Saturday, October 26, 2013

Tonkotsu Itto -Ikkousha's undeserving successor

Ikkousha’s (the two-time Ramen Champion which constantly sold twice the amount of ramen bowls its closest competitor sold, and would have conceivably won the competition until 2050) recent departure meant that a stall had been vacated. Tonkotsu Itto is the newcomer with the privilege of inheriting Ikkousha’s corner location, along with assuming its heavy mantle. This (judging it using its predecessor’s excellence as a benchmark) isn’t necessarily fair for Tonkotsu Itto, but eating great ramen from the corner stall is what customers have unsurprisingly grown accustomed to.

What I had: Tonkotsu Ramen with Egg ($13.50)
Upon receiving my bowl of ramen, I took a deep breath and immediately liked the heavy pork smell wafting from it –a harbinger of a thick, flavoursome broth. Never mind the shallow, concave bowl with its paltrier than usual serving size, I thought, it wouldn’t matter if the broth was as good as I hoped it’d be.

You can't tell how small it is from here
As per my ramen-eating routine, the egg was the first to go. To call it mediocre would be an insult to stalls with really mediocre eggs –this was worse than that. Just take a look at the yolk, which was almost venturing into Ajisen’s territory in providing hard-boiled egg yolks. While its somewhat adequate seasoning made it still some way from matching Ajisen’s eggs, I was still deeply disappointed in the clear lack of effort. The other stalls here may be degrading themselves and offering almost hard-boiled eggs, but the successor to the best stall to emerge from Ramen Champion shouldn’t follow suit! In any case, Tonkotsu Itto’s eggs are worse than the rest.

Although calling the noodles beehoon-thin would have been an exaggeration (albeit not a major one), I was tempted to label it as such. Its near strawlike width provided the broth with too little surface area to cling to, causing the unsurprising end result to be noodles that didn’t retain the broth’s taste. In addition, I felt that the noodles had too little bite to them and were slightly overcooked.

Just look at how ridiculously thin it is!
The chashu was paper-thin. Yes, I resisted the urge to exaggerate about the noodles’ thinness earlier on, but I promise that wasn’t an excuse to postpone the exaggeration to apply to the chashu. It really was paper-thin, almost as thin as a piece of vanguard paper. Perhaps the chef was well-intentioned in doing this, by intending for it to have that melt-in-your-mouth quality, in which case he achieved his aim. Still, providing just one piece of chashu was never going to be enough.

If the broth had been outstanding as I’d initially thought it’d be, all of the above would have been forgivable. They may perhaps even be endearing, in the way minor flaws in something perfect remind us that they’re made by fallible humans. However, the broth had little taste from the beginning and only got worse from there, faltering in the usual way most ramen stalls here do, in that the broth loses intensity as the meal progresses. You know you’re in trouble when your spring onions (and not a very large serving of spring onions at that) are the most noticeable flavour in your broth. This is the first broth I’ve had that doesn’t leave an aftertaste of any sort, which ought to tell you how bad it is.

Chashu that was barely present, noodles that were too thin to retain the broth’s taste, a broth that had no taste to begin with, and to top it all off, a downright paltry serving size to which photos cannot do justice? I’d think even a person in a coma could write this section. Come to think of it, the chef probably could too.

I admit that this review has been scathing at times. Ardent defenders (if they exist) of Tonkotsu Itto may argue that the lighter (read: non-existent) broth is catered for a different consumer group, one that can’t stomach the heaviness of normal ramen. I’m calling bollocks on that, because generally speaking, Tonkotsu broth is meant to be heavy almost by definition. Needless to say, Tonkotsu Itto can’t begin to hold a candle to Ikkousha’s sustained excellence, and I fully expect it to be the first stall to be ousted from this year’s competition.

Have you eaten here before? What was your experience like? We're interested -do share with us in the comments below!

Quality, Taste and Presentation (80%)
Non-existent taste by ramen standards
Value (20%)
Miserly serving makes it poor value
Ambience & others (0%)
Check Ramen Champion main page on the blog for ambience
The weak-stomached may appreciate this (highly doubtful)

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