We have often waxed lyrical about the excellent ramen at Muso Ramen, but somehow have not updated the blog entry on it since a visit years ago, not long after it opened. Given that we often refer to it, holding it as a benchmark standard for ramen deliciousness, and that it has had a renovation and expansion since then, a new post has been long overdue.
For those who somehow have not heard about it yet, Muso Ramen is an eatery in the Gold Coast’s Mermaid Beach that serves up some very tasty tonkotsu ramen. They have also opened a stall in The Kitchens in the Robina Town Centre, but the Mermaid Beach store is where it all began.
You will find Muso Ramen in the midst of a row of shops on the Gold Coast Highway. While the sign in bold lettering above the front of the shop does clearly say “Muso”, an easier marker to spot as you drive there might be the large smiley yellow golf ball of the nearby Putt Putt Golf Course.
The entrance to the eatery itself is simple and understated. The glass door is often closed to keep the air conditioning in, or the cold out, depending on the weather. The opening hours are displayed on the sign on a door, with menus and a picture of their current special (they have a ramen special that changes each month). The typical noren curtains hang at the doorway, in case you needed a hint that this was a Japanese restaurant.
Once through the door though, you find yourself in a space that is not decorated like your usual zen-inspired Japanese eatery. “Muso” cleverly encompasses the owner’s love of music, and translates from Japanese to mean “peerless”, or “the only one”. In line with the owner’s rock and roll sensibility, the walls and ceiling of the eatery are dramatically painted black (the Rolling Stones would approve). Interestingly, they have used particleboard to panel most of the surfaces, so it is not just flat black, but has a textured shine.
Continuing the musician aesthetic, album posters from groups like Led Zeppelin and The Beatles are tacked to the wall. Pendant lights with exposed bulbs and patterned filaments hang down from the ceiling, providing a low, warm glow. It is enough that you can see the food you are eating though.
The particleboard use continues with the tables and seating, but in a natural wood colour. There are box-shaped tables that fit four, and bench seats to match, but also smaller tables that fit two, with metal stools at them. There are also seats along the side of the service counter, more traditional compact ramen eatery-style. Thoughtfully, there are bag hooks under the table at those seats.
The tables are set with a container holding chopsticks and spoons, as well as western-style forks and spoons for patrons that might need those. There is a pepper grinder, and a container labelled “ramen punch sauce” (we have tested it before, and despite its appearance, it isn’t just soy sauce), as well as a box of serviettes. The floorspace has doubled in size since the renovation, as they took over the shop space next door. It is still quite a compact area though, so at peak mealtimes, expect to wait for a table.
You can get menus from the service counter if you would like to consider your options. They have expanded their range of offerings since they began. In the beginning, they only served tonkotsu ramen. When the stall at The Kitchens opened, they only served chicken-based ramen there. They subsequently brought in tonkotsu ramen at the outlet at The Kitchens, likely due to the demand for their delicious broth, and chicken-based ramen has since appeared at the Mermaid Beach shop. You have the option of a few varieties of tonkotsu or chicken ramen, and they also have a vegetarian option. You can choose to have either thin or thick noodles with almost all of them. Our pick is usually a tonkotsu ramen (often the black garlic one) with thin noodles.
They have also introduced a “tapas” menu that contains sides you would expect to find in a Japanese eatery, like edamame, gyoza, and karaage chicken (they have a few different flavours).
You order and pay at the counter, and are given a stand with a number to take back to your table. If you are in the main seating area, you are likely to go past the side room where they make the noodles for the ramen. A glass front to the room lets you see the noodle-making machine and many stacked bags of flour. If you are there at the right time, you might get to watch them in action.
The piping hot bowls of ramen are delivered to your table when ready. They have had bowls custom made, and these say “Muso Ramen and Gyoza Bar” around the side, just above the level of the broth. Cleverly, that means that photos you take of your ramen will clearly identify where it is from.
Between us, we ordered a couple of bowls of the black garlic tonkotsu ramen, and a bowl of the miso tonkotsu ramen. Each of them came with slices of char siew, half a nitamago egg, bamboo shoots, sliced spring onion, and a sheet of nori.
The aroma that wafted up as the bowls were placed on the table whetted the appetite. The milky broth had a glossy sheen on the surface. The black garlic tonkotsu ramen had pools of the black garlic oil darkening the surface, making them look distinctly different from the paler miso tonkotsu ramen. The tonkotsu broth was rich and viscous. It was thick, creamy, and while savoury overall, was balanced with a slight sweetness, the way seared meat has that extra caramelised layer of flavour. The black garlic oil imparted fragrant umami notes. The miso tonkotsu ramen had a sweeter, lighter flavour in comparison. Making a good tonkotsu broth is a honed art, and there is a reason why ramen chefs train for years. It is more than boiled down bones or a meaty soup, as anyone who has tried to make it themselves at home will know. Teasing out the nuances of flavour differentiates the excellent ramen eateries from the average ones. Muso Ramen’s tonkotsu has a depth of flavour that has certainly kept us (and many others) coming back for more.
We usually request the thin noodles be cooked firm, so that they don’t get soggy in the broth. Faster eaters may not find that a problem, but we like to savour our food. The noodles were springy and held the broth well. The pork slices were tender and supple, with soft fat layers that melted in the mouth. While they had a meaty pork taste, they were not gamey. The nitamago eggs were nicely cooked, seasoned on the outside, and with soft, gooey yolks. The slices of bamboo shoots were still crunchy, adding some contrasting texture.
You can get the ramen in either regular or large size, and can also get an extra serving of noodles to either size if you have broth left at the end (not free, unlike Genkotsu Ramen or Hakataya), but we have generally found the regular size ramen bowls on their own to be filling enough.
One thing we had often lamented after dining at Muso Ramen was the lack of dessert options (often but not always, because occasionally the too-full-to-eat-anything-else votes outnumbered the always-room-for-dessert ones). What we spotted on our most recent visit though, was the appearance of Taiyaki and Ice Cream on the end of the Tapas menu. Taiyaki was one of the street food treats we came across quite frequently in Japan, the sweet smell of the pastry cooking on the hot plate reaching us before we caught sight of the vendor’s stall. “Tai” is the Japanese name for red sea bream, and “Yaki” means cooked over heat, in the way you also get yakitori and yakiniku. Muso Ramen serves them deep fried, instead of the more traditional grilled style, but we couldn’t resist trying their new dessert offering.
As described on the menu, the taiyaki was served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. It was simply presented, with retro 70s style plating of ruffle piped whipped cream and a glace cherry on top. The taiyaki itself was bronzed from the deep frying, a darker shade than the pan-grilled taiyaki turn out. While that made it harder to make out the details of the scales and the fin lines that make taiyaki the cute character it is, you could still tell that it was a fish shape. The taiyaki was served still warm, and despite the frying, it was not oily at all. The pastry was crunchy on the outside, and soft and chewy inside. In keeping with tradition, it was filled with red bean paste. This was slightly sweetened, but not excessively so. There was also a hint of almost banana-like floral fragrance. It was like a filled, fried doughnut, but with tempered sweetness. The cold of the vanilla flavoured ice cream was a good contrast to it. While not a fancy dessert, it was a satisfying finish to the meal.
Muso Ramen remains one of our favourite ramen destinations. It has remained consistently delicious over the years, and is our benchmark for hearty tonkotsu ramen. If you are on the Gold Coast and like ramen, you should definitely have this on your list of places to eat.
Price point: Ramen bowls $14 to $16 for regular sizes, $16 to $18 for large sizes.
Address: Shop 2B, 2484 Gold Coast Highway, Mermaid Beach
Phone: 07 5679 3779
Website: Muso Ramen and Gyoza Bar