Konjiki Ramen is the first overseas Ramen joint opened by Atsushi Yamamoto, the famous and award winning chef who started the original, Konjiki Hototogisu, in Shibuya, a special ward in Tokyo in 2006. It sits at 5051 Yonge Street in North York, just a few blocks north of Sheppard Street. Originally a Chinese invention, ramen noodles have become a Japanese historical and cultural staple over the past couple of centuries. Described as a thrifty eat in Japan, according to Yamamoto some of his earliest and fondest memories are of consuming it in the wintertime.
The ramen noodles are made from specially chosen Japanese and local flour, in machines imported from Japan, using only filtered water to bring out the best taste in the noodles. Chef Yamamoto considers his work with ramen to be an art form, this passion evidenced in the following quote;
My passion for ramen is beyond words can describe.....deconstructing the unami [savoury taste] from food, fusing cooking techniques from different cultures, and constantly sourcing new and adventurous local ingredients, I continue to learn and push my limit everyday-just to create my own version of the perfect bowl of ramen.
Konjiki Ramen is a fairly small place, but is certainly cavernous compared to its parent restaurant in Tokyo, which holds only eight seats. It is done in a spartan manner, with a lot of black surfaces, and dark wooden tables and chairs. There is a kitchen at the back which is open to the rest of the place, allowing patrons to see and smell their food being cooked by the establishment's ramen gurus. There is a quote on the wall from Konjiki Ramen's founder, Chef Yamamoto (quoted previously in this review), and a bustling, appreciative yet welcoming atmosphere prevails throughout.
Items on the appetizer menu range from $3 to $7, while the ramen dishes range in price from $13 to $28. Add ons to your ramen will set you back $1.50 to $3, while drinks cost you $1.50 for the green tea, $2 for the pop, and between $7.50 to $9.50 for the Asahi beer on tap.
I decided to try the Gyoza, a dumpling made in house made from pork, dry shrimp and cabbage. It cost $5 and was a pan-fried and slightly greasy (in a good way) accompaniment to my ramen noodle dish.
Other appetizers include Edamame $3, Tofu Nugget $4, Chicken Karaage (deep fried marinated chicken served with wasabi mayo) $5, Pork Chashu Don (on rice with special sauce) $6, Pork Belly Don (braised pork belly on rice with special sauce) $6, Braised Pork Belly (in a special red wine sauce served with soft boiled egg) $7.
I tried the signature clam broth Ramen, which is available in shoyu (soy-based and stronger flavoured) and shio (salt-based and milder flavoured). Cherrystone clams and kombu (sea kelp) are cooked for over ten hours with pork, chicken and shellfish to make this a taste sensation. I opt for the milder variant, which comes with tender sous-vide pork, porcini mushroom sauce, white truffle oil, diced arugula, pea shoot, basil, red onion, braised bamboo shoot, leek, and a crumbled pancetta garnish. Both the mild and stronger flavoured variants are $14.
When you get your ramen, it can be a little daunting for the unitiated. When they set your bowl down, you are given a shallow ceramic spoon and some chopsticks. If you are like most Westerners used to a knife and fork, eating it can be challenging. Not to worry, as they demonstrate how to enjoy your bowl of ramen on their website.
First, is to realize that drinking from the bowl and slurping your meal is actually expected and not at all frowned upon. It is actually a sign of enjoyment and respect for the chef's labours.
On the Konjiki Ramen official site, they also advise you to do four things; touch(gently palming your hands over the bowl feeling the heat from the ramen), smell (take a deep breath of the sumptuous ramen), sip (take a sip of the broth and enjoy it in the three main areas, truffles sauce, porcini oil and spring onion, allowing all three to coalesce in your mouth) and enjoy (tackle the noodles and accompanying elements in the ramen bowl with gusto).
Also for your enjoyment, they also have a Tonkotsu Ramen (with a pork bone soup base) in smoky black, spicy red, and original shoyu, for $13. Vegetarians are not left out at Konjiki Ramen, as they offer up a vegetarian Ramen (made up of a creamy potato soy milk soup base) for $14. This item is not available on Wednesdays, and is only available in Toronto.
However, on Wednesdays, in lieu of the Tonkotsu Ramen, they have Lobster Ramen, for $28. It features a single claw whole lobster, sous vide pork, mushroom, mixed peppers, onions, lobster cream reduction, thick ramen noodle and seasonal greens in a lobster, miso and pork soup base.
Add-ons to your ramen include sous vide Chashu (pork) $3, braised pork belly (high pressure cooked with secret sauce and seasoning braised until the meat is in full flavour) $3, menma (braised bamboo shoot with special red wine sauce) $1.50 and tamago (soft boiled egg soaked in soy sauce with a custard like yolk) $1.50.
Konjiki Ramen has partnered with Saryo, the Japanese dessert cafe which sits at the front of the premises. After my ramen meal, I go forth into Saryo and order something sweet. I try out the Matcha Amitsu Bowl for $6, which has matcha soft serve ice cream (made from imported Uji matcha powder from Japan), red bean, motchi, jellies, black sugar sauce and strawberry. I pair this with a fresh brew coffee for $2.50.
In addition to the complimentary water on offer, I also ordered a green tea to accompany my meal, which was served in a traditional small Japanese cup, for $1.50. It was quite tasty and went well with the food.
They also have a variety of soft drinks (Coke, Coke Zero, Iced Tea, Ginger Ale and Sprite) for $2, and Japan's official beer, Asahi, on tap in 12 oz. and 16 oz. sizes for $7.50 and $9.50 respectively.
The service was excellent. My server was polite, prompt with bringing me my drinks and my food and taking away the empty dishes and glasses afterward. She was also very friendly asking me about my day and wishing me well when I paid the bill and left the premises. I couldn't have asked for better service.
I felt quite full and satisfied after my meal of ramen. Full but not bloated or feeling queasy at all however. In fact, I was on the fence about actually getting dessert at Saryo because of this, but my sweet tooth duked it out with my stomach and my sweet tooth won the day, as per usual.