From The Straits Times    |

Char Siu Ajitama Shoyu Soba 

Finally. We’ve been waiting with bated breath for the Singapore outpost of Tokyo’s Michelin-starred ramen eatery, Tsuta, and it’s finally happening this Sunday (November 6) at 11am. Mind you, that’s not just any Michelin-starred restaurant. It’s also currently the only ramen shop in the world with a Michelin star to its name. 

Naturally, expectations are high. Will it be expensive? Will it taste just like the ‘real deal’ in Japan? Will it taste as amazing as it promises to be?

We had a sneak peak of the ramen and here’s our verdict: It’s pretty darn good. 

Right now, the menu is kept concise with just two of Tsuta’s signature broths ─ shoyu and shio. The miso broth will be introduced at a later date. 

Prices start from $15 for a bowl of your preferred broth, with a slice of char siu, bamboo shoots, leeks, and either truffle puree (for the shoyu broth) or green olive puree (for the shio broth). The full works cost $22.80, with 4 slices of char siu and a molten-centred ramen egg. 

The shoyu broth is particularly noteworthy because of the aged shoyu used. 

Matured for two years, this aged shoyu is custom-brewed for Tsuta by an artisal soya sauce producer in Takayama prefecture. The final broth is concocted with the aged shoyu and Tsuta’s housemade dashi ─ made by slowly simmering with whole chickens, vegetables, clams and other seafood. Just before serving, each bowl of shoyu ramen is anointed with a spoonful of Italian black truffle puree. The truffle puree seduces the senses with its earthy perfume, but it also holds together the broth, deepening the umami layers. It’s a wholly different game from the tonkatsu broth that we’re used to. The mouthfeel is lighter, less greasy, but the flavours are also more nuanced.

Char Siu Ajitama Sio Soba

Although “shio” means “salt”, it’s far from salty. It’s much lighter than the shoyu broth, without the latter’s earthy heft, and instead derives its character from a combination of Okinawa sea salt, Mongolian rock salt, and a chicken-and-seafood dashi. And that dollop of green olives puree proved to be quite a stroke of magic, imparting brightness and levity to the flavours. 

It’s hard to compare two different broths and claim one to be more superior than the other, so here’s how we’ll put it. The robust shoyu ramen is what we want to feed on with gusto during cold, bleak days; and the shio broth is the friend to seek out when it’s hot out, but you still want the comfort of soup. 

Unlike the more common, bright yellow and wavy ramen noodles, Tsuta’s noodles ─ freshly made in-house daily ─ are a tad paler in hue, thinner and straighter too. Springy and just slightly tender (perfect in our books), the noodles were first blanched and given a quick stir in the broth to let the flavours seep in. They weren’t too heavy on the stomach either, so it was easy to slurp up a whole bowl even if you thought you weren’t very hungry!

To be honest, the roasted char siu wasn’t much of a looker. It had a dull, greyish brown tone that didn’t seem particularly swoon-worthy, but this proved to be a real case study for the wisdom of not judging a piece of meat by its looks. Because it was arguably the best ramen-style char siu we’ve had. 

Tsuta’s version is unique for using pork collar instead of pork belly, which explains why the char siu was so supple and flavourful without the rich, oiliness that we’ve come to equate with conventional char siu. It’s roasted rather than grilled, so the caramelised charred bits aren’t there, but we didn’t miss that much. But the mellow profile of Tsuta’s char siu made it so easy to keep eating it without feeling overwhelmed. 

And that’s perhaps also the magic of Tsuta. 

Initially, we’d wondered what made Tsuta’s noodles Michelin star worthy, over all the other amazing ramen in Japan. Now that we’ve had a chance to try, we got to admit, we were pretty blown away by Chef Onishi’s restraint and ingenuity. The portion for every component was just right, satisfying rather than food coma-inducing. And the flavours were meticulously tweaked to work in symphony: On its own, the char siu might have been a tad too light, but it was precisely this lightness that allowed the broths to be appreciated without being jelak; the truffle and green olive purees weren’t mere garnishes, but truly the finishing touch that completed the ramen. 

Hat tip to you, Chef Onishi and your local team.

Tsuta, #01-01 Pacific Plaza, 9 Scotts Road. Open daily, 11am-6pm. (Shortened opening hours during the launch period from Nov 6-11, 11am-6pm.)


Watch the Michelin Guide Singapore’s video interview with Chef Onishi here.