Hideki had pointed out Ichiran from where we met on the Ebisubashi bridge, telling us that it was a pretty good ramen place, possibly the best, in his opinion. So on our last night in Osaka, after drinks in the Umeda Sky Tower at Sky Lounge Stardust, we headed back to the Dotonbori to check it out. It’s along the Dotonbori canal, near the Nihonbashi bridge, which flanks Ebisubashi. Like Ippudo, Ichiran serves a Tonkotsu Hakata-style ramen made with pork broth.
We had to line up at the bottom of the staircase, and a cheerful Ichiran employee came down to wave batches of us upstairs when they were ready. We found ourselves at the head of one group. Luckily for us, the line organizer was pretty assiduous at making sure friends and couples were able to stay together.
We trotted upstairs and stepped through a narrow and low doorway, stopping at the ticket machine while the line of four other patrons curled around and behind us a little awkwardly. I found myself too shy to take a photo of the machine (but take a peek at this one here), feeling the weight of others waiting behind me, concentrating on deciphering and pushing buttons, which, thankfully, had photos (but no English) to guide us. One standard ramen is available for ￥880; I added an egg, and a bottle of tea. Three separate tickets. We also expected that we may not be able to sit next to each other, but luckily, this was not the case at Ichiran.
Once inside the long, narrow eating area and counter, one is ushered to what seems to be a private cubby, completely separated from your compatriots during ramen consumption. All the better to be able to slurp in solitude, I suppose.
However, as DD and I were able to get adjoining seats, we were also able to swing back the dividers so we were not completely cut off from one another.
After you're seated you get to customize your ramen (when Paul wrote in 2008, it seems that English order sheets were not provided then, but they're now available): flavour strength, richness, garlic (none to regular to 1 clove), green onion, pork (with or without), secret sauce (with a base of red chili, containing over 30 ingredients), or noodle tenderness (extra firm, firm, regular, tender, extra tender). I picked strong flavor, rich, a little garlic, weak green onion, with pork, regular secret sauce and tender noodles.
The staff passes your order through the little window in front of you, lowering the blinds afterwards so you can truly enjoy your ramen in privacy.
First came an egg still in its shell, with a handy set of directions. Then, beer arrived, and my tea. And finally, the ramen.
Oh glorious, glorious ramen. This was the best of the three ramen-yas we sampled in Osaka, with a full, round flavour, and just the right amount of saltiness. The noodles were to my liking, and the pork thinly sliced, flavourful, with just the right amount of fat and very, very tender. I think I even managed to down the whole bowl, broth and all. If I had wanted, I would have been able to order extra noodles for free as long as I had soup in my bowl.
A note about cocktails:
It was very difficult to figure out where to get good cocktails in Osaka. Unlike Tokyo, where several barmasters and mixologists have begun to receive widespread coverage and fame, we were hard-pressed to find similar establishments in Osaka. DD does not remember now how he managed to track out Sky Lounge Stardust, but it's located in the Umeda Sky Building in Central-North Osaka. Overall, the drinks were tasty enough, well-balanced and refreshing; they just didn't stand out and I didn't take good enough notes to recall much except that Blue Curacao features prominently. Still, sitting in the bar is pleasant; there were not too many people there on an early Tuesday evening. If you manage to command a seat by a window, you'll get a grand view of Osaka.
Ichiran Ramen, Dotonbori branch
一蘭道頓堀店 Japan, 〒542-0084 大阪府大阪市中央区宗右衛門町７−１８
Sky Lounge Stardust, Umeda Sky Building
1-1-88, Oyodonaka, Kita-ku, Osaka