Food + Beverage
Tokyo’s first Michelin star ramen shop opens in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay district. Can the popular restaurant find favour with Hong Kong’s picky eaters on a street already lined with popular Japanese eateries?
With 227 eateries with one or more stars, Tokyo has more restaurants with Michelin stars than any other city on the planet.
The Japanese capital, in fact, has more Michelin stars than Paris and New York put together. But only two of those eateries are bona-fide ramen shops.
Tsuta, which opened in 2012, was the first ramen shop to make the grade, being award a Michelin star in the 2015 edition of the Michelin Tokyo guide.
A second ramen shop, Nakiryu, was awarded a Michelin star in the 2016 edition of the highly regarded French-based eating out guide.
Tsuta opened its first Japanese noodle outlet in Singapore last year. Because of its popularity, a second Lion City outlet has already been added.
Another outlet was opened in Taipei, Taiwan, last week (early May 2017). A fourth outlet has its soft opening in Hong Kong today (19 May 2017). The ramen shop will officially open on 22 May.
In a show of confidence, Tsuta chose a location on Tang Lung Street in Causeway Bay, a.k.a. Ramen Alley, to open its first Hong Kong noodle shop.
The one block stretch is lined with several reputable restaurants. Jamie’s Italian, opened by TV Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver, is directly opposite Tsuta.
But it is mostly Japanese restaurants that line the popular food street. Is there room for yet one more shop specializing in Japanese dishes?
Probably, yes. Japanese cuisine is arguably the most popular national cuisine in Hong Kong, rivaling even Chinese cuisine as the former British crown colony’s favourite nibble.
Tsuta has a highly limited menu, which is part of the attraction. There are just two bases with three variations and four kinds of rice.
The stock is made daily using whole chickens, fresh clams, and dried fish. It is simmered for nine hours.
Soy sauce made from a special blend that includes the restaurant’s own soy sauce and two types of custom brewed soy sauce are added to the mix. There is no added MSG.
Shoyu Soba is the eatery’s signature base. It comprises an added dash of secretly made soy sauce as well as truffle sauce and black truffle oil.
Shio Soba adds a sauce made from Okinawan sea salt, Mongolian rock salt, and a specially made truffle oil.
The three variations include eggs, char siu (barbecued pork), or both eggs and char siu.
I was one of a handful of Hong Kong-based foodies that got to sample Tsuta's mouth-watering noodles before the restaurant threw its doors open to the general public.
We were all served two bowls of ramen: first the Shia Soba, which was a bit lighter yet saltier; next, the Shoyu Soba, which was richer, with hints of miso.
Opinion was divided. I preferred the more pungent flavour of the Shoyu Soba, but my dining companions preferred the more subtly favoured taste of the Shia Soba.
Interestingly, what I liked best was one of the side dishes: char siu and rice. I thought blandness of the rice gave excellent balance to the pungent mixture that the pork had been marinaded in.
We all agreed that the dishes were thirst-inspiring. Hopefully, the restaurant will soon get its liquor license so that sake and beer can be added to the menu.
We had to settle for the restaurant's excellent tea, which was served either hot or cold. I found the cold tea - sans sugar or lemon - to be especially refreshing.
Ramen is a popular Japanese dish comprising a meat or fish-based broth, wheat noodles, and either vegetables or meat (chicken, fish, or beef), or both vegetables and meat.
The base is usually flavoured with soy sauce or miso. It is often topped with sliced pork, dried seaweed, and/or green onions.
In addition to the two types of ramen served at Tsuta, there are three other popular types of ramen: miso, tonkotsu (made with pork bones), and curry.
Cities and towns across the Japanese archipelago have variations of the dish, and foodies in each locale tend to think that their version is the best.
During a press trip to Japan a couple of years ago, I visited a ramen shop in Sapporo on the northern island of Hokkaido, where butter corn ramen – a Hokkaido specialty – was served.
I was odd man out, opting for ramen without the corn, but everyone else ordered the restaurant's signature dish.
The butter corn ramen got rave reviews from my traveling companions, all of whom were committed fans of Japanese food – and frequent visitors to the Land of the Rising Sun.
Located in Tokyo’s Sugamo district, Tsuta’s flagship noodle shop was founded in 2012 by Onishi Yuki, whose family had a ramen-serving background.
The shop, which has just nine seats, limits output to just 400 bowls a day. Lines start forming at the eatery’s front door at 6 am, and numbers are distributed at 8 am. The shop opens three hours later at 11 am.
After working overseas in the fashion industry for many years, Chef Onishi decided to return to Japan to establish what he hopes will become a ramen empire.
Chef Onishi has big plans for the future. First, he hopes to open more ramen shops in Hong Kong. But the big prize would be north of the border.
The celebrated Japanese chef hopes to open eateries featuring Japanese style noodle shops across China.
Since Japanese style ramen is most likely derived from Chinese style la mian, or pulled noodles, wouldn’t that be the culinary equivalent of taking coals to Newcastle?
Japanese eateries have been popping up across Hong Kong like mushrooms after a spring rain in recent years, so Tsuta will be up against some tough competition.
But if a tiny ramen shop with just nine seats could get a coveted Michelin star in the world’s capital of gastronomy, it’s unlikely that lines won’t soon be forming down Ramen Alley the same way they do in Tokyo’s Sugano district.
With more than twice the number of stools - 21 in Hong Kong against nine in Tokyo - hopefully the wait won't be quite so long.
Tsuta Japanese Noodles, No. 2, ground floor, 18 Tang Lung Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. Telephone: (852) 3188-2639.
The restaurant is a short walk from Times Square and the Causeway Bay MTR station on Hong Kong Island.
Your Opinion Wanted!
If you try Tsuta Japanese Noodles - either in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Taipei, or Singapore - please leave a short review of the restaurant in the comment box below (and don't forget to mention which one you ate at).
Your recommendations on where to try mouth-watering Japanese noodles are also welcome!
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