2012 Singapore's best ramen bowls

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The recent crowning of the Ultimate Ramen Champion at Bugis+ showed just how popular this dish is in Singapore. Toby Skinner puts some of the best in town to the test and pick our own three winners

First published on 2 Sep 2012. Updated on 24 Sep 2012.

CRITIC'S CHOICE: Tonkatsu King's Tonkotsu Ramen Special

You'll have to queue for Tonkotsu King, a cosy little place near Tanjong Pagar MRT – but it's worth it for the best ramen in town. Founder Keisuke Takeda won the Tokyo Ramen Championship in 2011, and it shows. The tiny paper menu keeps things simple: 12 Tonkotsu ramens from central Japan, four of them black-spicy and four red-spicy. You then get to choose whether you want the broth light or rich, oily or not, and how firm you want your noodles.

The Tonkotsu Ramen Special ($14.80) is glorious: a rich, slurpable broth, a creamy-yolked egg and three large pieces of pork. You get unlimited hard-boiled eggs, slightly spicy beansprouts and grind-them-yourself sesame seeds on the side, making a meal at Tonkotsu fun as well as tasty. #01-19 Orchid Hotel, 1 Tras Link (6636 0855). MRT: Tanjong Pagar. Daily 11.30am-10.30pm.

2ND PLACE: Ikkousha's Spicy Takana Ramen

Ikkousha is the pick of the ramen stalls competing in the ongoing Ultimate Ramen Champion competition on the top floor of Bugis+. Its winning dish was the Spicy Takana Ramen ($15), which was also voted the best by a panel of judges. (But all the Hakata-style ramen at this stall is good – thin, springy noodles that are blanched for just 15 seconds, pure pork broth and a per fectly flavoured egg.) The Takana version is distinguished by its namesake takana, a slightly sour, crunchy preserved vegetable from Japan. We like. Ikkousha, like three of the other Ramen Champion stalls, also has a branch at Changi Airport Terminal 3. #04-10 Bugis+, 201 Victoria St (6238 1011, www.ramenchampion.com.sg). MRT: Bugis. Daily 11.30am-10.30pm.

3RD PLACE: Sapporo's Ramen Miharu

Miharu, hidden behind the Gallery Hotel off Robertson Quay, is a homely joint where charming, knowledgeable staff serve up a wide range of ramen, starting with an excellent Special Blended Miso Ramen ($13.80) – a dark, pepper y broth with just the right amount of corn, chives, beansprouts, egg and tasty pork, with glistening al dente noodles. It's salty and heavily seasoned, as some diners have complained, but for a rich, home-style ramen this is hard to beat. #01-11 Gallery Hotel, 76 Robertson Quay (6733 8464). Take a taxi. Daily noon-9pm.

THE OTHER CONTENDERS

Ramen Santouka ★★☆☆☆
The slightly dreary Santouka, in Clarke Quay’s Central mall, has the full range of ramens – shio (salty), shoyu (soy sauce) and miso (soybean paste) – and gets plenty of good reviews online. But we’re disappointed by the classic Shio Ramen ($13.50). The dry, chewy pork strips are served separately from the sesame seed-topped broth, which has nice springy noodles but lacks the rich flavours of the best broths. #02-76 The Central, 6 Eu Tong Sen St (6224 0668). MRT: Clarke Quay. Daily 11am-9.30pm.

Tampopo's ★★☆☆☆
Tampopo has earned itself many fans since it opened its first branch at Liang Court's basement (it is now located on the ground level). While we have no complaints about its kurobuta roasted pork, the Rich Pork Bone Ramen ($15.30) at the time of our visit to the Ngee Ann City came with a mess of ingredients submerged under an overly oily broth, luckily it came with a piece of nicely charred pork. #B2-33 Takashimaya Department Store, 391 Orchard Rd (6235 2318). MRT: Orchard. Daily 11am-10pm.

Ajisen Ramen ★★★☆☆
Ajisen Ramen is base camp for the many ramen chains that also want to sell ramen as far afield as Australia, the US and Guam. It has 132 branches in Shanghai alone, proof of how much the Chinese population has been slurping it up since the first franchise hit Taipei in 1994. Is it good? It’s okay. The classic Ajisen Ramen ($10) comes with a darkish broth, an overcooked egg, beansprouts, chives and cha shu; the broth is addictive, possibly the result of MSG. www.ajisen.com.sg).

Daikokuya ★★★☆☆
Daikokuya, a dingy restaurant in the basement of the Paragon mall, serves up a wide range of ramen styles, from Tokyo to Kyushu and Sapporo varieties. Their Kyushu Shio Ramen ($12.80) wins points for its three tender, fatty pieces of cha shu pork, wood ear mushrooms and lightly rich broth. But overall it’s not quite special enough to compete with the big guns and make up for the drab decor. B1-47 Paragon, 290 Orchard Rd (6737 5416). MRT: Orchard. Daily 11.30am-10.30pm.

Ichiban Tei
★★★☆☆
Ichiban Tei on Robertson Quay serves a decent range of ramen, with the requisite flavours and five types of noodle, from Kyushu style to Sapporo style. The portion of the basic Shio Ramen ($12) is small, but the noodles are nicely textured, the pork tender, the broth subtly rich and the spring onions a nice green. It's not up there with the best in town, and the empty restaurant was a bit of a downer on our trip, but it's a good ramen. #01-04 Robertson Walk, 60 Robertson Quay (6733 3923). Take a taxi. Daily 11.30am-11pm.

Marutama Ramen ★★★☆☆
Marutama Ramen is possibly second to Ajisen Ramen as the city’s most ubiquitous ramen chain. It’s slightly unusual for its chicken-based broth, but other wise this is workmanlike ramen. The eponymous Marutama Ramen ($12), for example, comes in a rich if oily broth, has good, springy noodles and a textbook soft-boiled egg – although there’s only one piece of pork and too many spring onions. We recommend adding the tender pork belly ($5) to jazz it up. Branches citywide, www.m-ramen.com

Ippudo Tao ★★★★☆
Though we said this was the best in town back in June, we’ve changed our mind this time round. Japanese ‘ramen king’ Shigemi Kawahara, who started Ippudo in Japan in 1985, was the first to categorise ramen by white and red colours, which has now become standard practice. We love the simple Shiromaru Motoaji ($15), with its light, slightly salty broth, high-grade cha shu, wood ear mushrooms and chives – but, as many have pointed out, Singapore’s Ippudo has been adapted for local tastes. It’s very good, but doesn’t have the rich complexity of Tonkotsu, Miharu and a few of the Bugis+ equivalents. Branches at Mandarin Gallery and UE Square. www.ippudo.com.sg.

Menya Musashi ★★★★☆
With its slick branding and smart duochrome restaurants, Menya Musashi's new Singapore branches are the first outside of Japan. The Shinjuku ramen house is at the hip end of the spectrum, with varieties coming in white, black and red broths – however, it’s good, and no more expensive than the likes of Marutama or Ajisen Ramen. Tender pork, green veg, picture-book eggs, large spring onions and a clean chicken broth give the White Cha Shu Ramen ($12.90) a fresh look and taste. Very solid, and there’s already a new branch at ION Orchard to add to the first at Raffles City. #01-16 Raffles City Shopping Centre, 252 North Bridge Rd (6336 6500). MRT: City Hall. Daily 11.30am-10pm.

Ultimate Ramen Champion stalls ★★★★☆
As well as the winning Ikkousha, Bugis+ hosts seven more Japanese-import ramen stalls as part of the Ultimate Ramen Champion competition – all of them would have scored at least four stars in our rating system, making this the best spot in town to get a wide variety of great ramen. Other highlights include Bario, whose classic Ajitama Ramen ($14.50) with caramelised pork belly came second in the 2011 competition; and hotly tipped newcomer Aoyama, whose Special Tonkotsu Ramen ($15) is rich, pepper y and glorious, with soft-boiled eggs and tender, fatty pork. #04-10 Bugis+, 201 Victoria St (6238 1011, www.ramenchampion.com.sg). MRT: Bugis. Daily 11.30am-10.30pm.

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By Toby Skinner
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