During our last trip to Hong Kong in 2013, Alissa and I had the great pleasure of dining at Ichiran Ramen. A branch of a well regarded Japanese chain, their Tonkotsu Ramen was the most refined we had ever tried, and it remains our benchmark for the Hakata-style. The only problem with Ichiran is that a bowl of porky goodness comes at a price - you have to earn your bowl by queuing up outside the restaurant for quite a significant amount of time, only to then have to wait in another line inside the building! During our 2013 trip, the wait was made acceptable due to the mild December weather, however we were greeted with uncomfortable humidity during our recent return visit, making the wait not very fun at all. Given Hong Kong's well known addiction to Ramen, Alissa and I were keen to try a few of the city's other Ramen joints of repute to see if we could find a bowl as good as Ichiran without the queues. We decided to check out two places - Butao Ramen (the shop often credited as started Hong Kong's Ramen Craze) and the lesser known Kamitora Ramen in Wan Chai.
Located in a back alley a short walk from the Wan Chai MTR Station, Kamitora is a fairly recent addition to Hong Kong's Ramen scene. Like Ichiran, Kamitora is a branch of a Japanese chain and their signature broth is also Tonkotsu-based. Unlike Ichiran, Kamitora's layout is a lot less elaborate, with bench seating surrounding the open kitchen and a small amount of seats along the wall as opposed to Ichiran's individual booths. We arrived for opening and found it easy to get in, however the place was full 30 minutes later. Be warned - while wait times are no where near as bad as Ichiran if you plan it right, Kamitora sell a finite amount of bowls a day and it is best to get down early to avoid disappointment.
Although all based around the same broth, Kamitora offer a few variations: White Tora (original recipe), Black Tora (with Black Garlic Oil) and Red Tora (with a Chilli Bomb). Alissa went with the White Tora and a side order of Egg, while I ordered the Kamitora Special which was basically a White Tora with all toppings. The kotteri broth was really porky and flavoursome; it was not quite as thick and heart attack inducing as Gumshara, but it definitely had a nice level of unctuous richness. It was on the saltier end of the acceptable levels of seasoning, but it was in keeping with the very high umami levels. This was an excellent broth. The noodles came in an option of thin or medium gauge. We tried both and felt that they were very well made, having good bite to them. A Japanese businessman waiting out the front gave his nod of approval for the noodles too, saying they were the most similar to what he eats back home in Japan.
Special mention must go to the marinaded Eggs. With the perfectly custard-like yolks, these were superb - quite possibly the best we've had. The other tippings were also impressive - the Chashu was nice and meat with a good amount of fat to it, the Menma was well made and we liked how the Wood Ear Mushrooms were cut into noodle-like strips. It all added up to an excellent and highly satisfying bowl.
The Verdict: Excellent +
Alissa and I left Kamitora very satisifed; this was a superb bowl of Ramen, complete with a flavoursome, umami-rich broth and perfect noodles finished off with truly impressive toppings (my god... that Egg!). I always say that Ramen is 40% broth, 40% noodles and 20% topping, and the Kamitora Special would score very highly in all three categories - a true rarity. Alissa and I agreed that Kamitora was just as good as Ichiran, and if you arrive for open, you can avoid that latter's queues. That make this the saner recommendation, especially if you're time poor, and we would definitely visit again next time we are in town.