Sleep deprived, jetjagged and disoriented upon exiting the MTR subway at Causeway Bay, Alissa and I stumbled our way through the streets of Hong Kong Island as we searched for a ramen joint that opened earlier in the year, and in spite of being open 24/7 was still inspiring locals and visitors alike to queue for a bowl of tonkotsu ramen. After initially walking in the wrong direction, we eventually arrived at the red, green and white storefront of Ichiran Ramen, a branch of the Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen specialists. Upon our arrival we dutifully joined the queue at the door, only to be advised that we had to join an auxilary queue located a few stores down the street.
As we joined this queue, we were given a crinkled ticket as proof of place in line, but it might as well have been a Willy Wonka ticket given the exclusivity and anticipation.
Time passed, and we were soon at the original queue near the door. When we finally got inside (after queuing for 20 minutes at this stage) we would discover that there was actually another queue inside! At this queue we were given our order form for how we would like to customise our ramen experience. While they only serve tonkotsu ramen, Ichiran's system allows you to tailor your bowl to the specifications you prefer. Richness, amount of chilli, how hard your noodle are and if you want Kae-Dama (a noodle refill) are amongst the choices available to the diner.
Ichiran recommend first-timers to go with medium options. I opted to increase the richness up a level for more porky unctiousness, increase the chilli quantity to 5 times quantity, have a firmer noodle and include a half-boiled salted egg and Kae-Dama. Alissa ordered a more medium option with half Kae-Dama and a half-boiled salted egg.
5 minutes later we were sat next to each other at individual booths facing a individual curtain. Each booth had its own purified water dispenser. Apparently they are very particular about the water used in their ramen and as such offer the same water supply for drinking. Pressing a buzzer in each booth caused the booth's curtain to open. An anonymous waiter whose face we would never see took the form, bowed and closed the curtain. Shortly after the curtain opened again and a bowl of ramen was delivered to us by the bowing waiter before the curtain closed again.
Alone in our booths with our ramen, we agreed that the ramen was so good it was almost a religious experience. Less outrageously collagen thick than the gravy-soup of Gumshara Ramen in Sydney yet somehow just as umami-rich in its porkiness, this ramen was a revelation.
The noodles were thinner than I am used to but undeniably delicious and toothsome to bite, the half-boiled salted egg perfectly cooked with a still soft yolk and the pork so soft and flavoursome Alissa and I both agreed we should have ordered more of it. For my tastes the chilli level +5 was about right, and Alissa was very happy with her level too.
As something of a tonkotsu ramen fiend I never want a bowl of ramen to finish, so being able to order Kae-Dama was a welcome addition, and a great way of serving the noodles to ensure you don't end up with cold, oversoaked noodled by the end of your meal. As we left we purchased a box of Ichiran's instant ramen to try at home, and for review in a later post.
The Verdict: Excellent +
Ichiran is easily the best tonkotsu ramen either of has ever eaten, with the service by anonymous and yet utterly respectful and respectable waiters a nice, theatrical touch. Considering the crowds, they run a very smooth and efficient operation that I wish we could have visited again. Still, if you're in Hong Kong and suddenly have a ramen craving its comforting to know you're pretty much covered 24/7.