Ichiran 一蘭 vs Butao 豚王 Ramen, Hong Kong
It March already! How fast time flies – it has been a while since my last post.
After living in Hong Kong for a few months, I start to realise a few things about Hong Kongers when come to food: 1) They have a special obsession waiting in line, it seems if there’s a line formed in front of a restaurant, then that means it must good. 2) They are big ramen fans and always can’t get enough of ramen, they generally love Japanese food – it seems to have a new ramen place opening every now and then.
So far, I am delighted that I have so many choices (I am still discovering new places that I haven’t been) compared to only a few in London, so, I’m not complaining. With so many choices here, it gives me a great opportunity to search for the best ramen in Hong Kong. Based on the few that I have tried so far, I pick 2 that I think are really really good which I wouldn’t hesitate to go back time after time.
Ichiran, founded in Hakata, Fukuoka, Japan in 1960, has been producing high-quality classic Tonkotsu ramen for the past 50 years. It opened its first overseas branch, located in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong on July 11, 2013. It is opening 24 hours a day.
Though I have never been to the one in Japan, I was told that the design includes all of Ichiran’s creations including its original counter, with individual partitioned seats – an environment that eliminates all distractions from concentrating on the flavour. There is a total of 36 individual partitioned seats/booths. These individual partitioned seats are great when you dine on your own, not great when you are in a group.
The first time when I was there, I waited for slightly more than 45 minutes as it was Saturday. Best time to go is before 12pm or after 2-3pm. Or late at night (well, there was one time we went there after 11pm and we waited for about 30 minutes). The interior is very original, just feels like in a typical ramen place in Japan. The concept of “Kae-Dama” (noodle refill) is great when you feel like a little bit more will fill you up just nice and to finish off the rest of the yummy soup.
The way it works – you will be given a sheet of paper to customise your bowl of noodles. Extras like noodle refill and sides are available at additional charge. Each bowl of ramen without extras costs only $89 (£6.90). Even with some extras like half-boiled egg and pork will cost under £10, which I think is great value for money. My selections are always like below:
So, my verdict: I like the concept is its unique ordering system and Kae-Dama (noodle refill). After a few visits to Ichiran, I can conclude that texture of the noodle is great and it is always cooked according to my request. Soup is obviously a very important part of ramen, it’s very flavourful, consistency for me is spot on – not too thick nor too thin, just perfect! I am not a big fan of super thick collagen-loaded soup base. It’s probably the best I have tried so far. (None that I tried in London could be compared to this!) The spicy red sauce is really good. (I will try a bit more spicy next time!) The downside is that sliced pork comes in smaller portion, so may need to order extra.
Deliciousness Rating: 9.5/10
Shop H ＆ I, Ground Floor, Lockhart House, Block A, 440 Jaffe Road, Causeway Bay | +852 2152 4040 | ichiran.hk
Butao is founded in Hong Kong in 2010 by Chandler Tang. Currently, there are 3 branches in Hong Kong – Central, Causeway Bay and Tsim Tsa Tsui. I visited the branch in Central. It’s tiny and sits not more than 20 people (my rough guess). At Butao, apart from the classic Tonkotsu ramen, they have 3 more choices of broth – Green King: pesto infused broth topped with parmesan cheese ; Red King: a spicy miso broth; Black King: squid ink broth.
I ordered the classic Tonkotsu ramen in order to compare to the one at Ichiran. I visited Butao twice and found that the portion served on the first occasion was bigger than the second time. For both occasions, I didn’t have to queue as I was there before lunch time. It can get quite busy from 12pm onwards.
The ordering works the same way where you will be given a sheet of paper to customise your bowl of noodles. The Tonkotsu ramen is priced at $83 (£6.43), slightly cheaper than Ichiran. Extras are available for order too. My selections are always like below:
Thickness of Taste: Normal
Oil Source: Normal
Pork: Belly or Lean meat
Chinese Onion: Green onion
Butao Spicy Sauce: 3
Noodle Type: Thick Noodle Texture: Soft
Additions: Half-boiled Egg
So, my verdict: The branch at Central is really small though the decor is pretty authentic. The texture of the noodle is great and it is always cooked according to my request. Soup is obviously a very important part of ramen, it’s very flavourful. However, the consistency is a bit too thick for my liking. I feel it’s near to the thick collagen-loaded soup base that I personally dislike. For the spicy sauce, I don’t think it’s homemade, it’s more of the Japanese fine chili flakes out of a bottle. Pork slices are delicious and came in good portion. The downside for me is the consistency of the soup, it’s on a thicker side.
Deliciousness Rating: 8/10
G/F, 69 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong | butaoramen.com