitations that haunt me after many Chinatown feasts.

Another little bitch was that the spare ribs were cut in really awkward pieces riddled with cartilage. Don't get me wrong, I'm into the bone.. I did order spare ribs after all, but this was a bit out of control - just check out the photo below.

The Chargrilled beef ramen ~$12 allows you the option of specifying how you would like your beef - just like ordering a steak. I think this is a great idea, I wish it transferred across all beef domains - i.e. burgers. Weazelby ordered his medium rare although it keeps on-a-cookin' in the hot broth so you're better off ordering it rare if you like your meat a little pink. It is served with exactly the same toppings as the Paiku ramen. Weazelby seemed satisfied enough.. but I didn't actually try any of the beef, I think I was paranoid it would open the sharing rights to my pork which I was feeling quite protective of.

So overall - it is OK, don't expect the world, it is a global chain after all. If you are into variety you will be rewarded with their have a massive selection with over 20 piping hot variations - and you can choose to order your noodles 'softer' too.

Noodles: 5/10
Broth: 7/10 (would be a 9/10 if it wasn't for the flagrant overseasoning with MSG)
Pork: 8/10 (flavour wise yes, cut wise 4/10!)
Vibe: 5/10 .. don't go here on a date.. but do pop in for a speedy meal

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