Saturday, 15 June 2013

Cheap Eats - Taro's Ramen Cafe

What makes you decide to finally walk into a restaurant that you have driven past almost every day for over five years?  I recently asked myself this question when I booked in to Taro's Ramen Cafe in Adelaide Street.  I often wonder which restaurant in the CBD is actually closest to my apartment, some of the contenders are Le Bon Choix (not really a restaurant), Alchemy (just across the street and down some stairs) and even Sanitarium (directly across the street).  I think I now have a clear winner with Taro's Ramen Cafe, which right next door, about 20 metres away.

Whenever I have driven or walked out of my apartment I have passed right by Taro's, of course I haven't always known that it was a restaurant.  It might seem funny, but for the first twelve months of living in the CBD I didn't even notice Taro's, it's just so tucked away on Adelaide Street.  Slowly over the years I started to notice the noise and hubbub coming from the restaurant, but still never went that next step to find out what was there.  Incredibly, it was only this year that I finally walked a few extra meters around the corner to see that it was in fact a Ramen cafe.  I know, pretty lazy, right?

Taro's is as the base of the Boeing building in the CBD and is tucked right around the back and mostly hidden behind a bushy fence.  It's quite an unassuming location for what turns out to be a pretty popular little spot.  I was catching up with a mate for lunch and we wanted somewhere new (to us) and fairly cheap and for some reason Taro's jumped into my consciousness.  Not knowing if MJ liked Asian style food, I took the punt and booked us in for a midday Friday lunch.

We arrived at Taro's to find that a queue had already formed out the door and as we searched for some menus to look over, I noticed that there was a table for two reserved, I assumed correctly for us.  I was pretty happy that I had the foresight to arrange a booking once I saw the herds of people wandering around looking for a spare table.  The Taro's menu is split into lunch and dinner with pretty clear differences between the two.  The lunch menu is almost exclusively Ramen, with a few starters and cafe style food available as well.  It looked as if it was Ramen for lunch!

MJ and I are far from experts when it comes to Ramen, with MJ admitting he had never had one before and my experiences limited to Tank, so it promised to be a new experience for both of us.  There was one menu item I spied that I am quite familiar with, so I jumped on the edamame for us to start with.  I usually like edamame as a starter to whet my appetite, but unfortunately it came out at the same time as the Ramen, so I had to get stuck into the edamame before I started on my Ramen.  In all the years of eating edamame, I never knew that you could get a bad batch, usually they are so addictive that I need to eat them all before moving onto my main meal.  I'm not sure what the problem with this batch was, but I really didn't enjoy them.  I think it was because they came out lukewarm (cold really) and without much salt, so the textures and flavours were all wrong.  MJ has never had edamame before and after trying these, I am pretty sure he will never try them again.

Not knowing much about Ramens, we took pot luck with our orders and just looked for ingredients that we knew and liked.  Our Ramens were presented in mismatched bowls that leant a certain charm to the dishes and the smell emanating from the two bowls was literally mouth watering.

Fairly randomly, MJ decided on the Shoyu Ramen, which was made up of Taro's 'golden triple soup' blend of vegetable, chicken and dried seafood broth.  The flavouring came from aged soy sauce and the whole concoction was covered with dried scallop, shallot and pork infused oil.  The topping was Bangalow sweet pork neck fillet, roasted nori, egg, bamboo shoots and sesame and came with thick style noodles. The flavours of the broth were lovely, with the aged soy providing a depth of flavour that was quite enjoyable.  While MJ had never had a Ramen before, he had made plenty of asian soups and found this to be quite enjoyable, in fact he polished off the whole bowl.

Equally as randomly, I selected the Shio Ramen which also came with the 'golden triple soup' blend but in this case did not have the added aged soy, so the colouring of my Ramen was pale compared to MJ's darker broth.  My Ramen also came with the Bangalow sweet pork loin and differed from the Shoyu due to the cooking process, mine was massaged with salt and roasted in the oven compared to MJ's, which was slow cooked in a special stock.  The other big difference between our Ramen's was that I had thin curly noodles compared to MJ's thick noodles.  The Ramen's were fairly similar in composition but quite different in flavour.  I really enjoyed the lightness of my broth and the crunch of the fried shallots, but I did find my pork a little tough and chewy.

Taro's is an interesting little set up, with a surprisingly large dining area set aside out the back and heaps of seats out the front, street-side.  The kitchen itself doesn't look huge and the serving area has the feel of a lunchtime carvery, with bain maries under glass displays out the front.  This would be OK for lunch, but feel a little odd for dinner (I think).  The staff were super friendly at the serving counter and they were kept pretty busy with a steady stream of customers lining up and waiting patiently for their Ramen hit.

To be honest, I was completely surprised with how busy and popular Taro's Ramen Cafe is.  How is it possible that I was able to drive and walk past this place for almost five years without even noticing it?  Now that I know it's there I can smell the wonderful aroma of the broths cooking all the time, but before I noticed the place, nothing.  That is completely weird.  

I have to admit that I was a little bit sneaky booking into lunch with MJ because SC and I had been talking about finally visiting Taro's for dinner during the week.  I'm pretty sure that's why the thought of visiting for lunch entered my consciousness in the first place.  While I wasn't blown away by my first visit to Ramen's, it's pretty cheap and I think it's definitely worthy of a second visit, so SC and I will scope it out for dinner one night.  I'll let you know how we go!

The cafe has a carvery feel to it, but it's all Asian
Ramen is their specialty, but there are more options for the dinner menu, including Gyoza!
I am a little perplexed about how I missed this one for so many years

Taro's Ramen & Café on UrbanspoonTaro's Ramen and Cafe


  1. Quite a distance away but I love Hakataya Ramen in Sunnybank (originally in Surfer's Paradise). :)

    While I really liked Taro, especially with their unlimited preserved mustard vege, my dad and I had to drink a lot of water to get rid of the thirst after dinner there one night. Usually with Asian food, that's a sign of too much MSG.

  2. Right, the broth was a little salty for me, but thankfully I didn't notice any MSG. :)

  3. Taro makes his own noodles, uses bangalow pork and definitely doesn't use MSG. If you check the website and read the about us section you can see he is all about real natural flavours. Everytime ive eaten there, the pork falls apart so I am surprised that it was chewy. The tonkotsu ramen is definitely the way to go (or the fire tonkotsu if you want something spicy).

    I personally don't find Hakataya ramen as good - the broth is excellent but the noodles aren't as good and there is no egg :(

  4. It's excellent to see that debate is alive and well. I will have to have a few more Ramens to update my palate and knowledge and then I can jump in and debate too :)

  5. Brisbane Devoured is right, the Tonkatsu is Taro's signature dish and is delicious. Recommend getting extra pork and an extra half egg. The fire version is pretty spicy... Also try the Takoyaki (octopus balls)! Sorry if I sound obsessed but my husband is going through a "I MUST have ramen at least twice a week" and Taro's is king in his eyes. Raku in Westend also does an excellent Ramen, the Charsui is creamy and delicious plus great value at about $11.

    Really enjoy your blog ;)

  6. Thanks for the feedback and comments Kirsty! I love octopus so will need to try the octopus balls. The menu also talks about Gyoza, are they any good there? My partner was definitely miffed that I went without her, so will will be back soon!



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