Soba

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Hokkaido Ramen Santouka らーめん山頭火

Published September 9, 2017 by piggie

It is not my first visit to Santouka, but since this is a new menu tasting invitation by JPassport, I would like to start a new post and segregate it from my previous visits. Nevertheless, like I always did, I reiterate my desire to faithfully express my opinion regardless whether it’s sponsored or not.

According to my correspondence with JPassport, my understanding is that me and my dining partner can each choose one main from their new menu. So we decided we would each order a different item and share among ourselves just so we can taste both.

But Santouka’s manager at their Clarke Quay Central branch was very generous and threw in their Toroniku Ramen as well. That means two of us gonna share 3 portion of ramen! I stare at my dining partner bewilderingly, but alas, I thought if their Roast Beef Ae Soba is just what it seems to be, then probably we can finish them all. No and Yes, allow me to elaborate shortly.

Special Iberico Tokusen Toroniku Ramen in Shio broth, $21++ (S)

Special Iberico Tokusen Toroniku Ramen was first served. Regular patrons to Santouka would already have known, that this is one of Santouka’s signature ramen, nothing new really. It features premium roasted pork cheek from Iberico pig, both attributes are considered premium in their respective categories, and hence reflected in the ramen’s price. Before I go on further on the charshu, let me briefly touch on the noodle first.

Santouka claimed to have tested many different types of noodles before settling on medium sized round noodles, which they found to have good flavour and aroma, most importantly blend well with their soup. The broth comes in 4 flavour options, namely Shoyu, Miso, Kara-Miso, and Shio. Santouka hails from Hokkaido, Asahikawa to be exact, from where Shoyu ramen is typical. However, it’s Shio ramen where Santouka really prowess. While typical Shio ramen presents a clear appearance, Santouka’s came a little creamy, and their broth is rich enough to infuse flavourful taste to the noodle as they claimed.

Japan ain’t really known for Iberico pork, but Kurobuta. The former are usually found in Iberian Peninsula (literally Spain and Portugal), and is considered rare in Japan. It’s worth noting that Iberico pork are usually cured for years and sold as ham (read Jamón ibérico), hence its hefty price tag, but these days you can probably get frozen Iberico pork from upmarket supermarkets or gourmet stores. Even if it’s not cured, its prices are still a few notches expensive than the Kurobuta, which is itself already considered a premium type of pork. And for every pig, regardless Iberico or any species, there’s only about 200-300g of pork cheek, which is relatively rare and probably the most tender meat you can get, that’s why even Santouka can only afford to serve them in limited quantity each day.

Santouka’s roasted Iberico pork cheek offers an adequate proportion of saltiness and sweetness, and to avoid its flavour being wash away by the broth, it was presented on a separate plate, allowing patrons to savour it in its best glamour.

Santouka Tantan Men, $15++

Santouka Tantan Men is a new addition on their revised menu launching soon on 18 Sep 2017 in collaboration with their anniversary here. Served in a Tonkotsu broth, and with respect to the amount of chilli oil present, it only offers a slight hint of spiciness reminiscing conventional Sichuan Tantan noodle. Santouka is obviously distancing themselves from replicating a direct Sichuan version, this makes sense, they aren’t a Chinese restaurant after all. They infused their broth with a strong sesame presence, which created a somewhat nutty flavour. And then instead of using charshu in a conventional ramen, they replaced it with minced meat in Miso paste, along with pickled veggie. Overall, this is rather appetising!

Roast Beef Ae-Soba, $17++

Hold on a second, did I just mention appetising? Wait till I try this!

For a start, I wonder what does Ae mean? I mean, I have tried Maze Soba, Yaki Soba… But Ae Soba (和え蕎麦)?? I couldn’t find an answer, but I guess it either means dry soba or self-made soba.

Anyway, the soba was presented somewhat like Yaki Soba (fried soba), except that the noodle wasn’t fried at all. I believe it was lightly rinsed and drained from the broth, and served dry along with veggies, poached egg, and of course, roast beef as its name suggests. The overall taste of this is somewhat like salad + noodle.

I understand that Santouka uses the same noodle they would use on their ramen, so actually, it’s not really soba noodle they are using. But they ain’t the only one, many other ramen restaurants here did likewise. Personally, I prefer that, because I don’t quite like the strong buckwheat texture in soba noodles to be honest, although I still eat them somewhat.

Looking at the picture alone, you would naturally guess the beef takes centre stage huh? In our humble opinion, no. The wonder of this noodle lies in the little jug in the background, or rather the dressing inside. It’s an interesting cohesion of sweetness, sourness, saltiness, and mild pungency all roll into one, exuding a brilliant taste that makes this noodle totally wonderful!

Unable to subdue our curiousity, we summon the manager for an ‘explanation’. She would proudly reveal the use of onion, Kikkoman sauce, wasabi paste, but that’s as far as she would go, the rest, I suppose, are ‘trade secret’. 😛

It has to be that good, that my dining companion, who usually hates onion, finished all the dressing onto the noodle.
The beef was served medium raw, and was quite tender. But I was wondering, why limit this noodle with beef? I think they could have gone with chicken, pork, and seafood as option too. Having said that, I must confess, the noodle was rather generous compare to what I saw from their menu. We struggled, but finish it because we already ate a bowl of ramen each before this, prompting the manager to comment we must have been very satisfied with our meal. True indeed!

Green Tea Ice Cream, $3++

After our meal, we felt as if we had buffet. But we top up with a Green Tea ice cream each so as not to leave the restaurant without paying anything. Their Green Tea Ice Cream although lack fragrance, offers a strong and pleasant Green Tea taste. I know the presentation looks bland, but guess that’s why Santouka will be repackaging this into something more eye-catching comes 18 Sep 2017.

Not available as yet, but definitely more appealing huh?

That concludes my visit on 07 Sep 2017, but do follow Santouka on JPassport for any forthcoming promotion!

Special thanks to JPassport for this tasting invitation.

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Menya Sakura 麺屋桜

Published March 22, 2017 by piggie

Chuka Soba Special, S$14.90++

Menya Sakura is yet another new ramen restaurant in the scene. In their grand opening special, they introduce a 3-day one-for-one promotion starting with this, Chuka Soba Special at S$14.90++ on Mon, 20 Mar 2017. They were offering Tonkotsu Ramen Special (S$13.90++) and Tonkotsu Tsukemen Special (S$18.90++) one-for-one promotion for the next two days respectively. I asked my dining companion on her choice and she settled on Chuka Soba Special on day 1. I didn’t voice any disagreement though I actually prefer trying their Tonkotsu Ramen.

Hailing from Nagoya by founder NAGATANI Hideto, my first impression was nothing spectacular given the fact that Nagoya is not a major ramen battleground when compare to the likes of Hokkaido and Kyushu, where pretty anywhere else are more inclined towards Shoyu-based ramen (actually, also the signature in Asahikawa, Hokkaido). However, when the name NAGANUMA Sho comes up, it’s a different ball game. Chef NAGANUMA was the former executive chef of Hide Yamamoto in Marina Bay Sands, and currently helming Menya Sakura. I’m really interested to see how can he brings out the difference in this highly competitive ramen market.

My personal preference has always been Tonkotsu, Miso, Shio, and Shoyu ramen in that order, preferable with a tint of spiciness. It doesn’t help when Soba is also my least favourite noodle, behind ramen and udon. I tried my best not to carry prejudice, but whatever little prejudice I have was completely wipe out the very moment the noodle was served, right before I even have a chance to take a look. Yes, I ain’t bragging, the broth fragrance just hit my nose before I can even lay my eyes on the noodle, and I can never imagine a Shoyu ramen (oops! I mean soba here) can be that good! Now, I’m beginning to apprehend why Shoyu ramen is more popular in Japan, though, however, I didn’t ever tried ramen (or for that matter, soba) as good as this in Japan despite visiting there no less than 7 times in the last decade.

Menya Sakura claims Chuka Soba special is their most popular ramen in Japan, with a rich flavourful soup made with Saba, Niboshi, and other ‘secret’ ingredients, paired with 4 pcs Nori seaweeds, 3 pieces tender charsiu (chashu), a whole Aji Tamago egg, along with bamboo shoot and leeks. The broth tastes a little salty though, but as Menya Sakura claims they don’t use MSG, it’s still bearable for me. Well, if this is the same standard they have in Japan, they certainly earned their bragging rights. Notice I haven’t mention the noodle? Wait, was that really soba? My dining companion and I almost wanna rub our eyes and summon the waitress over to verify whether the chef had mistakenly used ramen noodle instead? OK, I exaggerated a little bit here. Simply put, it’s that good! No, simply outstanding (for a soba, that is), putting them on par with the so-called soba I tried at Menya Takeichi in Suntec City. It was very smooth, chewy, and most importantly for me, lack the usual buckwheat texture of conventional soba. Somehow, over an amazing 3 days, I probably tried the best soba I ever tried, twice (the other one being Yomoda Soba)! And I’m starting to get disillusion over how good soba can get. I ain’t disguising the fact that I’m practically a novice when coming to soba, which I used to dislike because of the buckwheat texture.

Apart from the broth and noodle, the charsiu was reasonably thick and chewy, retaining what I feel is the ideal texture and flavour a good charsiu shall possess. Wait till I come to the Tamago. Usually in ramen, how good the Tamago depends on how runny the egg can get and the flavour it brings. Menya Sakura’s Tamago is truly outstanding, somewhere between a soft boiled egg and a hard boiled egg, upon biting, the texture was so remarkably molten and flavourful, gosh I’m seriously running out of vocabulary to describe this, it’s so good I feel like ordering a few more of it!

As a side note, the restaurant also offers free kimchi and ice water for diners.

In conclusion, all I can say is, Menya Sakura makes their ramen simple, but taste heavenly good!

2nd Visit

Premium Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen with Jumbo Aburi Chashu, $15.90++

Menya Sakura ‘tempted’ me for a 2nd visit with their 1-for-1 new Premium Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen promotion on JPassport, simmering tonkotsu for more than 12 hours, along with their original aged Shoyu sauce, including 1 piece of seaweed, bamboo shoot, leek, and one giant piece of Aburi Chashu (Aburi meaning partially grilled), a pretty thick one at that, with special Umami paste on top. Their selling point is undoubtedly the thick chashu, with a good texture and tasted rather flavourful. The broth is notably too salty in my opinion, but at least I don’t feel a strong urge for water after eating, a good testification on their claim on not using MSG. Menya Sakura claims to be using ‘Hirauchi’ noodle, supposingly flat, though I don’t really find it flat, but it’s quite smooth and great to slurp actually. Overall, I find it above average, in part due to the saltiness of the broth, but it tastes much better when I added the ramen pepper provided on the table.

I noted that Menya Sakura changed somewhat since my first visit. Now they pre-charged the bill before you even see your ramen, and seems like they no longer provide free kimchi.

Menya Sakura 麺屋桜
69 Boat Quay
Singapore 049857
Tel: +65 94693366

Opening Hours:
Mon – Sat : 11:30hr ~ 20:30hr

Yomoda Soba (よもだそば)

Published March 19, 2017 by piggie

First and foremost, allow me to stress this is a sponsored article, but I will nevertheless stay neutral in this review. Let me start by giving a brief history on Yomoda Soba, but to begin with, I need to elaborate on Japan Food Town, where Yomoda Soba (よもだそば) and other 15 authentic Japanese restaurants are located.

Japan Food Town can be found inside Isetan level 4, Wisma Atria, it is a collaboration between Cool Japan Fund and The Japan Association of Overseas Promotion for Food & Restaurants. The former comprises organisation such as ANA, Isetan, JTB, and many other established corporations. When it was first opened in Wisma Atria last July (2016), it was met with much fanfare. Just like Eat at Seven in Suntec City, which also involves ANA, I feel it can hardly goes wrong, I trust ANA to select the best of Japan for diners here. ANA is a 5-stars Japanese airlines, and they would risk tarnishing their image and reputation otherwise. So, naturally for the first few months at least, I was expecting Japanese chef to helm the restaurants (or maybe they are here to stay for the long haul? I don’t know), pity I didn’t have the opportunity to visit until now, and my visit is certainly not disappointing.

The name Yomoda actually came from a Matsuyama (Ehime, Shikoku) dialect, meaning a jovial friend who loves to see the funny side of things. The soba restaurant is hailed from Tokyo, but its proprietor is actually an Ehime native, that explained. Frankly speaking, Soba is actually my least favourite Japanese noodle, I still prefer Udon and ramen anytime, provided of course, the noodles are done genuinely (definitely not the terrible Singapore flavour, particularly for Udon). Soba is probably the most economical noodle one can find in many parts of Japan, but personally, I don’t quite like the overpowering buckwheat taste.

Tempura Seiro Soba, S$23++

As an invited guest, I am allowed to choose between their Tempura Seiro Soba Set (S$23++), or their Tendon set (S$20++). Both sets include their signature soba, but I selected the former anyway. Seiro Soba is served cold, in Japan it’s marvellous for Summer, when diners dip their ice cooled soba into a bowl of cold dipping sauce, and usually enjoyed with an assortment of tempura. My Tempura Seiro Soba comprises a variety of prawn, braised pork, chicken, paprika, pumpkin, and kidney beans, dipped in tempura batter and fried. Yomodo claims their soba is Sarashina Soba, using only the inner part of buckwheat, which is why their soba noodle looks a little whitish instead of the conventional green colour, and handmade on-site using buckwheat from Nagano, a prefecture famous for their soba too. Yomodo’s soba is moderately springy, not so strong on buckwheat taste, for me, that’s really great! But having said that, they do offer traditional-styled soba such as Kitsune Soba, Hanamaki Soba (and also the less conventional ones such as Tomato Asari Soba, Hot Spicy Soy Milk Chicken Soba) too. Pardon me, I ain’t a Soba expert, you can refer to Japan-Guide for further elaboration. In addition, they also serve a thinner version of Sanuki Udon. As for their Tempura, it was crisply fried, not excessively oily, and the goodness within is mesmerising, it’s definitely fried on the spot, not pre-fried like my favourite Udon restaurant in Singapore did.

Yomoda Soba claims to import their flour, sauce, and rice from Japan. That’s probably one of the reasons why their prices (and probably likewise the other restaurants here) are much more than their outlets in Japan.

Yuzu Sorbet, S$5++

I didn’t want to walk away without paying anything, so I ordered a Yuzu Sorbet after my meal. It has a rich citrus flavour and plenty of fruit pulps, pretty appetising! Yomoda Soba serves free plain water, other than that, they have limited range of cold drink and dessert. But being a traditional Japanese restaurant, you can expect lots of sake!

Yomoda Soba (よもだそば)
Wisma Atria, 435 Orchard Rd
Singapore 238877
Tel: +65 62623467
Website: http://www.japanfoodtown.sg/stores/yomoda-soba/

Opening Hours:
Daily – 11:30hr ~ 21:30hr