Ramen is no doubt one of the most popular dishes in Vancouver – sometimes even the most active foodie couldn’t keep track of all new openings of ramen places. However I found out about the latest addition to the Ramen bunch in the city, Touhenboku Ramen, as I was invited to their media tasting event.
Touhenboku is located just inside the “Ramen Ville” of the city, the 2-block radius of the intersection of Robson and Denman in the West End. There are at least a dozen of Ramen restaurants in the area, contributing to one of the most vibrant food scenes and phenomenon in the city. Many of those places are well established with their own die hard ramen fans. So anyone who would dare to open a new ramen place must be super courageous to challenge the existing establishments. Although this new restaurant is no completely stranger to the ramen world – with an origin in Kyushu, Japan, they already have accomplished in North America with 3 locations in Toronto, serving ramen bowls with chicken-based broth and freshly hand-made noodles.
We were first served a sampler plate each of several appetizers on their menu, including Chicken Karaage(fried chicken), Takoyaki (fried octopus ball), Korokke (croquette) , and Ebi Fry (fried shrimp). They all were fried very nicely with beautiful crunchy golden exterior, and they all tasted quite solid. I was more of a fan of the chicken karaage, which was up to the textbook standard of this Japanese stable dish.
So it’s ramen time!
Touhenboku has a Build-Your-Own style ramen menu, and the several choices on soup base help diners to pick the type of noodle soup they feel like eating. The White Original Ramen, the Black Garlic Ramen, and the Red Spicy Ramen are among the popular ones. The colour coding is a smart idea to help the restaurant to brand their products and provide convenience to returning customers to remember what to order.
They have nailed the presentation. The ramen noodle soup is served in their own branded bowl that has a nostalgic feel, which looks quite classy on the wood tabletop. The arrangement of the ingredients were visually appealing with the soft boiled egg, black ear mushroom, green onion, sliced pork and the colour coded sauce all together providing some vibrant colour contrast.
However, my black garlic ramen didn’t strike me with the bold garlicky flavour that I was looking forward to. I had a taste of the red ramen as well, and it was not as spicy as expected either. I was wondering if they are not going bold on sauces for compensating the subtleness of the chicken broth. The noodles however were nicely made and cooked properly. I enjoy the combination of pork shoulder and pork belly for the protein components – lean meat for texture and fatty meat for the flavour.
We were also offered their dessert features including the Japanese Cheesecake, the Double Chocolate Cake, and the Mille Crepe. As most of the fellow tasters found the cheesecake to be their favourite, I actually liked the Mille Crêpes more. I just enjoyed the mild sweetness and the texture from the layers. But this is just my personal preference.
All the guests could notice the one thing that the restaurant is different from most of other ramen spots in the area – the dining area here is spacious and the seatings are quite comfortable. We had a chance to talk to the local restaurant designer, Kirby, who is behind the construction of Touhenboku Ramen and working with the owner who has envisioned a elegant space where diners can relax and enjoy their ramen noodles. This is definitely making Touhenboku stand out from the usual images of crowded ramen joint with people going in-and-out rather quickly. I would be curious to see if this would be a good selling point for the restaurant. Food wise, there are some highlights among the dishes like the Chicken Karaage and Korokke, and the ramen noodle bowls were nicely prepared, I would suggest them to go a little bolder on the flavours to go against the competitions in the “Ramen Ville”.
* All food and beverages in this review were complimentary. Opinions are on the reviewer’s own. *
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