Wow, it feels like eons since I last wrote a food review *checks blog archives*…it has been eons since I last wrote a food review.
I had a bit of time today and needed to do my X’mas shopping at Orchard, so I figured…it’s been a while since they’ve opened. Now is a good time to go visit.
To my surprise, there was still a considerable line. I waited for around an hour and was seated.
I’ll talk about service and stuff later, lets dive straight into the Ramen.
I ordered the Ajitama Shoyu Ramen, there’s also the Shio ramen which I didn’t try.
It’s not bad.
It’s the most well-balanced bowl of Ramen I’ve ever had.
I can understand why it won a Michelin star, it’s a very well-crafted bowl of noodles.
Every ingredient had a role and they all played it well. It was simplicity at its best.
What do I mean by that?
To start with, the soul of any bowl of Ramen is the soup. The clear broth of Tsuta Ramen doesn’t look like much, compared to the rich Tonkotsu that we have dominating the local Ramen scene. But it was meant to be that way. That tiny dab of truffle gives the soup all the body it needs. But the amount of truffle was so well-calculated that it was not overwhelming. It was enough to impart a savory richness to a soup that you don’t normally associate with clear broth, but held back enough that the natural sweetness of the soup still came through. Only if you paid attention though. To drink it slowly and savour the flavors of the soup as it passes down your throat.
What I loved most about the broth is that, unlike rich Tonkotsu soup, you don’t get sick of it after a while. Sure truffle is rich, but that little dab did not quite push the soup to the point of nauseatingly rich.
Although, here is where I introduce you to the spring onion and chives.
Truffle is rich and complex..but lets admit it, it’s boring. There’s a reason why truffles are always used as accents and not as the main flavor. Yet Tsuta’s ramen makes truffle the main star of the show. The flavor of truffle is what brings everything together, ties all the ingredients together, enriches everything. At some point..you do sort of…lose sense of the flavors.
The chives and spring onions shine in such moments. Their herby/grassy and refreshing note makes the truffle interesting again. As the earthiness of truffles begin to weigh on your tastebuds, the sudden tang of the chives and spring onions bring a much-needed high-note to the dish. For the first time while eating Ramen, the onions had a purpose. They weren’t garnishing. They were NECESSARY. They were part of the dish. And that really amazed me. The spring onion especially made each bite even richer, turning a great melody into a harmonic piece.
So, we can’t have ramen without ‘men’, without noodles. How were they?
They’re well-made. A tad eggy for my taste, if you ate it without the soup, but rembering that it had to come through the truffle broth soup..it makes sense. It was just chewy enough and the thinness went well with the clear broth. Thick noodles would have been too clunky in this dish and ruined the delicate balance.
Moving on to the meat. The char siew was…I will admit, I first ate it by itself expecting rich flavors and fall-off the bone tenderness…so I was kind of disappointed. You can tell it’s high quality meat but the seasoning was lacking. Then I got smart and ate it with a generous slurp of soup…AND THEN the meat sang. See what I mean by balance and how truffle ties everything together? Suddenly the meat wasn’t boring anymore, the meat, accented by the salty truffle broth finally answered my craving for the sweetness of the meat along with the mellow but rich flavors of the fat.
The egg was a similar experience. It was a litttle TOO runny for my taste, I like my flavored egg on the creamy end, was gentle in flavor but with the soup, the egg, with its velvet, puri puri texture, really shined.
And this is what I meant by it’s a very well-balanced bowl of noodle. Individually, each component was well-done but lacking, their synergy together however was beautiful and delicious. And because it’s so well-balanced. Unlike regular Ramen, I can likely sit through more than one bowl of this without getting sick. The flavors never get boring or overwhelming. You don’t get tired eating it.
I will emphasie though, that this isn’t a bowl of Ramen meant for slurping and gobbling down. This is a bowl of Ramen made to be savored. It was as if the Chef wanted to reconceptualize Ramen as a fine-dining dish, with truffles as the main character.
Everything in it is delicate. The taste is delicate. And I think that’s my problem with the dish.
It didn’t punch me in the face. It’s like a dainty lady waving to me from afar, she is absolutely stunning, but in a very delicate, dainty way. Even though I went in with no expectations, whenever I try Michelin star food, I still expect to be punched in the face by flavor. A flavor that I will remember forever.
As it stands, the flavor of this Ramen is alreay fading from my memory. It doesn’t have a signature flavor I assign to dishes that make it on my cravings list.
Going back to my music analogy. I was waiting for an orchestra to hit me but I was greeted by a very skilled, very talented 5-piece Jazz band. Were they great? Totally. But there isn’t that impact of an entire concert bang that makes your ear ring.
So ironically, while this is a brilliantly conceptualized, well-balance, well-executed dish, and you can eat it without fatigue…it simply does not elicit your desire to have it again. If I didn’t have to come back here with any friends or family who haven’t tried a michelin starr-ed ramen…I probably will never come back. And definitely not when the line is an hour long.
It’s not like Din Tai Fung, where the dumplings have a signature flavor that will make me go back for it time and again. You don’t get ‘addicted’…but it’s REALLY well done. Technically, it’s flawless.
So speaking about technique, how is the service.
They are EFFICIENT. The entire queuing and payment system runs like clockwork. You line up, you’re waved in, you order at the payment kiosk (a giant touchscreen) and pay with either card or cash at the same machine (with a staff member assisting you), grab your ticket and get seated. Your cutlery is then served and you wait for your ramen to made and served to you. I timed them, my ramen took 11 minutes to reach me. Which showed real efficiency. If I wasn’t starving, I would have considered this incredibly efficient.
The staff were all well-trained, very polite, like something you’d expect from a fine-dining place.
Also the exit and entrance are located on opposite ends so the customers literally flow out of it, letting new ones in.
For all that, I’m happy to pay $16.80 for my basic bowl of Ramen. Common, Ippudo is around the same price and THEIR ramen doesn’t have Truffles. So value for money isn’t half bad either.
And that’s all I have to say about Tsuta Ramen.
Was it worth lining up an hour for? To me, yea. The artistry behind this dish is worth lining up an hour or two for. But only once. The value of lining up for this ramen diminishes drastically for me after that.
So if you haven’t tried it, go try it. It’s worth the experience. But is it worth making a habit out of?
I’ll let you decide.