I'm a Melbourne-based writer and traveller with a passion for good food.
Published May 2nd 2013
Oodles of Ramen Noodles
Ramen-lovers looking for their next noodle-fix should look no further than Little Ramen Bar.
Located next door to uber popular restaurant Shanghai Street Dumpling, this shoe box-sized Japanese eatery opened its doors in mid-April 2013, promising its patrons "authentic Japanese soul food". Their very reasonably-priced menu consists of a decent selection of different ramen variations and delectable entrees such as gyoza dumplings, edamame (soybeans sprinkled with salt) and spicy bamboo shoots.
Soupy and delicious, ramen is a special Japanese noodle dish with Chinese origins. Although there are many regional variations, the staple ingredients consist of wheat noodles served in a (usually) meat-based broth flavoured with miso or soy, topped with chashu (slices of pork), nori (dried seaweed) and spring onions. This dish has developed a bit of a cult following, with Little Ramen Bar being the latest restaurant to jump on the bandwagon. Sure enough, I found a cluster of expectant people huddled around its doors, waiting for the restaurant to open for dinner.
Little Ramen Bar is aptly named – the interior is tiny. The wooden tables and stools are also on the small side, pretty much guaranteeing a space issue to ensue if there is anything more than a bowl of ramen noodles per person on the table at once. Sure enough, my experience proved almost perilous as a passing customer nearly sent my drink and a whole lot of cutlery and condiments spilling onto my lap. Nevertheless, the inside was well-lit with a cosy-yet-casual ambience – perfect for a catch-up with a small group of friends. The décor was simple and streamlined, the only decoration being a couple of red Japanese lanterns suspended from the ceiling. Service was friendly and prompt, our food appearing within minutes of ordering.
The Chashu Tamago ramen is hailed as Little Ramen Bar's most popular main dish. Served in a not-too-big-not-too-small bowl, the tasty tonkotsu (pork bone) broth was cloudy and creamy, served with a gooey soft-boiled egg and incredibly soft pork pieces that ensured a melt-in-your-mouth experience. Disappointingly, however, there were only about three pieces so it was over before I knew it.
The Miso Ramen is made with housemade miso combined with a slow-cooked pork soup, mixed vegetables consisting of cabbage and carrot, spring onions and sesame seeds. The pork serving size was similarly frugal. For chilli-lovers, three different levels of spice can be requested if so desired. This dish was a bit too sweet-tasting for my liking, but may suit other palates.
Other ramen dishes from Little Ramen Bar also include Shio Ramen (chicken broth, seaweed, beansprouts, bamboo shoots and pork) and Seafood Ramen (a cacophony of seafood in a pork broth with mixed vegetables and seasame seeds).
The authenticity of the drinks menu delights with Japanese favourites. In addition to regular soft drinks, customers can choose between different Japanese beers (Asahi, Kirin etc), different sakis, Japanese teas and plum wine. Quintessential Japanese drink Ramune was a favourite – a Japanese lemonade served in a quirky glass bottle stoppered with a marble. But be warned – a bit of muscle is required to open one of these!
Ramune - Japanese lemonade ($4). Take off the plastic wrapper, place the left plastic item in the hole at the top of the bottle, press down using some muscle power, the marble pops down and your drink is ready!
Verdict: Little Ramen Bar is a great introduction to the likes of ramen noodles for the uninitiated. While perhaps not considered by ramen aficionados to be the best in Melbourne, the experience was pleasant and reasonably priced, and is likely to leave customers feeling like they sampled a little slice of Japan.