As a tourist with an interest in food, I have always been of the philosophy that anything that can attract the longest line is always worth trying - and if you're ever on Russell Street in Melbourne CBD, you'll know that Hakata Gensuke Ramen is no exception.
Like many things Japanese, the store managers run this restaurant with ruthless efficiency. The experience starts on the sidewalk, where you will be handed a menu and an order sheet. Why waste precious time sitting at the table thinking about what you want to eat when someone else could be sitting there eating? You have to stand on the sidewalk anyway, so they allow you to spend that time hyping yourself up about the noodles in your future.
We arrive around 6pm, which is probably early for dinner by many standards (but perfect for my inner-nanna) and the line is only about 10 people long. The shopfront itself has not conformed to the minimalistic, sleek design that I often associate with newer Japanese restaurants. It is very much an assault of good old red and gold imperialism, complete with a gold stylised dragon on the front of the menu. The entrance is lined with a traditional Noren (or fabric divider), which I have been told has been used traditionally both for the practical purpose of protecting the store from the elements as well as enticing visitors to the store by not fully revealing the interior.
The Menu There is a philosophy that dictates in order to be successful you should only try to master one thing and master it completely. This is not the kind of restaurant that gives you a menu where you are lost in options, their menu is unapologetically simple. You are given a choice between five ramen, you then get a choice between noodle texture (soft, normal, hard or very hard), broth saltiness (lighter or normal) and the option to have spring onion or not. You can opt for some extra toppings and there are a couple of sides.
We were personally not going to go past their signatureTonkotsu ramen. Their website informs me that the Tonkotsu (or pork bone base) broth was first invented in Fukuoka and they take their name "Hakata" from a central district in this city. I add a sneaky plate of gyoza to our order.
"Irashaimase!" - Welcome to this place! After making it inside, the interior looks like a traditional Japanese noodle bar - what I mean by this is as Japan has the highest population density in the world, this place gave us an authentic setting in which to practice the subtle art of not listening into other people's conversations. But in all seriousness, they have mastered the ability to put just enough space in between groups without sacrificing on space efficiency. It did allow me very easily to peek across the table to our neighbours' food for a sneak preview,
The Food Unsurprisingly the food arrives quickly - this isn't so much the type of place you go to nurse a cocktail and have slow and meaningful conversation. The goal here is purely to knock back the ramen and then let someone else get in to do the same. But the ramen! Okay, so I have to admit that I am a little bit of a salt whimp and I cannot take the full-on salty Tonkotsu broth experience (which I have discovered on many occasions in the past), but the "light" broth ramen - delicious! We are talking slurp-worthy broth with pull apart medallions of pork loin and noodles superbly cooked to preference (I chose "normal"). I always judge my gyoza by the skin and theirs was the right mix of thin, non-chewy and perfectly fried - no complaints here.