We caught wind of a new ramen place opening, and had to check it out, ramen addicts that we are. Kengu Ramen is a very new eatery in Toowong, an easy walking distance from Toowong shopping village. It is a little further down than Barolos Ristorante Italiano, and, bravely, a stone’s throw from Genkotsu Ramen Toowong.
The signage doesn’t jump out at you, and it is a little hidden behind other shop signs oriented in a similar line as you walk along the path to it, but you can spot it if you know what you are looking for. It is simple and unambiguous, a line drawing icon of chopsticks lifting noodles from a bowl, and “Kengu Ramen” underneath it. Remnants at the base of the outside deck indicated that the space used to be tenanted by Miss Dumpling..
An A-frame at the entrance had a copy of their soft opening menu stuck to it. It listed two types of ramen, extras you could add on to the ramen, side dishes (just gyoza currently), and then things they intend to introduce (chicken karaage).
We arrived at a not-quite-lunch, not-quite-dinner time, so the place was quite empty to begin with. It had quite modern decor, with earthy elements of stone tiling along one of the walls, wood-look tiled floors, and wood-topped tables and seats. The fitout was inherited from the previous tenants, but was neutral enough to work just fine. It was quite a compact space inside, but there were also a few more tables at the covered deck just outside.
We approached the counter, and placed our orders for the Bonito tonkotsu ramen, and gyoza. Because it was an in-between mealtime, we were warned that it would take about 20 minutes for them to boil the water for the noodles. Having journeyed there to try this ramen, we didn’t mind waiting. We were also told that they had sold out of the thick noodles (they usually serve house-made thick noodles), so could only serve the ramen with thin (not house-made) noodles.
We told staff that we would return after a short wander around the area. Sauntering past the outside, through the other entrance of Kengu Ramen, gave us the chance to look into their little kitchen. We could see pots sitting on stoves (smaller than the giant Hakataya vat sizes), and the tables at which they slice the pork and make dumplings.
When we returned and chose a table to sit at, staff brought us water and glasses. They offered to turn the air-conditioning on, but we didn’t feel it necessary as it was quite a pleasant ambient temperature, and we felt bad that they had to do that for just as (as we were still the only patrons inside at that stage).
It was not too long before the anticipated bowls of ramen were brought out. The conical-shaped bowls had Japanese-style simple patterns of fine stripes painted on them. The distinctly fishy aroma from the bonito wafted up from the bowls. The broth was a golden brown, and looked promisingly opaque. A few tiny beads of oil floated on the surface, but it otherwise looked like a uniform emulsion. Curls of thinly sliced black fungus, sliced pork belly, and the dome of the boiled egg broke the surface of the broth. Diced onion and a slice of lemon sat on top of these.
Diving beneath the other ingredients, we found the thin noodles. These had just the right texture, well separated, with a bit of spring to them. We found that they held the broth well, and given a choice, might have opted for them anyway over thick noodles.
The pork belly was very thinly sliced, perhaps a millimeter shave. It did not in itself carry a strong flavour, unlike some other places that torch it for extra smokiness.
You get a whole egg in your serve of ramen from Kengu Ramen. This was one of the best ajitsuke eggs we have had, from the assortment of ramen eateries we have been to. The yolk had a soft, gooey centre when the egg was cut into. (Also bonus points for giving a whole egg instead of half an egg).
The broth was thick and silky, but not particularly savoury. We had opted for the Bonito Tonkotsu ramen over the Tonkotsu ramen, as we were looking for strong umami flavours. The broth turned out to be quite mild and lightly flavoured, however, even with the bonito option.
The diced raw onion was an interesting twist, and not one we had encountered in our other ramen ventures, even in Japan, the home of ramen and a multitude of variations. It seemed to be what Kengo Ramen was going for, as one of its points of difference, and opinions are likely to be varied, depending on whether you like onion or not. Unsurprisingly, the raw onion was pungent, and definitely stood out against the milder flavours of all the other ingredients. For better or worse, the lemon was not as astringent or as present as we thought it would be.
The gyoza were brought out not too far behind the ramen. They were served in earthenware dishes, also with a striped pattern. They were served without a dipping sauce, and though we initially thought about asking for some, the first bite of gyoza convinced us that we didn’t need it. The gyoza had thin skins, browned and a little crisped by the pan on one side. The filling was juicy, and the meat was loosely packed, rather than dense. It was tasty, with a combination of saltiness and light sweetness, and a touch of garlic. We would definitely recommend getting the gyoza there.
The staff at Kengu Ramen were polite, and definitely made us feel welcome. People seek different things in their ramen, and though the broth was rich, it didn’t deliver the flavour punch we were looking for. (For reference, Muso Ramen Mermaid Beach is one of our favourites.) Perhaps you have to try it yourself to work out where it fits on your ramen ranking list.. The gyoza were good though, and we would get them again.
Price point: $15 for the Tonkotsu Ramen, $16 for the Bonito Tonkotsu Ramen. $13 for 10 gyoza.
Address: 1/39 Sherwood Rd, Toowong
Phone: 0423 623 168
Website: Kengu Ramen