Ramen Isshin is a new venture from Koji Zenimaru of Cabbegetown's Kingyo Izakaya . I've been twice since they opened thanks to two factors: sheer proximity to my house and the recent sub zero temperatures that have me craving noodles and broth.
The spot was until recently home to the short lived Vicki'z Vegetarian Eatery and before that a shawarma shop. While the floor plan remains unchanged, the interior looks better than ever, spruced up with a hand-painted dragon mural inspired by ancient temples. The lighting is a bit harsh, but the service is exceptionally warm, even if I never get used to all the high decibel greeting and thanking customers.
Between my two visits I have now sampled four of the eight available ramen. The first time I was seduced by the promise of a soft egg and ordered the Tonkotsu Shoyu "Kotteri" Ramen ($8.95) as well as the Tonkotsu Shio "Sesame" ($8.95), the latter being the better choice.
The Shio broth is strongly flavoured with sesame and made deliciously creamy though sadly grey in colour. The "Kotteri" is less successful and not as pleasantly fragrant. The egg, while translucent and gold, was overcooked and disappointingly not runny. Most impressive in both bowls is the pork belly that's rolled to resemble a pork shoulder and then seared, stewed and sliced super thin.
On my second visit, I leave my selections with the kitchen and am brought two ramens. One is the Isshin "Spicy" Black Tan Tan Ramen ($10.25), which is served with a pestle and mortar to crush black sesame seeds for extra flavour added halfway through eating.
The chef's favourite, the Isshin "Red Miso" Ramen ($10.25), arrives so piping hot that I scald my tongue instantly. Even despite inflicting severe burns on my mouth, it's clear that this is the winning ramen. I can't stop eating it. The soup is sweet, golden and rich thanks to a blend of broths including pork, chicken and three different types of miso.
The broth coats the chewy, twisty imported noodles perfectly. This will be my usual order on all future visits unless one day I delve into vegetarian territory to experiment with one of the two vegetable broths on offer.
The menu also features a number of nibbles like Takoyaki ($4.20), puffy deep fried battered octopus balls served five per order.
There's also the Japatine ($5.20), a hybrid Japanadian food inspired by Zenimaru's love for poutine. Hand-cut fries topped with cheese curds, nori, green onions and a curry "gravy" are delicious, but really more akin to minced pork and beef since it's not saucy at all.
Ramen Isshin does not yet have a liquor license so drinks are currently limited to green tea and sodas. The restaurant is open daily from 11:30am, closing on weekdays at 11pm and on weekends at 2am.
Photos by Jesse Milns