Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen was the destination we picked as a convenient one in the city to meet a friend for a meal. We had been there on a previous visit to Melbourne, and thought it might deliver another good meal.
It is on Russell Street, an easy walk from the Federation Square, where we had been prior. The entrance is clearly signed in neon, and the restaurant itself is then down a flight of stairs. It is well lighted and roomy, rather than being a dingy, suspect stairwell. At the end of it, you turn right, and see the space of the restaurant. Again, it is a brightly lighted place. The cream white walls have black brush paintings on them. Seating options are padded red chairs against pale wood laminate tabletops, or large red curved booth seats instead. The mainly red, black, and white colour palate works to give the restaurant a modern feel. There was instrumental piano jazz playing at a comfortable volume. It was quite different from a number of the other ramen places around (like Mr Ramen San and Shujinko), which have opted for a more rustic style.
We were shown to seats soon after arriving, and the menus and cutlery were already waiting on the table. The menu is a large sheet of paper on which you essentially pick options to build your own ramen bowl. You start by choosing the ramen broth base, then choose your amounts of ramen oil, garlic, and green onion. You then choose the type of pork you want with it, light or normal soy sauce, and the texture of the noodles that go with it. You can subsequently add additional toppings of egg, seaweed, bamboo shoots, black fungus, and extra meat, all at additional cost. We were also told that there was another option not on the menu, which is to ask for the broth to be “heavy”, where they make it thicker and richer with extra pork back fat. That same paper tick menu also allows you to order other dishes, like croquettes, gyoza, rice, or tempura.
The menu doesn’t, however, tell you what you get in the standard bowl of ramen if you don’t ask for additional toppings. There are also no reference pictures anywhere around. I have to add that when we tried to ask the staff for clarification, given that the base price of their ramen without asking for extra ingredients is $15 to $17, we got a smart alecky response from the waiter that wasn’t helpful at all. “You get a bit of soup, a bit of noodles, a bit of this, a bit of that” doesn’t make anything clearer. It took many more attempts at questioning before we got any kind of useful answer.
In the end, between us, we picked two with the black garlic base, and one with the yuzu tonkotsu base. As it turns out, the $17 bowls of ramen don’t include an egg, so we had to order that in addition for $2 each. We also ordered a serving of the karage chicken.
The karage chicken was first to arrive. It was crunchy on the outside, but with a harder and more cooked outer coating than on those we have had elsewhere. The chicken on the inside was still juicy though. The mayonnaise on the side went quite well with it. It would have been nice to have a bit of tartness to lighten the dish though, and many other places do provide a bit of lemon or vinegared dipping sauce to go with their karage chicken.
The ramen with black garlic tonkotsu base definitely had the colour of black garlic. It wasn’t savoury though, and not aromatic. Despite its appearance, it was very bland. Although it also had added pork back fat because we asked for it to be “heavy”, it was flat and flavourless. A couple of pork slices were included as part of the standard components. They were thin, and more cooked than elsewhere, verging on overcooked. They had a mildly smoky flavour. The egg, as mentioned, was added on as an additional topping. The yolk was nicely gooey, and slightly savoury. We had selected “hard” for the noodle texture, and they were done as requested, with a bit more chew. The noodles were alright, a bit thinner than elsewhere, but also seemed less dense. What we just couldn’t get beyond though, was how it lacked the flavour punch we had been craving.
The ramen with yuzu tonkotsu base was also strikingly coloured. Yuzu is a less commonly found flavouring for ramen, made most famous by Afuri (we had, of course, visited the Harajuku outlet when we were in Tokyo). Here, they add yuzukosyo (or yuzukosho). Made from a fermented mix of green chillies, yuzu peel, and salt, that is what gives the broth its bright green colour. Once again though, the colour promised more flavour than it delivered. It had spiciness from the chilli component, but the citrusy tartness from yuzu was lost, and again that tonkotsu base (presumably they used the same as for the black garlic one) didn’t have the savouriness or rich depth of flavour we had wanted. The other components were much the same as in the other dishes.
As it turns out, Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen is actually a chain from the Philippines. While it says that it is launched by Yamagoya Ramen, a little more looking will tell you that it is based in the Philippines, as a franchise from Japan. So. A branch of a chain that split from a franchise. Did something get lost in translation? Appropriation of cuisine happens everywhere. I don’t have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with, is bland food served by snarky staff at high prices. It was alright once upon a time. No longer, apparently. Will we be going to Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen again anytime soon? Unlikely, given the many other better options around.
Price point: $15 to $17 for broth, noodles, beansprouts, spring onions, kikurage slices (black fungus), a piece of nori (seaweed) and a couple of slices of pork. $2 extra each for an egg, seaweed, and bamboo shoots.
Value: Absent. There are other places around that serve you delicious ramen for less.
Address: 27 Russell St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 03 9650 3708
Website: Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen