I had intended to review the new branch of Ramen Makoto-Ya that opened late last month with a high street shopfront on Zhongshan North Road. It seemed like the ramen wars had been taken to a new level with the Osaka-based ramen shop staking a claim outside of its original food court premises at QSquare. Having enjoyed the superlative ramen experiences brought to Taipei by Hokkaido Ramen Santouka (山頭火) and Ippudo TW (一風堂), expectations were high.
Ramen Makoto-Ya offers a big menu built around two principal themes: It’s milky rich beef stock and its deep flavored chicken stock. There are also a couple of rice dishes and a range of side dishes, such as pot stickers, to provide variety. The menu looked quite attractive, but only after sitting down and ordering was I told that the establishment was currently only offering a strictly curtailed version of the full menu during the first month of opening. This menu included a number of its signature dishes, such as the roast pork noodles in white beef broth (特製叉燒白湯拉麵, NT$270), but did not include any of the side dishes I was eager to try.
It was particularly disappointing to find that the reduced menu also came with reduced effort in preparation and presentation. Like most good Japanese ramen restaurants, Makoto-Ya offers the customer the choice of having the noodles cooked al dente, normal or soft. I had asked for al dente, and the noodles that arrived were nothing of the kind. The presentation also looked sloppy, the slices of roast pork sinking beneath the broth, and the establishment’s signature soft-centered egg already muddying the surface. For Makoto-Ya’s price point, this total failure to provide a visual sparkle was really quite unforgivable.
Address: Level B3, QSquare, 1 Chengde Rd Sec 1, Taipei City (承德路一段一號京站時尚廣場B3)
Telephone: (02) 2552-6833
Open: Sunday to Thursday 11am to 9pm; Friday and Saturday 11am to 9:30pm
Average meal: NT$350
Details: Chinese menu; credit cards accepted
On the Net: www.makotofood.com.tw
My meal was saved by the roast pork, which was easily the most delicious I have had in quite some time. Its most distinctive feature is the fact that it was not lean. These were thick slices of belly pork cooked until they are held together by the very barest of sinew, melting in the mouth with luscious abandon. This fatty meat might not be to everybody’s taste, but it was distinctive and an unashamed expression of a robust culinary ideal.
Whatever one might think about having a soft opening when kitchen staff are clearly not sufficiently prepared, it seemed unfair to judge Makoto-Ya on this effort alone.
A journey to the original outlet at QSquare was in order. There had been something ever so slightly slapdash, or just formulaic, in the design of Makoto-Ya’s Zhongshan establishment. It totally failed to achieve any sense of excitement when you first walked in. This was exactly the same with the bigger QSquare outlet, with its generic wooden booths and counter all pressed too close together. While service at this store was more practiced, it still had the same mechanical quality that was not unfriendly, but also was not particularly engaging.
Makoto-Ya’s prices put it at the upper end of the ramen spectrum, and its pricing strategy comes across as a little rapacious. Many ramen restaurants will offer free portions of noodles for hearty eaters, but Makoto-Ya charges an extra NT$40 for this service. It did not help that I thought the noodles of indifferent quality compared to what is now available in Taipei. Side orders are also on the pricey side, and set menus, which should offer some kind of reasonable discount to diners, just seemed a way of jacking up the price of the meal.