Avid readers of this site would be forgiven for thinking that I only eat weird ramen dishes, but I do have regular ramen from time to time. That’s just not blog-worthy but after finding out about a Michelin star ramen restaurant I decided to sample it. Twice.
Back in the UK last year, ‘Paul Hollywood Eats Japan‘ aired on Channel 4 but I just wasn’t able to get hold of it until this year when it appeared on YouTube. Fearing it would be taken down I thought I should quickly consume all three episodes. The first one featured Tokyo and saw the baker extraordinaire visit a Michelin starred ramen restaurant.
Little did I know that Nakiryu (2-34-4 Minamiotsuka, Toshima-ku) was quite close to the Tokyo Fox Global Operations Centre in Itabashi-ku. On a rainy Sunday morning, my friend Mostyn and I decided to check it out. It’s located in a quiet neighbourhood not so far from Otsuka Station on the Yamanote Line, and the door proudly advertises the fact that it’s a Michelin starred restaurant.
We arrived just after 11am and a trio of individual gentleman were already in the queue. As is the Japanese way, it opened exactly on time at 11:30 am.
Once we got in there was pressure on me to order from the machine as quickly as possible with people waiting behind. Not really knowing what the speciality was we both just opted for some shio (salt) ramen. For the record, the menus are in English but the vending machine isn’t so if you can’t read Japanese then you’ll just need to remember the order numbers!
It seems there is a limit of one bowl per person but it is possible to add extra noodles and side dishes are not restricted. Sadly we didn’t know the latter beforehand (I really must do better research in the future when going to a new place!) but did know the former so purchased tickets for more noodles.
Once the first 12 customers had shuffled in and made their orders there was almost a hushed silence as we all sat patiently with our masks on until the dishes started to arrive. When that did happen it became clear to us that tantanmen was the speciality and everyone else seemed to be ordering a certain side dish.
This was a fairly well-lit place when compared to some of the other dark and dingy ramen joints I’ve been to in the past. It’s interesting to see how each bowl is crafted with great pride and attention to detail.
After about 10 minutes our ramen arrived in a deep white bowl. The taste was really good but I’m not sure if my taste buds are good enough to recognise it as being much superior than other ramen places with no stars to their name. The extra noodles were certainly most welcome.
I have to admit that I did leave fairly disappointed. Not so much with the taste of the ramen but with my poor decision making. Had the line outside not been so long then I may have been tempted to rejoin and go in again!
There was only one thing for it. I’d have to return. That happened on my next day off just five days later as I cycled down to the restaurant to line up half an hour before it’s 11:30am opening. There were only two people waiting on this weekday but by the time they opened there were about ten people behind me. This time I ordered a couple of dishes including tantanmen (thin noodles served in a sesame and red pepper soup) as well as coriander topping for the spicy noodles.
This was more like it! Just the colour of it was enough to get my juices flowing more than they did with the previous choice! The noodles were thin and chewy, the broth was full bodied with a rich flavour and the spice level was not as high as expected but sufficient enough.
The other side dish was written in English as “low temperature cooked pork on rice with wasabi and mayonnaise sauce”. Everything was 1400 yen in total which is admittedly more than I’d usually pay for lunch but given its status it has to be said that it was very reasonable. This simple dish was really nice and something I’d really like to try again. It’s probably something I could even try and make for myself!
When you enter the restaurant in the first wave of customers there is a more noticeable pressure on to finish in similar time as the others. The two people before finished in no time and then the four who came in after also left prior to me despite getting their dish after I’d got mine! I guess I can blame that on having an extra dish and taking too many photos! Of course I shouldn’t really care about all this but there was a feeling of my slowness holding things up for those waiting patiently in line!
Bonus: In the video below Paul Hollywood swaps a British Pot Noodle (chicken & mushroom flavour) for Nakiryu instant ramen which really is quite an unfair exchange!
A couple of months after visiting the restaurant, and I had long forgotten about the instant ramen when I saw it in a 7 Eleven convenience store one day. This ramen, along with one from popular chain Ippudo, were available for just under 300 yen each which is more than double what I usually pay for such things.
However, I thought it would be nice to sample it and see how it compared to the restaurant version so I splashed out on a couple of them and treated my wife to one. Lucky lady!
It sure did bring back memories of that great taste I’d had in the restaurant. Of course it wasn’t quite on a par but it was close enough for me to think it’s sufficient enough to save time and money on going to Otsuka again and queueing up. However, such waiting does in a way build up anticipation for what is one of the world’s cheapest Michelin starred restaurants.
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