1/145 Racecourse Rd, Ascot
The colder it gets, the more I find myself dreaming about soupy, noodley foods. I'm the kind of person who craves spicy Korean hot pot even in the middle of summer so, if anything, the winter weather has only served to intensify my soup fetish. I've already spoken at lengths in my Genkotsu Ramen review about how perfect a well-made ramen is for not only warming the body but also the soul. I sought to recapture those feelings with yet another ramen expedition last week. This time Marc came with me and we drove to Racecourse road to try Taro's Ramen.
The frustrating thing about Taro's Ramen is that it's original Brisbane store is located in the CBD, right near where Marc used to live. We had so many opportunities to try it but never did and then we moved to West End. In the scheme of things West End is hardly "far away" but I just find driving to the city to be a pain due to the paid parking situation. Jenny tried Taro one time and told me it was really good. I desperately wanted to see for myself but my hate for paid parking was a strong deterrent. When I discovered that Taro's Ramen had opened a second shop in Ascot, I was very excited. Although it is geographically further away, Racecourse Rd is easier to park at, especially on a weeknight.
We found Taro's without issue; it's located towards the 'other' end of Racecourse Rd, further away from the river. The restaurant was a bee's doodle away from closing (it was about 5 minutes till the listed closing time of 9pm) but we rushed in and a friendly face assured us the kitchen was still open, provided we order right then and there. Marc and I selected a ramen bowl each.
The decor is clean and uncomplicated. It's got a casual eatery vibe that suits the simple menu and speedy service. The environment isn't as thematic as say, Hakataya or Genkotsu but sometimes you just don't need every inch of space to be decorated with Japanese artifacts to remind you you're eating Japanese. The food does that already.
As we were waiting for our ramen I read the little info boards on what made Taro's ramen special. It turns out that much comes down to the breed of pork used. It is Australian pork but raised to specific standards that supposedly enhance the taste of the tonkotsu soup base.
Red tonkotsu ramen
My ramen pick was the red tonkotsu. This was served in a funky, striped, medium-sized bowl with half an egg, charsiu pork and shallot topping. The first thing I noticed was the texture of ramen, which I really liked. The ramen was a good thickness (not too thick or thin) and cooked with just the right amount of bite and bounce. The seasoned egg was cooked perfectly with a just-set but still gelatinous yolk. Mine was slightly cold though.
The best part of any tonkotsu ramen dish (to me anyway; Marc seems to disagree) is the soup base. The soup base here was delicious. It was so rich and creamy that each sip seemed to coat my tongue with velvety, porky goodness. It's amazing how a well-developed tonkotsu is creamy in taste and texture but doesn't actually contain cream and dairy. It's all from the pork bone. I absolutely loved this soup and ended up finishing every last drop.
Fire tonkotsu ramen
Marc's pick of the night was the fire tonkotsu ramen. It was similar to mine but unsurprisingly, even more red in colour. Whilst my soup base was 'red', it wasn't all that spicy. Marc's did actually carry some heat so I would recommend this for those who prefer spicy food. Marc liked the taste of his ramen but greatly criticized the portion and amount of meat. He felt that at $16 a serve, it should have been a large bowl's worth with more charsiu pork. I tried to explain that ramen is not about the meat but the old carnivore would not listen. I said that at some ramen places, you could get extra noodles free of charge or for just a small surcharge. I'm not actually sure if Taro's allows this but I did notice on the menu that they have options of increasing the size or amount of meat (for a fee).
I loved the quality of ramen and soup at Taro's Ramen in Ascot. We only just went there last week and I've already been thinking about revisits all weekend. It does seem to be a bit dearer than some other ramen shops that I've been to but there might be a location factor involved too. The tonkotsu soup base itself was perhaps the best I've tasted, although I would need to blind taste them all in quick succession to be sure!