A warmly coloured hardwood door is all that signals the presence of Beixinqiao’s hot new ramen shack. A retreat from the oppressive sounds and smells of Gui Jie, this new Japanese yakitori and noodle joint serves up clean, flavourful staple Japanese fare at the right price – cheap.
Fans of Japanese-style meaty bits on a stick will have to wait until dinner for the yakitori; the grill isn’t fired up until the later shift. But, if you happen to stumble in for lunch, the bacon-wrapped silver needle mushrooms (8RMB) and beef tongue (12RMB) are well worth making a second trip for. Chewy strips of pork belly rolled around tight bundles of the slender delicate mushroom are licked just long enough by the flames to ensure a sweet, nutty char on the rolls, while the fungi do their best to soak up the rendered fat. The beef tongue is a must-try: blissfully tender and playfully chewy at the same time, a squeeze from a slice of lemon helps elevate the flavours and soften the crown of pungent sautéed garlic.
The other salads and sides are unremarkable but fresh, while the only roll on the menu is a sweet mess of blowtorched salmon and mayonnaise (48RMB).
Koharu Biyori is fundamentally a ramen shop, and its signature (only) bowl of noodles with broth (43RMB) is where it excels.
The broth, oddly labelled Osaka Style, in spite of the city’s lack of a distinguishable school of ramen, is rich and creamy with a pleasing thickness that coats the mouth and permeates the nostrils with its savoury aromatics. The noodles are a simple thing: egg-based, chewy and well-cooked, if lacking enough character to stand up to the broth.
Likewise, a paltry sliver of bamboo shoot and a half-soft boiled egg go largely unnoticed while the pork medallion, although the superior garnish, is lonely – a friend or two would make for a more satisfying nosh. A generous handful of shaved scallion and a scoop of black garlic give the ramen a comfortably Chinese flavour, and do much to make up for the meagre noodles. The broth is still some of the best we’ve encountered in recent months, and if you want more garnish, a kind word and few extra kuai translate into extra helpings of pork belly or egg.
The menu is still only available in Chinese and devoid of helpful pictures, but the round-faced matron is a real team player and the crowded tables mean ordering is as simple as gesturing to a neighbour’s plate. Plus, draught Asahi (20RMB) and a wide selection of sake (50RMB and up) are on hand if you’re looking for more than a bite.
By Nick Gollner