Horin Ramen + Sake opened up in late 2018, occupying the space that used to be the short-lived Sanuki Udon (review here). They’ve got an impressively TIGHT menu with only ONE kind of ramen (with five variations that only differ in toppings), two kinds of gyoza, and that’s basically it! With such a narrow focus, they should nail this style of tonkotsu ramen, right? Mostly yes…but the detailed answer is a bit more complicated.
Robson Street is tough. If Sanuki Udon was as good as Marukame/Marugame in Japan/Hawaii/etc, maybe they’d still be around. L’Eclair de Genie a couple doors to the left closed down suddenly just a few months ago. But at least the long-standing Konbiniya Japanese convenience store down the block to the right is still around!
The original recipe for this spicy take on tonkotsu dates back to 1966, but it’s unclear whether the chain has been around that long. I found a Horin chain in Japan but their logo is different, so I’m not sure how connected this restaurant is to them. Feels like maybe a Taishoken Ramen-type situation.
A big draw here is their freshly made in-house noodles. They’ve got the noodle machine jammed right up at the front window. It’s thin, straight noodles here.
I was there for an early lunch (around 11:30am) and it progressively got busier as it approached noon. A couple people eating on either side of me ate their bowls at a rapid pace. So they obviously knew the drill — eat it fast and get the fuck out!
The corporate mythology spiel.
So when they talk about this “secret recipe”, they mean it. The whole menu is based on this ONE bowl of ramen. No shio/shoyu/miso variations, no chicken version, no vegan bowl. The only difference is the toppings.
The customizations. I chose standard everything to set myself a baseline.
Small selection of optional toppings. They also have kaedama (extra noodle) option, a concept which originated in Fukuoka (where this chain is from).
Side dishes. That’s it for the food menu! Seriously! I admire the focus. But that means they gotta nail it. The singular focus works for great hawkers stalls in Singapore. I haven’t seen it work for anyone here, except for maybe DownLow Chicken Shack (but even they do fries, sammies, wings, and Monday-only burgers).
The typical Japanese beers plus a nice inclusion of 33 Acres of Ocean. But at $7.50 a bottle, I ain’t jumping for that any time soon.
The full name of this place is “Horin Ramen + Sake” but I doubt they’re selling much sake during their busy office worker lunch rush. And I’m not sure if this stretch of Robson is that great for the night crowd who would consider binging on sake…
Pork Gyoza ($6.25). The veggie gyozas are actually more expensive at $6.75. Weird. Anyways, impressive frying job with the crispy “gyoza skirt”. Wrapper looks a bit dry with opaque white spots though…
A dab of spicy and slightly salty yuzu kosho-type stuff. First time I’ve seen yuzu kosho served with gyoza. I enjoyed it.
Standard gyoza dipping sauce.
Filling is loose and cabbagey. Fine. Not amazing. But parts of the wrapper (especially the sealed edges) were dry, tough, and chalky. It’s like they weren’t cooked with enough water so just dried out. I think it’s a matter of technique. If more water was added during cooking, this problem could’ve been avoided. Even then, I’m not crazy about the taste of these gyoza. But the frying is good. I’m conflicted.
Original Ramen ($10.90) with chashu, green onions, and “house-made chili blend made from specially sourced Japanese chilies”.
Gotta say, I *LOVE* the look of this minimal, neatly presented bowl with the prettiest “noodle fold” in recent memory that goes down the centre of the bowl. This is a minimal bowl that’s supposed to stand on the strength of its few elements. Does it?
The splotch of chili oil tasted great. Gently spicy with a bean sauce-esque sweetness.
The broth was milky and opaque, no porky stink, and on the milder side of tonkotsu-style broths. Initial spoonfuls of broth weren’t spicy until I got towards the bottom of the bowl. The housemade noodles are thin and have a firm bite. They do get noticeably soft towards the end, so try to finish this bowl within 5-10 minutes for the best experience.
Their tied pork belly chashu is one of the strongest elements of the bowl. I don’t see many places doing the rolled & tied style of chashu anymore, with most places doing slabs. This chashu had good flavour and was in the perfect middle ground between tender and chewy. Thickness is not stingy either.
Towards the end of my bowl, the soup got progressively darker and spicier for some reason. I think there may have been some unmixed tare (seasoning) at the bottom of my bowl, which got incorporated more and more as I ate. It grew to about a mild/medium level of spiciness that had me coughing cuz I had a couple sips that hit my throat the wrong way. From start to finish, the taste of the broth changed, and I’m not sure if I ended up liking the progression or the result.
Interesting mark on the side of the bowl. Is that the soup line?
So, for a bowl with so few elements, does it add up to ramen nirvana? The chashu was excellent. The noodles very, very good. The broth, while competent, might be the sticking point for me. Sparks didn’t fly in my head over it, and I’m not sure if I liked the journey the broth took, from tasting mild and milky initially, to a spicy but not-turning-my-crank kind of experience. I’m on the fence and conflicted because certain parts I do love. Just didn’t quite gel. But this place is so close to my work that it deserves another shot…maybe just not soon though.