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Friday, June 03, 2011

Review: Ramen Ten (Far East Plaza)

Second Worst Ramen Ever!
(Pseudo-cross-posted etc)

So one of the millions of group-buying sites here, Liveoffcoupon, was advertising what was billed as:

"Singapore’s 1st Halal Japanese Restaurant Chain"

Now, given that mirin is billed as "an essential condiment used in Japanese cuisine", I was intensely skeptical of the rave reviews from the New Paper and Lian He Zao Bao (Manja Magazine and Berita Harian's reviews are understandable, given the captive market).

Now, before purchasing a food voucher I will always check the establishment's reviews, given that some awful joints use this medium to dupe unsuspecting (and often undiscriminating) customers into patronising them.

So I was tickled to read this review:

Worst Ramen Ever!

"Food quality is probably the worst Japanese you'll ever try!... none of the items we ordered are at least of decent standard. It’s a bit harsh but mediocre is an understatement here. Quality is none existence unless you have a bland taste bud.

While I should not expect the best with the price I'm paying, I think I should at least deserved slightly better than an undercooked cup noodles with a flavourless soup. The seafood platters taste awful and you can definitely get better ones from the frozen food section at the supermarket.

There are some bad ramen places in Singapore but this one is worth a mentioned. To sum up, if your instant cup noodle is a 10, then the ramen here is a 1, that’s how bad it is. For a place to eat terrible Japanese food, this place is just not worth the money you are paying. Indeed, you are better off buying that instant cup noodle from 7-11.

Must tries: undercooked ramen with tasteless soup based"


Now, such a rave review piqued my curiosity (and that of a foodie friend of mine), so we decided to check it out. What I was scared of was not that the food would be bad, but that it would be mediocre. There're some things to be said for eating bad food occasionally. It lets you appreciate just how good proper food is. And of course you also get to slag it off online.

We ordered our ramen and waited for it to come. During this time, I observed the most miserable sushi conveyor belt I had ever seen:

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Empty conveyor belt

I also noticed that no one was taking any food from it. So it was no surprise that I saw:

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The driest inari I had ever seen (it looks wetter here than in real life due to the flash)

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They also had Black Ebikko, which was a first for me.

The piped music also made me feel young again, as hits from the turn of the 21st century like the Backstreet Boys' "Larger than Life" and M2M's "Don't say you love me" were playing.

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The first ramen to arrive was my "Scallop Miso Ramen" ($8.90), which came accompanied with shredded carrot and half a HARD BOILED egg (the photos in the menu all showed hard boiled eggs, so this came as no surprise). As one knows, the egg a ramen comes with should be semi-boiled (with a solid white but a runny yolk), so this was already a mark against it. It is hard enough to get good ramen eggs in Singapore (Santouka is the only place I can think of which does it well) but this wins the worst prize by a huge margin.

A small, tentative taste of the thin soup caused my tongue to be assaulted by loads of MSG, such that it went dry. Now, I am not particularly sensitive to MSG (I never get palpitations, and normally I only get bothered by ramen MSG after the meal) but this was a whole new realm for me. Unlike most Japanese restaurants, this one did not serve free iced water (a bottomless cup of green tea was $1.80), and I believe that this was no coincidence.

Above the bellowing uproar of the MSG, I had problems locating the miso. A few tentative, delicate notes of a certain je ne sais quoi called out to me, but they were unidentifiable as even the vaguest hint of miso. For all I know they could've caused by something unwanted falling into the soup stock. The closest ramen category this was to was shio ramen (salt), with copious amounts of MSG added.

Meanwhile, the noodles were way too soft, and had the consistency of Maggi Mee (instant noodles). Indeed, it was the softest ramen I had ever had. As for my 2 scallops, one had a lot of grit, and the other had a little bit.

While I was recoiling from the assault on my sensory system, I had the presence of mind to observe that there was a 6 minute delay between the deliver of my ramen and the other 2 bowls, which is way below the market benchmark (which I estimate to be below a minute, with the ramen often coming at the same time).

As instant noodle soup this was alright (albeit with 2-3 packets of seasoning added instead of one), but as Ramen it was an EPIC FAIL (though the noodles retained their springiness better in soup than Maggi Mee).

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A fellow masochist had ordered Chicken Chashu Ramen ($7.90). This lacked even the tiny hint of complexity my "Scallop Miso Ramen" had, and just tasted of MSG. I had a litle bit of the Chicken Chashu, and instead of being soft, let alone to the point of melting in the mouth, it was bouncy like you'd expect boiled chicken to be.

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The last of us had Spicy Miso Chicken Ramen ($8.90). Being totally unlike any normal ramen, at least this could be taken on its own terms. Its consumer pronounced that it passed, but I think this was because it was so spicy that one's palate was overwhelmed and one could not taste anything else (it was one of the spiciest foods I'd ever tasted).

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Menu with their strange creations. They have Japanese-style Western Food... which comes with both fries and rice.

On top of all of this, the fly on top of the rubbish heap was the service. We'd ordered a "Ramen Maki", intrigued by the idea of combining ramen and sushi. Sadly, it came half an hour after the first bowl of ramen had come - despite two reminders from me.

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"Ramen Maki" ($4.30)
The usual maki ingredients surrounding ramen, cucumber and mushroom in a black sauce, with a sweet black sauce dribbled on top.
Ironically, the ramen inside the maki was the proper consistency. It actually tasted alright though the price was steep.

So, given how awful this ramen was, why do I describe this as only the Second worst ramen ever? The honour of being the worst I've ever had belongs to Aoba Manpuku Japanese "Gourmet" Town in Tampines, which at $6.50 a bowl is a classic example of the Lemons problem. But then probably the only thing elevating Ramen Ten above Aoba Tampines is the MSG.

To give credit where credit is due, let's not say that Ramen Ten does not take customer feedback to heart. In 2009 the reviewer previously featured commented that they had "undercooked ramen with tasteless soup based", so they have since improved their recipe to give us overcooked ramen with a bottle-worth of MSG in the soup.
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