Is the Michelin-Starred Ramen Worth the Hype?

Depends who you ask.

by Sam Potenciano

 

Considering the overwhelming din of excitement and the constant clatter of bowls being endlessly re-arranged for Instagram purposes during Tsuta’s launch, it would seem that there’s room yet for a last minute entry into the metro’s already saturated ramen scene.

 

After all, Chef Onishi Yuki’s Michelin-starred ramen house (the only one to have ever earned that coveted title) has developed such a dedicated following that enthusiasts from all over the world make pilgrimages just to queue for a bowl at its humble 9-seater shop in Tokyo.

 

I found this bowl to be far more refreshing because of its simplicity

 

But despite the buzz that’s been built around its arrival at High Street Central, I couldn’t help but sense the faintest traces of dissent from fellow diners during my visit. Conspiratorial whispers about the noodles being ‘just okay’ and the broth being too salty were tossed about as frequently as complaints about the waiting time. Admittedly, by the time my own bowl arrived, I was skeptical enough to have reduced my expectations slightly.

 

Char Siu Ajitama Miso Soba

 

The Char Siu Ajitama Miso Soba features a broth of fermented miso paste blended with porcini mushroom oil and watercress, topped with char siu, a flavored egg, red onions, corn, and beansprouts. Recommended by our server for its spicier, bolder flavor, I found myself halfway through internally straining to find what it was that made this bowl so Michelin-worthy. It was decent, sure—but was ‘decent’ enough to qualify for a Michelin-star? Was it leagues apart from every other bowl that had come before it? I wasn’t so sure.

 

Char Siu Ajitama Shoyu

 

Thankfully, when the Char Siu Ajitama Shoyu Soba arrived, things began to click into place. Made from a specially-aged soy sauce base blended with a stock of asari clams and chicken, Tsuta’s Shoyu is its signature. Combined with bamboo shoots, a cut of char siu that is sliced to order, and a dab of pureed truffle, I found this bowl to be far more refreshing because of its simplicity—and because of how far it deviated from my preconceived ideas about ramen.

 

Rather than the full, umami-rich broth I’d been trained to identify as proper ramen, this shoyu was at once cleaner, brinier, and more delicate. Here, the purity of its ingredients is on full display, presenting through its intricate balance of barely-perceptible layers a more refined, nearly unrecognizable version of the classic dish. The noodles, most notably, (made from buckwheat rather than the traditional Chinese-style wheat noodles) have a much firmer quality to them that might put off customers who are looking for that familiar, comforting chew.

 

I realized that much of the negative feedback was probably a result of this disconnect, this expectation that the only good bowl of ramen is the one we’ve been conditioned to crave for by way of our local chains: slick with oil and bits of bobbing fat, bursting with flavor, and topped off with gloriously yellow, chewy noodles. And while I can appreciate the restraint that goes into the preparation at Tsuta, on a cold, rainy day, it’s hard not to picture reaching for that big, greasy bowl of tonkotsu.

 

Tsuta is located at C3, Bonifacio High Street Central, 7th Avenue, BGC.