I’d passed by Tampopo several times before on my increasingly frequent –and hence the inversely proportionate number of updates - trips down to Clarke quay, and never once has its presence made an impact on me. You would think it odd, really, that large, bold letters, almost obnoxious with their neon green halo, would have failed to grab a second or two of my attention during all my Japanese grocery shopping indulgences in Liang Court, Meidi-ya.
You can’t miss it.
Unless, of course, you enter Liang Court from entrances other than the one from Clarke Quay, because even to park there, you would have to drive by it on the way into the car park.
The only reason why I knew of its existence was because of one fateful Sunday family lunch in which we decided against waiting for twenty minutes for a table and ended up dining at BOTEJYU Okonomiyaki on the second floor. Then coincidently, the class boys wanted to have a Sunday dinner there on the fifteenth of Chinese New Year, out of the blue. Since my family hadn’t any plans that day, camera in arm, I was dispatched under strict order by Ashley and my mom to return with a review or not return at all. An insane ramen craving does this, I am aware, and if I weren’t curious myself from the numerous positive reviews of Tampopo smattered all over Hungrygowhere, I wouldn’t bother, even if it meant I would be relegated to the corner with liquid food to last me.
Gushi and I.
The reservation was for 7pm, and since Gushi and I arrived at 5.30pm and Ivan declared that everyone was there already except us, we rushed down to Liang Court to find out that ‘everyone’ consisted of 5 out of the supposed 9. Being the ever forgiving and understanding people that we were, we decided to leave the boys to wander aimlessly around Kinokuniya while we headed straight for the basement of Liang Court where Haato (!) resides, and for Meidi-ya since I was decreed by mommy via sms to ‘buy lots of cheese’.
Cookies&Cream and Strawberry!
I love Haato ice cream, beside Azaru Soba’s, mainly because both of them are Japanese – texture wise. Not overly rich and creamy, but smooth and light. It’s the perfect dessert, the kind that leaves you groaning in pleasure, instead of just groaning. A cup of strawberry and cookies & cream later, we hurried to the cheese counter and I picked out a French Chaumes (on a whim), Cambozola blue cheese and my brother’s favourite Brie De Meux (the Leow extravagance in eating is developed from young, you see, yet the ideal accompanying etiquette is unfortunately mutually exclusive since my brother devours an entire block of Brie De Meux in one sitting, sticking the cheese and the knife into his mouth).
Ivan called again, and the nice boy promptly informed us that they were already in the restaurant when we would have preferred to have met before entering.
We targeted the ramen section of the menu once inside since that was what we were there for and since I’m on the hunt for the best ramen in Singapore. The black pork ramen was, invariably, the chef’s recommendation and the most mentioned on Hungrygowhere. We didn’t pick that one and chose to defy societal norms by ordering the Premium Kyushu Ramen (I think. We had it the Sunday before last.) and the Pork Yakisoba.
What drew me to order as such were the yellow ramen noodles, the Hokkaido type I think, which I remembered vividly from one particular trip to Japan to be springy and chewy, the soup full of soul-food heartiness and creamy from the hours of extracting the flavor from pork or chicken bones. Above all, the noodles made the deepest impression on me. Chewy. I suppose it won over my mom as well, and if my memory serves me well, it was to the point that she bought home enough of the golden strands from Japan to last us for months. I got sick of it. Well that was years ago, 3 to be exact, right after I’d finished my O Levels. So it isn’t a surprise then that I’m struck by a sudden and unrelenting wave of intense ramen craving about now.
I have never found appeal in the curly, thin, white ramen , the texture too much like $1.20 maggie mee that I’d be able to get from vending machines.
Tampopo offers both.
There’s good variety for both types, though I cannot recall what exactly for the life of me. There are the typical choices of miso, shio, or shoyu of course, and for a few dollars more you’d be able to get additional ingredients, corn, pork, bamboo shoots, egg, noodles and many more. I have no extreme aversion towards corn, unlike some people, and I’d love as many toppings as possible so I ordered the Premium Ramen.
I encouraged Gushi to try the yakisoba since I was already getting a ramen. Let’s just say it wasn’t the wisest of choices. Oh we’re big eaters all right, there’s no doubt about that. My largest achievement to date – excluding buffets because saying that I ate A LOT doesn’t really give one a good perspective on things now does it? – would be an entire Subway foot-long meal, upsized and with three cookies (what was I thinking?!) on three consecutive days. Then, of course, there was my most recent and memorable Japan trip where I mercilessly ate my way across Kyushu, the south of Japan, tearing through Yanagawa, Nagasaki, Hakata and Beppu, gratuitously devouring rich crepes, dozens of sizzling takoyaki, cartons of vibrant strawberries, French bread with the Japanese touch, piping hot ramen, Pocky, the freshest sashimi one can get, bowls upon bowls of fragrant Japanese rice, yasai, tamagoyaki, omurice, shushi, chicken kakiage…
And I’m hungry.
To cut to the chase, we couldn’t finish our carbohydrate-laden bowls.
This is purely personal preference of course, because some of the guys requested extra noodles, much to Gushi’s and my bewilderment.
Now here’s the real review on the ramen. The toppings were generous and the noodles a delight: chewy with the right amount of bite considering that it was bathed in steaming broth. The quantity of the noodles that I mentioned is something I cannot gripe about because of the fact that this truly is the quantity of traditional ramen, and that I couldn’t finish it isn’t the fault of the restaurant. Some people found the soup much too salty, but it suits my palate just fine, also because ramen soups are meant to be as such. While I appreciated the effort to remain true to the preparation of ramen, the flavor of the soup failed to impress. It lacked that punch, that sudden burst of intense pork, or chicken, or anything! It wasn’t bland by any means, but it paled in comparison to Marutama’s soup base. When I got to sample some of the different soups that the boys ordered however, the one that indicated that it was specially pork was indeed fragrant and had that porky zing to it while the miso based one had, ironically, an overpowering prawn taste that easily blankted whatever miso there could have been. I don’t know about you but I’d like my miso to taste like miso.
The hard-boiled egg was done to perfection with the yolk a brilliant orange and a little runny still. It wasn’t as flavoursome as Marutama’s though, but it was done well.
I was content with the sizable slice of char siew, and though I shared half with Gushi, the thick swirl of fat dissolving on the tongue and the tender meat was satisfactory as it were. Gushi loved it too, although I wonder if it’s for the same reason since she thought it was a slice of Swiss roll…
All in all, I give the ramen a thumbs-up for value for money, portion and preparation wise. It wasn’t anything outstanding among the ramen I’ve had that’s for sure, but it was fine.
The yakisoba doesn’t require that long a review, mainly because like the soba, it was mediocre. No bam or pow, and actually missing that particular tangy tomato ketchup kick.
We didn’t experience any awful service as I’ve read in other reviews, and if I’d want to be picky, the waiters were not attentive in re-filling our tea and didn’t bother attempting to for Gushi and I because we were seated too far in and were difficult to reach.
There's always room for dessert.
We didn’t bother with dessert because we planned to grab some Turkish ice cream at Clarke Quay after. On average, we spent $20 per person, which is value for money, preparation and quantity wise. There wasn’t anything particularly memorable about my experience, and if the opportunity to step into Liang Court were to present itself, I choose to sample other Japanese restaurants over dining at Tampopo.
Well, until now I still don’t know what the rest of the boys ate, because half of whatever they’d ordered was gone before I could snap a picture. But, you know, boys will be boys, and I couldn’t possibly imagine them otherwise.
Me, Gushi, Ivan, Walter, Yu Zhe, Chee Hao, Joshua