RELATIVELY new to Melbourne's ramen scene, one-year-old Kokoro (''heart-warming'') has a menu that woos and bamboozles in equal measure. For the novice, it's as decipherable as a Tokyo subway map, but the black T-shirted Kokoro kids will help you put together a tasty ramen combo from the four broth choices (made from either 12-hour-boiled pork-based stock or the lighter, eight-hour chicken and seafood stock). Kokoro's noodles are made in-house using an especially imported fandangled noodle machine. The thin (wheat flour and egg white) and thick (wheat flour and all the egg) versions are toothsome enough to add a bit of chew to your brew. Speaking of which, there are also bar snacks (house-made gyoza) to have with a cold Kirin.
157 Lonsdale Street, city, 9650 1215
SURE, it sounds like a cliche, but old really does meet new at Ramen Ya's GPO outlet: in the flanks of a Marvellous Melbourne landmark (yet another austere facade reinvented as a temple to high turnover), the city's hungry are shuffling in to imbibe Japanese fast/comfort food. It takes the ladle-wielders two days to make the pork-based stock, with the bones being crushed every few hours. Then it's scooped into yawningly wide bowls bobbing with the likes of char siu (pork belly slices), sheets of seaweed, boiled egg, gyoza (pork or seafood) and kimchi that gives your broth bite.
Shop 25G, Melbourne GPO, 350 Bourke Street, city, 9654 5838
YES, it's a chain restaurant - in fact, Ajisen has 750 outlets everywhere from Adelaide to New York; and four in Melbourne - but the brute meatiness of a bowl here gives it the edge for many. If Ajisen's tonkotsu (pork-bone stock) and firm wheat noodles aren't enough, the added heft of, say, a generous portion of chargrilled beef (cooked to your preference) makes this the sort of ramen fit for a sumo wrestler. The menu does say this dish comes with vegetables, but squiggly purple fungi and some spring onion are about it. There is, however, a perfectly cooked boiled egg that tastes like it's been imbued with ginger.
367 Burwood Road, Hawthorn, 9818 0818; also city and Glen Waverley
FIRST things first: although this wood-furnished, jazz-piped spot is popular for lunch, there's no ramen here until 5pm. That's when the lid on the stockpot is lifted, and ramenites descend. The set-up is wholesomely nourishing, with a tonkotsu broth that smacks of pea soup (there are other stocks and combos, but kuon ramen is made with pork and chicken). Into the mix goes crunchy cabbage and bean sprouts, a fistful of egg noodles (upsizing optional), thick char siu, boiled egg and a sheet of seaweed. If this all sounds too nutritious to be tasty, you can shatter the illusion with a $4 bottle of Asahi.
330 Little Lonsdale Street, city, 9670 7113. (Ramen served Monday to Friday from 5pm)
REIJI, the owner, has been serving up ''rahmen'' (his spelling: helps with proper, first-syllable pronunciation) since 1998. He makes the egg noodles every morning, and boils down the tonkotsu base for 10 hours - creating a light, white, chickeny broth. His cosy spot, with ABC Classic FM tinkling in the background and warm-hued tables, is a pleasant place to linger. Lucky, because a ''rahmen'' here takes a while to work through: a tub bobbing with plenty of greenery (spring onion, cabbage), egg, mushroom and a slab of char siu. Despite the name, there's no momo (peach) in the mix.
392 Bridge Road, Richmond, 9421 1661