Where: Hakata Gensuke, 168 Russell Street Melbourne
What: Ramen that doesn’t, surprisingly, make me extremely sick
Bloat score: 1 – Had to loosen my belt a notch
Because my dinner outing to Hakata Gensuke was planned two weeks prior, I promised myself that I would keep myself as bloat-free as I possibly could in the lead-up as to allow myself maximum enjoyment of ramen, which usually leaves me extremely bloated. Needless to say, this didn’t happen. I went to Trippy Taco the night before and as hard as I tried, the tofu in my tacos were still cooked in onion powder and my nachos – which I requested with the guacamole and the two different types of salsa on the side – were still smothered in black beans, which are equivalent to hell itself for me. I spent much of my Tuesday clutching my engorged tummy at work and feeling extremely sorry for myself.
If you’ve never been to Hakata Gensuke, they have branches in Hawthorn and Westfield Doncaster as well as one in QV that specialises in chicken ramen. The one on Russell Street is notable due to the number of people constantly queuing up outside, although the queue moves fairly quickly and I’ve never spent more than 10 minutes in it.
Hakata Gensuke are purists and only offer four types of ramen – each of them made with a tonkotsu pork broth – so vegetarians and vegans would be best off going elsewhere for their ramen. Gluten-intolerant people aren’t catered for either, unlike at Little Ramen Bar where they have gluten-free noodles available on request.
What I do like about Hakata Gensuke is the extent to which you can customise your dish (although I’m sure they would have laughed me out of the restaurant had I dared to ask for my ramen without garlic). I like my noodles with an extra bite, so I requested hard noodles in my ramen, and wanted a normal broth as opposed to a light one. There is also the option to have spring onions or go without. Hoping they would only use the green parts, I went with spring onions.
I would have gone with the God Fire tonkotsu ramen to satisfy my predilection for chilli, but figured I was tempting fate enough by even daring to have a ramen, so stuck with the signature tonkotsu that is an original pork broth with braised pork, black fungus and spring onions. I chose the sides of soy-marinated eggs and seaweed because what even is ramen without these two things?
My other dining companion, who samples ramen around Melbourne and elsewhere under the Instagram hashtag #ratetheramen, chose the signature one as well, while my other dining companion went with the black tonkotsu one, which I was intrigued by but later thankful that I didn’t order when I learnt it was made with a special fried garlic and black sesame paste.
I enjoyed my ramen very much and left my bowl close to bone dry because I slurped almost every last drop of the broth. The pork bone broth was rich and creamy, and I refrained from eating the three extra seaweed sheets that I’d requested until the very end so they’d absorbed most of the broth they were soaked in. The runny soy-marinated egg spilt out into my soup and coated my noodles in their gooey goodness, while my noodles retained that bite that I love. I am tempted in the future to order the ‘very hard’ ones to see what they’re like. There were also amazing condiments you could add to your dish, from a spicy and umami preserved vegetable mix to cracked sesame seeds, which I was too shy to use in front of my relatively new friends because I didn’t know how to operate the sesame seed shaker.
If I were to have one quibble, it’s that there was only one decent-sized piece of pork chashu in my ramen, though it was highly tender.
My ramen connoisseur dining companion was less impressed, and felt that there was too much of a DIY-element in Hakata Gensuke’s ramen, as opposed to other places where your ramen comes with an egg, seaweed and bamboo shoots without you having to incur an extra cost. Read his review here.
My other friend enjoyed her black tonkotsu ramen and remarked that it was something different to the average ramen without being different just for the sake of.
We also ordered a side of 10 pork gyoza, on my insistence really, and while they were nothing to shout about, I liked them enough as a counterpoint to the buttery ramen. I also think I like gyoza so much, frozen ones from the Asian grocer would satisfy my cravings when I feel like them.
I had almost forgotten about my intense bloat by the time I finished my ramen, and could have sworn that I felt better after. Is there such a thing as a negative bloat score? I’m going to give this one bloat, because I’m sure it did make me bloated, it was just hard for me to tell when I was at 5 and a half bloats prior.
The Ramen at Hakata Gensuke doesn’t make me feel nearly as sick as the garlic-laden ramen at Little Ramen Bar, so it’s a safe bet when I’m craving a bowl of it. The restaurant has a jovial atmosphere, with the Japanese waiters enthusiastically yelling out “irasshaimase” whenever someone leaves its confines, and is just the place for a quick, hearty meal.
Hakata Gensuke is open from 11.30am to 2.45pm and from 5pm to 9.30pm Monday to Friday, and from 12pm to 9.30pm on Saturday and Sunday.