We had a few spare hours in the CBD on a Saturday and, rather than returning to Shandong Mama for yet another round of scallion pancakes, figured it was time we got on board Melbourne’s latest food obsession: ramen. The Little Ramen Bar is one of a handful of places that have all of Melbourne reminiscing about all the good times they’ve had in Japan (see also: Shop Ramen, Fukuryu Ramen, Menya Ramen, Ramen Ya etc). It’s a tiny place, tucked down Little Bourke Street and, like its dumpling focussed neighbour, it regularly draws queues out the door.
Things were busy but not overflowing when we visited at 1ish on a Saturday. We were drawn there by the veg-friendliness of its menu, with one vegetarian ramen and four other dishes that can be rejigged to remove the pork or fish stock. Vegans have options too, but will need to be clear – most of the ramen come with egg by default. You can customise your soup a bit too, by adding various bonus ingredients (e.g. kim chi ($3), garlic bombs ($1), corn ($1) etc) and there are a few other non-soup dishes to choose from (e.g. fried rice, edamame, gyoza, all $5.90).
We stuck to the soup menu, with Cindy going for Taku’s vegetarian ramen (built on a broth with miso, spices and rice wine, topped with bean sprouts, seaweed, bamboo shoots and a seasoned egg, $10.90).
Cindy was very impressed by her soup - rich and flavoursome, with the seaweed adding a nice oceanic flavour to the base and the bamboo shoots and sprouts keeping the textures interesting.
I couldn’t resist the word ‘spicy’ and ordered the vego version of the spicy miso ramen (a miso-heavy base with cabbage, spring onions and an egg, $12.50).
This was just okay – the soup itself had a good chilli kick and a strong miso flavour and the noodles were springy and delicious, but the toppings otherwise were pretty limited. The egg was delicious, but the cabbage chunks and raw shallots didn’t really rock my world – I was craving some more variety (tofu? dumplings? I’m not sure).
I must confess to not really understanding all the excitement about ramen. It’s essentially a pretty basic noodle soup and has never excited me as much as, say, laksa. I suspect that, as with pho, part of the issue is that we’re vegetarian. Reading reviews of Melbourne’s many new ramen places the words “pork” and “fat” appear an awful lot, suggesting that perhaps the key attributes of a good ramen were unlikely to turn up in too many vego versions. Still, Little Ramen Bar was worth a visit – the food is decent, the service super efficient and the prices reasonable. I wouldn’t queue here, but dropping in for lunch on a Saturday is definitely worthwhile.
Just grazing panda has reviewed Little Ramen Bar from a vegetarian perspective. Meanwhile, Sweet and Sour Fork, Missy Ness' Food Train of Thought, Melbourne Delicatesses, Nurikko Visits, The Great Aussie Bite, kit & kafoodle, Urban Usher, Melbourne Patron, Petit Miamx, Klaus & Fritz, Eat And Be Merry, For Tomorrow We Die(t), Yellow Eggs, cookiejen, I Dream in Chocolate, melbourne gastronome, The Melbournian Palate, Pigging out around the world, Vic's Blog, Mr & Ms, aqcnaneng, Gastronomical ramblings, thehangrybitch, Typical Food Blog, Barley Blog, Wandering Mint, EveLovelle and Melbourne Food Blogger have mostly positive things to say about their visits, while rumblingteddy, Nona Tukang Makan, The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar and Gluttony Fair were less impressed.
Little Ramen Bar
346 Little Bourke St, Melbourne
Menus: drinks, starters and sides, ramen, ramen toppings
Accessibility: The entryway is flat, but things are super crowded inside, with a mix of low and high tables. Orders are taken at the table and we paid at a high counter. We didn't visit the toilets.