Mr Ramen San

img_1271OH how I wish Mr Ramen San was in Sydney! If it was I would probably have lunch every day at this superb ramen-ya and as a consequence have the physic of a sumo wrestler in a matter of weeks.

Mr Ramen San is located in Melbourne’s Chinatown Mid City complex arcade that runs between Bourke and Little Bourke streets just up from Swanston Street. Upon entering Mr Ramen San you would be forgiven if you thought you had just entered a local Japanese ramen-ya with its two bars, small tables, quirky Japanense anime and movie  posters adoring the walls and a hearty and cheerful Irasshaimase! from the staff.

Mr Ramen San specialises in Kyushu style ramen – the ramen that originated in southern Japan in Hakata which has devotees around the world because of its flavoursome and milky, pork-bone “tonkotsu” broth and thin noodles.

I’m also going to make a big call about Melbourne’s Mr Ramen San – not only does it serve one of the best tonkotsu ramen bowls in the country but has the best tsukemen in the world. Yes, that’s a huge statement to make but having gone out of my way to eat tsukemen recently at two of Tokyo’s renowned tsukemen ramen-ya I am confident that  ramen zealots will agree with me.

So, who is the person behind Mr Ramen San? It’s head chef Roystan-san a wonderfully cheery perfectionist who goes by the ethos of “keep calm and eat ramen”. So much of a perfectionist he makes his noodles fresh daily on site.


Mr Ramen San is a “build your own” ramen bowl ramen-ya – that means you order the type of topping and pair with a style of soup. For example you can combine any one of the toppings:  charsu pork;  teriyaki beef; chicken; seafood or vegetarian with a soup style: tonkotsu; black tonkotsu; shoyu;  miso; spicy tonkotsu or spicy miso. If you want to experience the best tonkotsu possibly in Australia then Mr Ramen San’s charsu with tonkotsu is the way to go.

For summer there is also the renowned tsukemen (more about that dish later)! A bonus is that with the ramen you can order (for free), what is known as kaedama – extra noodles – if you have any soup left (which is true to the tradition of serving Hakata ramen).

BYO is welcomed but it’s not necessary as Mr Ramen San has draft Sapporo on tap (at $6) and a range of sake – not your high-range stuff but sake of good stature and styles to keep a Tokyo salaryman content.

img_1357I’ve slurped noodles at Mr Ramen San four times during two consecutive visits to Melbourne. On my first trip my first two bowls were the charsu with tonkotsu as this would be a do or die bowl for Mr Ramen San. The result is that I’m heavily addicted to it (and Roystan-san didn’t need to commit sepukku). The bowl featured large and tender pork slices that sat on thin and firm noodles surrounded by a perfect ajitsuke tamago egg, two sheets of nori, slices of kikurage (wood fungus) and menma (bamboo shoot), topped with chopped leek and spring onion. The hero is the soup, a wonderful milky pork broth that has a silky collagen mouthfeel. It was simple elegance.

img_1787My next visit to Melbourne had me torn – would I feed my charsu tonkotsu addiction or sample something else? As Roystan-san concentrates on perfecting ramen what did I have to fear? I ordered the charsu with spicy tonkotsu. This bowl features all the toppings as the classic charsu tonkotsu but with the addition of what was more than likely spicy miso. It was robust and welcoming – one of those ramen that would be perfect on a cold Melbourne day. I enjoyed it but the spicy flavour bomb that was added did mask the delicate elegance of the tonkotsu base – not in an abrupt way, but once you have savoured the classic version (it’s just that good), you don’t need to add anything else. img_1825

Fortunately for me (and Mr Ramen San), my flight back to Sydney was cancelled that night due to storms so I was able to make it back that evening to have the tsukemen.

Again I was in conflict – I’m always wary of tsukemen offerings when it is offered it has to be superior and never mediocre (like flying first class: you never want to go back to economy because you know how disappointing it will be) . The tsukemen was truly going to be Roystan-san’s greatest test.

For those not familiar with tsukemen it is a dish invented in the early 1960s in Tokyo by the staff at Taishoken owned by Kazuo Yamagishi who put it on the menu and made it famous (I made the pilgrimage to the original Taishoken this year). The dish is a serving of soup with cold noodles on the side which you dip into the broth. Once finished with the noodles you can ask for a lighter soup to add to the usually intensely pork/fish broth to drink. It’s an excellent summer alternative to ramen.

What intrigued me about Royston-san’s tsukemen was the addition of yuzu to the noodle. The set came out with a bowl featuring the yuzu handmade noodle, nori, charsu and whole ajitsuke tamago. The soup bowl contained a broth made with sardines and makeral containing small pieces of charsu. Also to the side was a flask of green tea. Royston-san explained to me that tea was to add to the soup after finishing the noodles. More intrigue.

The soup was superb: intense and rich with the combination of flavours melding into a fishy not too salty mouthful and coating the noodles well when dipped. The yuzu noodles, with their subtle citrus flavour, helped to mellow the broth’s impact. Genius. At the end you pour some of the green tea from the flask into the soup and another dimension to the broth is added. It adds a slight tannic sweetness – hard to describe – it needs to be experienced. Further genius.

After declaring to Roystan-san that he just served me what was the best tsukemen in my life I bade Mr Ramen San farewell with the promise I would be back in 30 minutes to have one last charsu tonkotsu before bed. Unfortunately I didn’t make it back – I got distracted drinking Dassai 50 sake up the road and chatting to another stranded Sydney-sider about our mutual love of ramen and swapping ramen stories from Japan and Australia. I may have broken that promise but I promise you this – Mr Ramen San is possibly Australia’s best ramen-ya.

PS: love the Mr Raman-san T-shirt the staff wear – they need to be sold to spread the love!

What: Mr Ramen San, shop 12A (Mid City complex), 200 Bourke Street, Melbourne, Victoria 3000 Australia. Ph: (03) 9042 1588. Lunch 11:30am to 3pm (daily), dinner Sunday to Thursday 4pm to 9pm and Friday to Saturday 4pm to 9.30pm. Website:

The verdict: No 1. ramen-ya in Australia and the best tsukemen on the planet. Mr Ramen San serves some very impressive bowls of Kyushu-style tonkotsu ramen that will absolutely delight hardened ramen fanatics.

Ate there: November 2018.

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Big City Diner


BCD’s Lane Muraoka.

Ohana means family in the Hawaiian language but just as aloha can be a greeting or an expression of love and well-being, ohana is a word that has a deeper meaning than just “family”. It’s a feeling, it’s a philosophy. Your ohana aren’t just your immediate family it can be extended “family” – your friends, your community, your clan. If you were a marine or a brother in arms you never leave your ohana. A simple analogy is your ohana are the people that you do something for without question. It’s love, it’s respect, it’s unconditional.

That’s pretty deep to lead into a review on a suburban Honolulu diner but when you dine at Big City you are part of owner Lane Muraoka’s ohana.

Lane started Big City in 1998 and he practices the ohana philosophy without question – Big City Diner puts on special discounts for those who serve the country and the State (whether military or as first responders), with its Thursday “Thank a Trooper Day” and he is an avid supporter and contributor to local community sports teams and causes. If you don’t qualify for the Thursday discount don’t worry – Big City Diner has daily specials where customers can get 50 per cent off pupus (these are small appetisers/bar food) to drinks and weekly specials and daily meals. And don’t be surprised if you run into Lane at Ward (or any of Big City Diner’s six restaurants on Oahu), serving and cleaning. He is part of the team and committed to ensuring customers are looked after and appreciated.

Big City Diner (BCD) is decked out like something reminiscent of Happy Days with its booths, chequered black and white floor, chrome and neon, open kitchen and TVs (which are proudly tuned to University of Hawaii sports when teams are playing). But even though it may have a traditional old school / old town American diner feel, unlike the traditional State-side diners, Big City’s menu is a showcase of Island food and in Hawai’i that means you can get everything from Hawaiian to Korean, Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese and American (or twists on dishes of those cultures). Even Anthony Bourdain acknowledges that Hawai’i easily beats Singapore for ethnic food diversity and with such diversity to also get a huge menu (there would be by my guess over 100 items available from breakfast to late night).

BCD is also a great place to watch local sport or a big game. I made a call from Sydney (Australia) to make a booking at BCD at the Ward Center to watch the College Football National Championship back in 2014 the day I found out that the University of Oregon gained a place (as the whole of Ohau would be stopping work to watch their favourite son Marcus Mariota start as quarterback for the Ducks in the game). Booking received and not forgotten. I even took my mother to Big City Diner for a significant birthday late last year knowing that Lane, Manager George and Chef Jenny would make it a special experience (and Lane was there to welcome us back and ensure it was a great lunch).

Breakfasts, lunch and dinner servings are large and as it is a place for ohana BCD is a great place to take the keiki (children) as there is a great range of children’s meals available which will temp even the fussiest of eaters.

So, with a menu so diverse what are the must haves?

When I went back to Oahu in January 2015 I popped in with the keiki (DJ Hoot and Gob) for an early lunch at Big City Diner at Ward Centre just before we were to pop next door to watch a movie at the large Megaplex (it was Mahalo Tuesday so cheap tickets and $2 popcorn and dogs were on offer).


Li hing samurai lemonade.

A good lunch combination  was Grandma’s Incredible Kimchee Fried Rice and a li hing samurai lemonade. From $9.99 you get a very large plate of fluffy rice with all those great fried rice bits (like onion and meat), that has been wok fried with the addition of BCD’s homemade kim chee. It’s a dish from Lane’s Korean heritage and may be out of place in a typical “American” diner but as this is Hawaii with its many cultures influencing what you eat on the Islands it certainly isn’t out of place in a “Hawaiian-American” diner. The kids can chose from burgers, dogs, sandwiches, meatloaf, etc (all for $5.99) with a juice included. Both girls liked their dogs and were quite satisfied (they also had to politely refuse the offer of having a sundae).


Sistah’s patty melt “burger”.

But the best way to sample some of the key dishes and explore the menu is by grabbing your ohana and sharing some plates and taking your time watching a game which I did during the 2014 National Championship with my father Pierre and my mate Harry Haloumi (Lane even had a game special with half-priced pupus and a very long “happy hour” on Miller Lite during the duration of the game so it was a good incentive for us to graze through some dishes for the three hours we were there to support the Ducks). Great share dishes on the day included baby back ribs (a must), chicken wings and the NY steak which is sliced and tossed with pulehu spices and topped with green onion and roasted sesame seeds (and we even were just able to fit in a burger).

Every American diner should have a house burger and BCD has some great ones: there’s the Grandma’s Famous Kimchee burger ($11.99), the Paniolo burger ($12.99) or my favourite –  Sistah’s Patty Melt ($11.99): a classic chop house burger with Thousand Island dressing on thick “Texas toast” served with caramelised onions, sautéed mushrooms and melted Jack cheese.   Again, wash one of these down with BCD’s Original Samurai Li Hing lemonades and you’ll leave beaming (however Harry Haloumi prefers the shakes at BCD which he believes are better than the ones served at Jack Rabbit Slim’s – if you know what I mean).

Big City Diner - Ribs

Must have: baby back ribs with guava BBQ sauce.

But if there is one “must have” dish – the one that keeps me coming back and salivating whenever I think of it, it is BCD’s baby back ribs with guava barbecue sauce. A huge rack of juicy and tender pork ribs that have been slow roasted for five hours which have been cooked and dressed with a tangy and spicy guava-driven sauce. The meat just falls off the bone and it is just exquisite. How I wish I could replicate them back home in Oz.

BCD is the place for ohana (just make sure they bring big appetites).

The verdict:  BCD’s menu is a showcase of many of Hawaii’s diverse cultural influences with dishes using local produce sourced from all over the islands and the meals are continually consistent in quality and generosity.

What: Big City Diner, Ward Entertainment Center, 1060 Auahi St #4, Honolulu, HI 96814, United States 808-591-8891.


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Town Hall Hotel – Balmain

img_0658IF I was served the cheeseburger and fries I just had at Balmain’s Town Hall Hotel for lunch back in the USA I would need to affirm my 2nd Amendment rights.

The fries were so salty that they left that god-damn awful burning sensation on your tongue and throat as if you were hit by a wave and tumbled in the ocean hoping that you eventually come up for air.

The burger – which was eaten within three bites – was ordinary and my displeasure with it was further exacerbated by the slice of processed cheese.

The only good thing was the wagyu patty which was cooked medium and held together but was let down by the displeasurable mass of other components.

To add insult further I was charged $17 for the experience.

The Baroness of Balmain’s seared tuna tortilla featured 5 small round “tortillas” that resembled those small wafer thin water crackers. The tuna was seared well and all in all it was a flavoursome dish but at $16 she needed at least another 3 servings.

The upstairs dining room is bright and pleasant but the high chair our Princess Lilikoi was sitting in looked as if it hadn’t been cleaned since it was bought from Ikea.

We were left hungry and needed to raid the free sausage samples cooking at TJ’s Butchers down the road just to fill up.

The pluses? They know how to pour a beer and TJ’s has the best sausages in Balmain.

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