An excellent bowl of Hiyashi Chuka! Probably the best I have had in Manila in recent years. I am always on the lookout for a decent hiyashi chuka, a cold noodle dish with a smorgasborg of western toppings like ham, egg, cucumber, chicken, shrimp, etc. often served with a soy and vinegar based dressing and some spicy mustard. It’s my Japanese equivalent to say a western Chef’s salad, only with noodles. It shouldn’t be hard to make, but for some reason, so few places do a decent job of it. A couple of things make Ramen Yushoken’s version, which I had for a late lunch today, a winner — First, the noodles are hand-made on the premises so incredibly fresh, meatier in that they are slightly bigger and more substantial, and have a wonderful chewiness and bite to them. Second, the noodles were properly cooked and reasonably well-chilled — sometimes they can be under-chilled which takes away from the whole “cold salad” appeal, and other times they can be too cold — probably a sign they were made earlier and kept in a chiller for too long. Third, the “toppings” laid out on top of the noodles were varied and plentiful enough to make it feel truly abundant. Carefully julienned cucumber, shredded egg omelette, chicken, pork belly, tomatoes, etc. made for a very attractive presentation. Finally, it was presented with two types of dressing on the side, a classic soy/vinegar dressing with ginger, and a sesame dressing as well. I tried both dressings by taking a mouthful of noodles and stuff and dipping them into the dressing bowls, but that was rather messy so I eventually picked the soy and vinegar dressing and poured that over my noodles instead. Both dressings were well made, well-balanced and tasted just right. If there were one teeny tiny criticism I would mention, it would be that I wish the ham used didn’t seem so bland and cheap-grocery-deli-like. But that’s a tiny quibble. Oh, and it would have been nice to have the classic hot mustard served alongside as well. But overall, a very good bowl of hiyashi chuka.
We rarely get to Alabang more than once a year, if that, so I haven’t had occasion to head out to eat at Ramen Yushoken before. I always thought it would be nice to drop by either to or from the beach one weekend, but we just never got around to it. So when we had to pick up the Teen from a friend’s home in Alabang, Mrs. MM made it a point to get the restaurant’s address and plan a late lunch (to avoid any crowds) at Ramen Yushoken. There was still a crowd when we got there, always a good sign, and we sat at the bar rather than wait for a table. I didn’t bring a camera thinking I would have to return several times before I wrote a review, but it’s not likely we will be out in Alabang for several more months so I figured I would do this quick take on a place that has frankly, already gotten so many kudos on line and in print. Besides, with the following slightly bitchy comment on their placemats, it’s probably best I didn’t have a camera to record what was to emerge in the Teen’s soup, a few minutes later… “If you must take pictures of your food, be quick about it. We have wifi with decent bandwidth to allow quicker uploads to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.”
I also ordered a side dish of Karaage, essentially battered and fried Japanese fried chicken, in this case five two-bite pieces of dark meat served on a bed of lettuce, with some Japanese mayonnaise and salt on the side. At PHP210++ for five pieces just bigger than nuggets, this failed to impress. The batter was surprisingly gummy and chewy though overall the flavor was reasonably good, probably a result of a healthy dosage of MSG. I have just now checked out other photos of people’s meals at Ramen Yushoken, and I can tell you the other pictures of Karaage on line look MUCH better than the serving I got. I suspect today’s dish was fried in oil that wasn’t hot enough, or the batter was too thick, or the cook wasn’t in the mood… and based on that one sample, I wouldn’t have it again. But based on some photos on the net, perhaps they deserve a second try.
Mrs. MM and the teen both ordered the Tantan-Men and they really liked it. Their noodles were superbly done, and the spicy and tasty sauce got two thumbs up. They both ordered side orders of extra chashu (pork belly) PHP125++ for 3, 3-inch slices, on the advice of friends, but that arrived well before their noodles did, and rapidly turned cold. About a third of the way into her bowl of noodles, the Teen, who has rather long hair that was tied up in a pony tail, spied a 2-3 inch black hair in her bowl of noodles. She pointed it out to me and she called a server over. Now let me say that finding hair in your food is always a bummer, but as an owner of several restaurants, I do know that it happens, and frankly, more frequently than we would all like to admit. I would say in our experience, we get a one complaint for roughly every 12,000-15,000 meals we serve (and I am not discounting that others find hair but don’t say anything to our servers). When this happens, to me it’s more about how a place recovers from the service issue that tests the mettle of the restaurant and its management. The server immediately acknowledged the presence of the hair, asked if the Teen wanted the bowl of noodles replaced (she didn’t, she probably wouldn’t be able to finish another bowl of noodles) and the server whisked the bowl away. We heard nothing more and no manager approached, however, when the bill was presented, the Teen’s order had already been taken off the bill without any further discussion. That was reasonably well done, if you ask me. And because the noodles were very good, the incident wouldn’t stop me from going back, and if it weren’t so far, going back at least a few more times to try the rest of their menu. It could only have been improved upon if a manager approached soon after, made sure all was okay, and let us know the bowl would be removed from the bill.
While the Teen was waiting for mom and dad to finish, she was observing the goings on in the semi-open kitchen, highly visible from our vantage point at the bar. All cooks and kitchen staff were wearing hats, so they were taking proper precautions, but at one point she guessed where the hair might have come from. Suffice it to say that folks in restaurants just have to be extra vigilant about these things, and always be prepared to make it right when something goes awry. And believe me, it DOES go awry sometimes. What we did notice however was
the service water is truly tap water unless there is a hidden filter elsewhere on the premises (CORRECTION, MANAGEMENT HAS CONFIRMED THEY USE FILTERED WATER THROUGH THEIR TAPS). That surprised us a bit. For the prices charged, I would have expected at least filtered water to be used. Expect to pay about PHP500 per person if you have a bowl of noodles and one drink. If you order a side, your average bill will rise to say PHP700 or so.
Congratulations to Elbert Cuenca and partners for the wonderful ramen, probably one of the best places in Metro-Manila to get your noodle fix these days… now if only they would open a branch nearer Makati. :)