Late last year, Raku Japanese restaurant sprang up in the West End shopfront previously occupied by the Green Bamboo Vietnamese eatery on Boundary Street. Run by owner Yoji, Raku is very much a stripped-back reincarnation of his previous CBD soup restaurant, Ajisen Ramen.
Like Ajisen, Raku is primarily a ramen (noodle soup) restaurant, offering a range of hearty broths based on pork stock. You have seven choices, starting at $8.90 for the basic Raku ramen, which comes with noodles, thin-sliced pork, half an egg and spring onions.
For $9.90 you can choose from miso ramen, chashu ramen (extra pork), karage ramen (deep-fried chicken), or paiku ramen (pork ribs). If you want to splash out, the all-in-one ramen will set you back $13.90. You can also add extras like dumplings, tofu or vegetables for another $3 to $4.
If soup isn't your thing, Raku also offers rice dishes for under $10, Japanese curries for $9.90, more expensive seafood options (including interesting prawn, calamari and octopus salads for around $14), and plenty of vego options (tofu salad, fried vegetables and rice, veggie curry -- all under $12). There's also a cabinet of sushi that sits out the front of the restaurant, I think primarily for takeaway.
I've been to Raku a couple of times since it opened, and both times had the basic Raku ramen customised with extras (veggies on one occasion, veggies and tofu on another).
It's always reliable and filling, and one of my favourite cheap lunches on a cold day. The pork stock (a critical factor in a ramen restaurant) tastes authentic and flavoursome, and the pork itself is good quality. I like the sesame tang to the soups, and the noodles are always cooked just right.
On the other hand, I don't much like the choice of vegetables that Raku provides ($4 extra for some capsicum and a bunch of cabbage) and the tofu extra ($3) was also pretty uninspiring. I was also less than impressed by the free spring rolls provided to each diner before their ordered dish arrives. Deep-fried and overcooked, with a sugary, glow-in-the-dark chilli sauce, they're a 'treat' that I'll be avoiding in future.
As for the other items on the menu, I can't really comment, not having tried them. I suspect some (like the seafood and vegetarian salads) would be fresh and interesting, and I'm looking forward to trying them, along with the sushi, as the weather warms up. However, others (vegetable croquette curry, anybody?) seem to lean to the oily side and don't tempt me in the least.
Raku has a simple but acceptable décor, and friendly, efficient service. It's not somewhere I'd go for a special occasion or absolutely sensational meals, but it's another good option among West End's Asian eateries.
Offering affordable and filling food, with some good dishes, it's definitely worth adding to your list of budget eateries.