Mr Ramen San turned up on a search for ramen in Melbourne. We were looking for something more promisingly delicious than the last place we had been, as well as somewhere with a reasonable vegetarian option for one of our dining companions.
It is located in the Midcity Arcade, in the same passageway that over the years has been home to a number of cheap and cheerful restaurants, and now also houses Shandong Mama. The entrance isn’t attention-grabbing, but does visibly say “Mr Ramen San”, and “Keep Calm, Eat Ramen”.
The interior is similarly understated, with wooden floors and furnishing, and lighter walls with wooden strips framing sections so that they are reminescent of shoji screens. There are framed posters of anime shows on the walls. Japanese pop was playing over the speakers a little loudly.
You can sit at either the small wooden tables that comfortably fit two, or more at a stretch (you’re better off joining them up for more people), or at the counter seats, which are quite like what you would find in a little ramen shop in Japan. Set up so you don’t have to make conversation with anyone if you don’t want to, and aren’t just staring at the staff preparing food, the side of the counter facing patrons has partitions with magazines in them, presumably for the solo diners who would like something to do while waiting or eating.
Thoughtfully, there were baskets on the floor for you to put your bags in, again similar to what was rather commonplace in Japan, so you didn’t have to put your bag directly on the ground. (Think about it. What have people stepped on with their shoes that has then been dragged over the floor that you have then put your bag on?) It is something that is simple, yet practical, and that would be nice to see more of around the place. Who needs a separate bag chair when this is a compact alternative?
A jug of water and glasses were brought to the table soon after we were seated, along with a laminated menu with pictures of the ramen options available. You choose a topping for your ramen, or the equivalent of a main protein, the options being charsiu, teriyaki charsiu, miso beef, or spicy chicken. You then pick a soup base for it, either tonkotsu, black tonkotsu, spicy tonkotsu, shoyu, or miso. There are also vegetarian options, including a vegetarian charsiu one with a non-meat charsiu.
Between us, we had a couple of the black (garlic) tonkotsu charsiu ramen, and a vegetarian tofu ramen.
The vegetarian tofu ramen was thought to be quite tasty. It had tofu, spring onion, beansprouts, corn, seaweed, and a seasoned half egg.
The black garlic tonkotsu miso ramen came with roast charsiu slices, leeks, spring onion, bamboo shoots, wood ear mushrooms, seaweed, and half a seasoned egg. It arrived at the table piping hot and fragrant. The tonkotsu broth could have been thicker, but after the black garlic oil was mixed in, and a sprinkling of chilli powder and crushed sesame seeds, it tasted just fine. It had the porky aroma you expect from a tonkotsu. The thin noodles held the broth well. The bamboo shoots were tender. The egg was cooked so that the yolk was soft, but it didn’t actually taste seasoned. The charsiu slices were thin and tender. It was a pretty good bowl of ramen, despite the imperfections.
An extra serve of noodles is also free, which works out well for those with a hearty appetite, if you remember to leave some broth to go with it.
Service was in keeping with what you’d expect from a casual little eatery.
Overall, while Mr Ramen San’s wasn’t the absolute best ramen we’ve had, it is a pretty decent bowl of ramen at a pretty decent price.
Price point: $13.90 to $14.90 for a bowl of ramen, $1 extra for the black tonkotsu version.
Value: Not bad.
Address: 200 Little Bourke Street, Mid City Arcade, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 03 9042 1588
Website: Mr Ramen San