Hakata Gensuke, CBD

12/23/2015 , , 0 Comments

Hakata Gensuke Ramen is a popular Japanese Ramen Bar in the CBD, on Russell St in between Bourke and Little Bourke St, with a new store recently opening on Glenferrie Road in Hawthorn. A friend of mine recommended this place awhile back, and I finally got around to trying it. In terms of authenticity, this is probably one of the best ramen bars I've been to in Melbourne, though there is always quite a bit of a wait for a table as it is quite popular.

We went around 630pm on a Saturday and had to wait about 15 minutes for a table, and this was only because we went with one of their specialty ramens (that costs a little more) and got to sit upstairs, instead of waiting for a table downstairs. The restaurant itself isn't very big, but the turnaround is quite fast that you'd probably have to wait half an hour at most for a table, providing you're not in a very large group. There's a very authentic feel to the restaurant; you're greeted by all the staff in japanese as soon as you walk in, and japanese music plays softly in the background. The history of Hakata Gensuke is displayed in large canvases on the walls, and there's a TV on one side that plays a simple explanation of the restaurant and how its ramen is made.

The menu at Hakata is very limited, but you can tell that they do it very well given the amount of people that are lined up in front of the restaurant. There's four different ramen dishes to choose from, though you can add a range of different toppings, and there are also two side dishes as well. We decided to go with the Black Tonkatsu Ramen ($14) and a plate of gyoza ($5), as well as a regular size of the specialty Tsukemen Ramen ($18) with extra topping of scallops ($4 for 3 pieces). Each table comes with a range of complimentary condiments, and as we went around Easter, there were also 'Easter Eggs' that we could add to our dish. I was expecting the egg yolk for these hard boiled eggs to be completely cooked, but to my surprise it was still slightly orange in the middle!

The gyoza (japanese dumplings) had a really thin skin that was really smooth, and broth came out of the gyoza when bit into, which is always really enjoyable. The gyoza wasn't just full of the meat flavours, you could actually taste the cabbage in it as well, and when dipped in the small amount of chilli sauce on the side, added some heat but didn't overpower the flavours of the gyoza itself. This was a great appetizer to start our meal, as it wasn't very filling or heavy at all.

The black tonkatsu ramen is made from pork bone broth and a home made black sesame and roasted garlic paste (hence the dark colour of the broth), and is served with thin noodles, a slice of pork cha shu, black fungus and spring onion. I thought the sesame flavour really came out in the broth, and the noodles had great elasticity even though we selected the normal elasticity. This was one of the really cool features of Hakata - when you're filling out your order, you can choose the texture of the noodle, as well as if you want a lighter or normal taste. Japanese ramen broth is typically a little salty, so it's great that there's such options to cater for different people's tastes. The crunchiness of the black fungus and spring onion contrasted well with the noodles and the soft slice of pork for an enjoyable dish.

The other ramen dish we chose was the tsukemen, a way of eating ramen where you just quickly dip the cold noodles in the broth and eat it. The broth consists of a few pieces of pork cha shu and bamboo shoots, and you bring it to the boil with the electric stove on your table before dipping the noodles in. This was a really interesting way of eating ramen that I hadn't heard of before, and was definitely a fun experience! The noodles themselves had good elasticity and weren't too hard or soft, and the pork was extremely tender. I initially thought it might be a bit tough/dry as it was quite thick pieces, but to my surprise when biting into it, wasn't like that at all. The broth itself was extremely salty though, and any noodles that were left in it for too long became very salty to eat. The scallops we chose as additional topping were really fresh, and you could taste the natural sweetness of it despite being left in the salty broth for some time.

The highlight of this dish however was the second part; once the noodles were finished, there was still some broth leftover. This is when you let the staff know you're done, and they bring over a bowl of rice with pork shreds, a raw egg and mozzarella cheese. You then whisk the raw egg, and pour it along with the rice and cheese into the remaining broth to give you a second dish - risotto! Again, this was something I'd never seen or heard of before, and I thought it was a really clever way to ensure the broth didn't go to waste. The ratio of rice to the remaining broth turned out pretty perfectly so it wasn't too salty at all, and the egg and melted stringy cheese made for a really delicious dish.

Overall I had a great experience here at Hakata Gensuke; the staff were friendly and attentive, and told us when they thought what we'd ordered would be too much. When you're waiting outside, the staff start giving you order forms so you don't have to wait too long once you're seated for your food to come, and ensure that the queue is kept orderly and not taking up the whole of the sidewalk. I would definitely recommend this place for some authentic japanese ramen, even if there's a bit of wait for the food. I did notice later on around 9pm when we happened to walk past the restaurant again that there was still a large queue of people waiting to go in, which goes to show just how popular it is.

Ambience: 8/10
Service: 8.5/10
Food: 8.5/10
Price: 8/10

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