Menya Iroha 麺屋いろは(Kyoto)

Location: Kyoto, Japan
Address: Kyoto Station (10th floor in "Ramen Alley")
Type of Meal: Dinner 

After visiting Japan, I’ve learnt two things about the beloved bowl of ramen:

1.    In Japan, they consider these to be “Chinese” noodles as some believe it originated from China’s hand-pulled noodles, whereas in Canada, we describe ramen as “Japanese”. In reality, the more traditional Japanese noodles are soba and udon; and

2.    The different soup bases are actually linked to different regions in Japan with miso being popular in Hokkaido, tonkotsu developed in Kyushu and black (dark soy) from Toyama.

With so many regions it feels impossible to try them all. Luckily, the 10th floor of Kyoto Station consolidates eight restaurants into Ramen Koji or Ramen Alley. Most are outposts of popular ramen chains from across Japan. My husband and I ventured to the floor and found each set-up similarly – with a vending machine order system out front and a series of tables / bars seats making up the dining room.

After doing a full circle, we ended up choosing Menya Iroha as it didn’t have a line-up but still seemed busy. I’ll admit, the big poster of Iron Chef Chen also caught our eye even though we couldn’t understand what it was advertising.  Something that’s endorsed by an Iron Chef must be good right? Upon doing some research afterwards, it turns out Menya won best ramen in the Tokyo Ramen competition for the last few years with their black ramen… hence their bragging rights.

Alas, I didn’t realize this was their specialty and after purchasing a combo of ramen, rice and gyoza (¥1,150) and being asked whether I wanted “white” or “black”, I naturally went with white as I prefer salt based soup over soy.  Had I known their crown jewel was the black ramen I would have ordered it – my husband did and said it was delicious.

Having been use to the smaller bowls of noodles served previously, we were surprised with the large size presented to us about ten minutes later. Topped with tons of Japanese scallions, bamboo shoots, a soft boiled egg, two slices of pork, three dried shrimp and a sheet of nori there was a lot of food to get through. The noodles are thinner & softer and the broth more watery than the springy noodle with thick soup combination I’ve become accustomed to in Toronto. I personally prefer the noodles to be more al dante, but enjoyed the broth as it wasn’t as heavy so I could have more of it with the ramen. The slices of pork were marbled to a bacon like consistency and so tender that it just flaked off. If only everything was hotter this would have been one of the better bowls I’ve had in my life. 

Alas, I only had a bite of the rice as I couldn’t even finish the noodles. Luckily, I wasn’t missing much as it’s pretty average - sticky rice with sprinkles of sesame seeds and very hard pieces of dried seaweed. After adding some broth into a spoon with the rice and seaweed it did help rehydrate things and make it more appetizing. 
The gyozas also needed more heat. But, I still loved the lightness of the wrapper and flavourful crust on the bottom; these wrapper didn’t get hard and rubbery as some can get once it’s been sitting out for a while. The simple pork and chive filling was pretty tame so a bit of soy sauce and chili oil was needed to give it the right flavour.

Menya Iroha’s dining space is quite small but has a fair number of counters and four top tables, each equipped with a pitcher of ice water and condiments. If you are looking for a quick and inexpensive meal, this is the place for you. We were in and out in less than half an hour and couldn't finish our meal with their hefty portion sizes. For the price it was a great quality and very satisfying. If you can’t make it to Japan, Menya also has an outpost in LA which may be a bit easier to get to.

Overall mark - 7 out of 10

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!