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Unpretentious fare hits the spot at Torasho
Torasho Ramen & Charcoal Bar
32 Tras Street
Tel: 6970 5055
Open all day Mon to Sat: 11.30am to 12am
IF RAMEN bars were employees, Torasho would stand out as the ambitious over-achiever gunning for the fast track to senior management.
Other ramen bars would stand sullenly by with their predictable tonkotsu or miso ramen, extolling the virtues of their token onsen tamago, gyoza or free-flow chilli-spiced beansprouts, while their upstart colleague throws in all-you-want boiled eggs, ikan bilis and spicy cabbage without batting an eyelid - and an extensive menu of modern izakaya bites that might even make other izakayas feel threatened.
But Torasho Ramen & Charcoal Bar isn't really out to show off. If anything, its unassuming name seems to under-promise but its food delivers more than you expect.
Visually, it's a step up from your garden variety ramen shop. The eye-catching space spans the length of three awnings on the street level of ST Signature, which sounds more like an old school trading company than a buzzy new co-living space/hotel.
Cement screed floors and a rugged industrial ceiling establish the look of Torasho, while a dramatic black and white wall mural of a tiger and related motifs cover the length of the very long counter behind which both chef and bartenders work in unison.
The tiger is a nod to the name of restaurant owner Tora Widjaja, and Torasho is a portmanteau of his name and chef-partner Sho Naganuma.
Chef Naganuma is the clear pillar of the menu, with an impressive resume that includes upscale robataya Hide Yamamoto, restaurant consulting and his own ramen bar nearby, which he closed so he could move to this new startup.
Lunch is a straightforward ramen affair but with a well-curated selection of sides.
Service is all over the place, as is the order in which your food is brought, so you'll be juggling bites of deep-fried chicken necks and ikura-topped papadum chips while slurping your noodles before they get cold.
Nonetheless, the tonkotsu (S$12) totally hits the spot for its long-brewed, collagen-releasing milky broth with a heady mix-and-match of seasonings that are attuned to the local palate, which is why we're won over by it. The broth gives the ramen just that slight edge over the signature tsukemen (S$14) which is no pushover with its addictive, elastic-resilient cold noodles that you drag through a river of dipping sauce that's a magical mixture of salty-sweet-savoury goodness.
If chicken spare parts tickle your fancy you might find the chicken neck karaage (S$6) entertaining, if only to watch your dining companion trying to loosen what little meat is on those scrawny necks without looking like a pooch with a chew toy.
Otherwise stick to the wings, lovely glistening meaty morsels underneath the salty, crackly burnished buttermilk batter with a tastier blend of spices than Colonel Sanders.
Don't forget to dip it in the spicy chilli paste, which has the kick of sambal belacan without the pungence of fermented shrimp.
Saltiness is the norm here, no doubt to build up a thirst for its extensive and well-priced libations. But if your tastes run more towards a well-chosen vintage of diet cola, too bad. Ain't got none. But at least the cold tea and water are free.
What shines more than the noodles are the myriad big and small bites on the menu. Ikura nachos (S$12) are so called for the light crisp papadum crackers topped with ikura and taramasalata that's a happy blend of culture and crunch.
Gyoza (S$8) are homemade - thin-skinned, homey pork filling and a decent, not-so-crispy "lid".
You may harbour a distaste for that over-used trope called miso black cod, but Chef Naganuma's version (S$12) uses the collar and chars it all over so you get dark crinkly sweet edges and little pockets of bouncy flesh. Most chefs like to slather the sweet miso like they're doing you a favour, but the chef dials it down so you get a restrained sweetness and lovely smokiness.
Dinner is the best time to sample the full menu and that includes wagyu fat-fried potato crisps (S$8) that puts all his beef fat trimmings to good use. Forget goose fat - that unmistakable beefiness comes through in the crunchy crisps and may even tide over any wagyu cravings while you wait for pay day.
A rare misstep is the uni pillow (S$15) - sweet fresh uni overcome by an avalanche of very salty karaage crumbs.
The star of the dinner menu is its donabe selection. Wagyu donabe (S$48) is more family fare than kappo kaiseki - a comforting braised beef and rice mixture that looks wet but isn't at all risotto-like.
The grains are firm and chewy, the beef melting soft with lots of gelatinous tendon.
Yes it's rich, yet not cloying.
It seems weird to end off an otherwise affordable menu with only one S$20 dessert of Japanese melon, so we skip it. But not without leaving with a good feeling about Torasho.
It's not slick sophistication by any means but if thoughtful, unpretentious and reasonably-priced cooking are your criteria, then Torasho's performance appraisal could well say: Strong Contributor.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy:
The Business Times pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication.