Let’s be upfront for a second: this isn’t the same kind of ramen you ate out of a cup as a uni student. In fact, if you wanted to simplify it, you could call ramen the Asian equivalent of a good old hearty American burger. You can dress it up, add a local flare into the mix, make it from quality ingredients or even make it quick and easy (and pretty greasy, too), but in some rare cases, local chefs really go to town on questioning the status quo of culinary food staples and turn something everyday into something special. In essence, this is what Taro’s ramen is all about.
As Japanese as it gets.
There’s so many things I love about Japanese culture. When you really get to brass tacks, a sense of honour and integrity rules above all. Trains in Japan aren’t late by minutes, they’re late by seconds. Conversely, renowned apprentice sushi chefs typically spend a minimum three years cleaning and gutting fish before they’re even allowed near anything in front of paying customers. In this sense, complete mastery is a life-long obsession, and only humility and devotion wins out. With this in mind, when you set foot into Taro’s for the first time, you’ll almost be taken by back by how simple everything is. The decor is understated on a truly Japanese level. Unlike Sonos around the corner at Portside (another Japanese restaurant), almost every penny is put into the food and the subtle pieces of the puzzle that make every mouthful perfect. Fancy fit-outs are replaced with simple, solid wooden tables and table service is replaced with an iPad – leaving more staff in the kitchen to toil away on the next broth. Speaking of, this is what you head to Taro’s for, his signature dish, the Tonkotsu Ramen.
Hold on, what’s Tonkotsu?
Let’s go back to that burger metaphor for a second. If you were to break it down, there’s really not a lot of elements to a great burger, in which case, making a burger better isn’t about slapping on more layers of grease, it’s about taking the already barebone elements and mastering each component to create a piece that’s greater than the sum of the parts. In the ramen world, you can break it down to broth (soup), noodles, meat (in our case, charsiu, or simply, pork) and extras that compliment the dish. But there’s also an additional layer that’s often overlooked: timing. Just like our aforementioned Japanese trains, seconds matter, something Taro Akimoto, the owner and head chef takes great pride in. Seconds to him is the difference between the broth coming out to hungry customers in a smooth, creamy, out of this world experience or something congealed and blotchy.
Getting back to the point, the “Tonkotsu” part of “Tonkotsu Ramen” refers to the broth, a pork-based reduction that takes hours to produce. It’s no easy task to make either, which makes it all the more respected and cherished when it’s done right (don’t believe me? Here’s just one example of the extraordinary process that takes place, with other methodologies taking upto 18 hours just to create a single batch.) The broth that’s served then is literally years and years of practicing and honing in on a single idea. As for the rest of the dish, Taro imported his own noodle processing machines and makes fresh noodle batches everyday right there in the store, yet another subtle difference that adds up – I don’t think i’ve ever had a noodle fray or be less then bouncy yet tactile and fulfilling. The charsiu (pork topping) is locally grown Banaglow Sweet Pork and is nothing less then a compliment to the broth, both working together to create an experience that’s a contradiction in that it’s both consistent throughout yet more addictive and more engulfing the more you eat.
It’s here where I draw the line – I could keep telling about you the rich history each element possesses, and trust me, there is, right down to the ajitama eggs which have a subtle smokey charm that melts into the dish, but I won’t. I won’t because continuing to wittle away at complex adjectives to describe something so refined seems at worst, ironic, and at best, counter-intuitive. Instead, if you haven’t been yet, it’s something you should take the time and invest in doing, especially if you love all things Japan.
You’d be a fool not to pair it with a draught beer. Taro currently serves up Suntory Premium Malts on tap which compliments the heartiness of the ramen to a tee. Personally, I have a wee-tiny little ol’ stomach, and on a typical day, i’ll simply go for my staple ramen creation (Red Tonkotsu, extra hot, extra salty, less noodles, extra bean sprouts) with a beer on the side. With company, though? It’d be a shame not to try a bottle of Sake from Taro’s expansive collection and pair it with anything from standard attire Japanese Gyoza, or, if you’re feeling like a real treat, Tataki Wagyu in a sublime vinaigrette.
Too Long, Didn’t Read
In my humble opinion, Taro’s two restaurants (one down Racecourse Road in Ascot, the other in Brisbane’s CBD) serve some of the country’s best ramen dishes, especially his Tonkotsu Ramen, who’s perfected taste is made possible by years of devotion to the processes and subtletly that make Tonkotsu Ramen so complicated to get right. You should go there atleast once in your life, and if you go again, broaden your horizons further and grab one of Taro’s ever changing monthly specialty ramens or go one better and match your dish with a glass of Sake; each sip of which will be sure to surprise and delight just as much as the food.
Need to Know Stuff?
Getting there: You can find Taro’s down Racecourse Road, Ascot, or Edward St, Brisbane Opening Times: Lunch & Dinner (roughly) Cost: A premium draught beer and the signature dish will cost under $30