Sunday, June 1, 2014

Matsuri Ramen: A celebration of good, light tastes

Despite the prevalence of pork broths here, I’ve always had a soft spot for chicken-based Ramen, created by the now-defunct Gensuke’s unforgettable take on it, along with my grandmother’s home-made chicken soup. At that point in time (mid-2012), Singapore was just not ready for anything other than Tonkotsu Ramen, which caused Gensuke’s mournful departure from Ramen Champion. Two stores serving chicken Ramen have popped up since then, one being Matsuri Ramen and the other being Keisuke’s Tori King, of which I will be reviewing the former today.

Matsuri Ramen's cosy interior
To rehash a little on the nature of the chickens used at Matsuri Ramen (you can read more here), they are of the Sakura variety, which are reared using more humane methods and are supposedly healthier by extension (and more expensive, doubtless). While I’m not entirely convinced by the touted health benefits of Sakura chicken, I definitely welcome the presence of another joint serving chicken Ramen.

Even the entrance to the toilet feels welcoming
Like all Ramen stores, Matsuri Ramen has the obligatory Japanese decorations around its store, along with the every-bit-as-obligatory Japanese music playing over the speakers. Unlike the gargantuan proportions of Ramen Champion though, Matsuri Ramen probably has a maximum seating capacity of 18 people in its store, although there is outside seating available as well. This evokes a sense of homeliness, which is compounded by the all-Japanese staff, consisting of all of 3 men. In fact, as I had my meal, I witnessed a friendly conversation in Japanese between a staff member and a customer. 

Besides this, we did receive rather efficient and friendly service from all the staff in general, highlighting that the above-mentioned incident wasn’t just a countryman-specific one-off. The overall willingness of the staff to interact with their customers and their attentiveness to them is much appreciated and makes diners feel welcome, which is unfortunately lost in most of the more commercialised Ramen joints here.

Quality and Taste:
The menu, with other options as well. Pork broth menu not shown

Sakura Chicken with Spring Onion Sauce ($7.00, free of charge via J Passport until 27th June)
This dish was served chilled, which provided a refreshing contrast from my Ramen (more on that later). It doesn’t look like a particularly big portion, but this is attributed more to the generous serving of spring onions covering it, and was substantial enough for my girlfriend and me.  In general, the chicken was well-marinated, veering a little on the salty side, although this wasn’t enough to be overwhelming.

Despite its title stating the sauce to be spring onion, it probably isn’t composed of that alone, as I could taste prominent hints of ginger too. The combined effects of these two flavours, along with the cool temperature of the dish, resulted in it being a sheer delight to eat while enjoying the Ramen.

(On a side note and as a point for comparison, this really reminded me of the wine chicken served by dimsum restaurants.)

Rich Soup with Tamago ($13.90)
Unlike the hard-hitting heaviness of pork-based broths, the chicken broth used here relied more on subtlety, with its herb-like undertones and spring onions creating a sweet fragrance. The flavour of chicken was unsurprisingly apparent too, though I did feel that even when taking chicken’s naturally lighter flavour into account, it remained just a bit too light for my liking.
Rich Soup with Tamago ($13.90)

The noodles were unusually curly, almost maggimee-esque, which I suppose is for the purpose of having more soup cling on to it, given the broth’s lighter nature. However, I felt like they were a little overcooked as they didn’t really provide much resistance to the bite.

A poster set meal at Matsuri Ramen
I found the chicken chashu rather unremarkable, which was a letdown considering its grilled exterior. Don’t get me wrong, the texture was done alright, it’s just that it was lacking a little in flavour, and I much prefer the chicken in spring onion sauce.

The promising grilled chicken chashu skin

The flavoured egg was one area in which they could have gotten away with an infusion of strong flavour but didn’t, rendering it quite a disappointment. Despite the yolk being done pretty well, I really feel that the chefs could have seasoned it more to make it stand out against the rest of the light ingredients.

I really like the fact that the prices shown on the menu are net prices, in which case the Ramen is cheaper than the industry’s average price, and which also subverts my expectations that Mozart-listening chickens would cost the consumer more. The price of $13.90 for the Ramen feels about right, although I have some gripes with the misnomer “Rich Soup”. As for the side dish, I felt that it was a fantastic promotion, but its usual price is on the pricey side, especially given its portion.

As a whole, Matsuri Ramen does deliver on its promise of being a healthier version of Ramen, and I didn’t end the meal feeling bloated like I would when eating Bario, for instance. It serves a refreshing take on Ramen, one which I do appreciate. It’s clearly a small operation, which I feel gives it a certain kind of homely, old-school charm. Matsuri Ramen isn’t helped by its less accessible location, which is about 250m from Clarke Quay MRT, and most Singaporeans wouldn’t be accustomed to its chicken broth. Still, I hope that it isn’t overlooked because of these, as it is a nice change-up from oily pork broths and a welcome addition to Singapore’s Ramen scene.

Kitchen staff hard at work

Quality & Taste(75%)
Healthy isn't bland by any means
Value (15%)
Low net prices are much appreciated
Ambience & others (10%)
Cosy, unpretentious atmosphere
A solid 7, not just for the health-conscious

7 North Canal Road (along a stretch of shophouses between Raffles Place MRT and Clarke Quay MRT, although Clarke Quay is nearer)

Opening Hours:
Mondays to Saturdays: 11:30am to 3pm, 6pm to 10pm
Closed on Sundays and public holidays

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