Tucked away at the law courts end of George Street is Ajisen Ramen, a cosy Japanese noodle house in a part of town that is otherwise fairly uninspiring, food-wise. Frequented mostly by office workers and clued-in Asian students, it offers hearty ramen noodle soups and other Japanese dishes at affordable prices.
The menu revolves around 15 different noodle soups, or ramen, based on pork stock and noodles.These include plainer offerings such as miso ramen and green onion ramen (for around $12), but also more substantial fare such as pork belly ramen ($13.90), pork rib ramen ($15), deep-fried chicken ramen ($14.50), and steak ramen ($16). The most expensive is the deluxe prawn, mussel, squid, and crab ramen for $21.90.
Each soup comes in a big bowl with chopsticks and a rustic wooden ladle. They are filling and fairly tasty, though I generally add a good whack of soy sauce and pepper (supplied on the table) to up the flavour factor. On my last visit, I had the gyoza (dumpling) soup for $15.50, which came with three fat pork dumplings, seaweed, spring onion, half a boiled egg, and, of course, plenty of noodles. It made a good lunchtime feed on a cold day.
Chilli-lovers are well-catered for, with both a kimchi ramen and spicy miso ramen, and four soups labelled as either two- or three-chilli hot. Vegetarians have one soup -- vegetable ramen -- that is labelled 'V', but it might pay to double-check if the stock for this one is definitely pork-free. Tofu isn't offered as a ramen addition, but perhaps you could have it added, as tofu dishes appear elsewhere on the menu.
Saturday, 14th of December @ 10:00am - $35 - 2 places left
In fact, the balance of the menu contains more than 40 other dishes, although I haven't yet tried them, focusing as I have on the soups. The other dishes range from Japanese curries, pork ribs, and eel (all around $15) to bento boxes and around 25 side dishes. Vegetarians might actually be better served by choosing from these sides, which include edamame (a delicate bean dish, $6.50), agedashi tofu ($8.80), and seaweed salad ($8.50). Carnivores can choose from options such as teriyaki beef ($9.90) and octopus balls ($8.80).
Service is friendly and, when I visited for lunch, the owner greeted me within seconds of my entering. I was asked to order at the counter (though I have had table service when dining in the evening previously), and my food was brought to the table within 10 minutes. With its dark wooden furniture, Japanese wall hangings, and a bubbling aquarium, Ajisen was a peaceful place to spend my lunch-hour.
Ajisen is licensed (Japanese beers $6-10, plum wine from $7/glass, and a range of sake) and BYO ($3 corkage). There's also a $3 public holiday surcharge, and a minimum spend of $10.80 per person (I think to deter those canny students from splitting the large soups into ever smaller portions!).
It's definitely worth a visit if you work in the office buildings that have sprung up around lower George Street, or if you're headed to the Barracks cinema -- I've dined here a couple of times before walking the 10 minutes up Roma Street to catch a movie.
Surprisingly, Ajisen is also perfect if you're at GOMA or the State Library and want a cheapish feed. Just walk over the Kurilpa Bridge and along Tank Street, turn right, and Ajisen is a couple of doors up. A friend and I did this recently and were over the bridge, fed, and back at GOMA in just over an hour.