Readers of my blog would be familiar by now with my increased affection towards ramen. I really did start not being very impressed by this dish (and I still think noodles in Jakarta are WA-A-A-A-Y better than any ramen you’d care to throw at me), but with the recent fascination that Toronto has with ramen houses, I’ve really begun to appreciate them in a new way. Which is good too because these ramen joints are popping up around this lovely city faster than Justin Bieber videos getting downvoted on Youtube.
One of those hip joints is Kinton Ramen. It opened in Toronto a few years back and has a reputation for ALWAYS being busy to the point of patrons pretty much expecting to line up during mealtimes. I don’t know whether it was because the food was that good or if it was simply a product of the hype combined with Toronto’s recent ramen-philia, but I’ve always penciled Kinton down in my “to do” list as one of those places I just have to visit one day. And on a cold winter’s evening (is there any other in Toronto?), armed with the knowledge that they serve a delightful-sounding dish called cheese ramen, WW and I finally had our first experience of this much-hyped and much-loved ramen house. First things first. I have always wondered why every single picture I’ve seen of Kinton seems to show only the same angles of the place. Surely people would get creative and photograph other spots inside the restaurant? Not to mention, why do all the pictures keep on showing this narrow corridor-like area?
Well, when we got there, we found out that that narrow corridor pretty much IS the main area of the restaurant, with a little corner in the deep end housing a few tables and a smaller one close to the entrance (where we sat) housing a rather cramped table. The whole layout of the restaurant reminds me of a capital “I” letter turned sideways. It WAS, suffice to say, really cramped. That’s not to say that the overall ambience was disappointing, it was actually cool and hip in a wood-heavy and modern-minimalist-Japanese kinda way. But cramped is still cramped, and we struggled to be seated comfortably in our little corner, in which we practically almost had our faces plastered to the full-length glass windows.
OK so it’s not the most comfortable place to sit down and eat up your overpriced noodle soup. But at least it’s understandable as ramen places in japan have a very cafeteria-like seating arrangement. Plus, in Momofuku (arguably THE place to be seen eating this stuff in Toronto), the seats are like that too. So maybe there’s a template of sorts to follow. This can and will be forgiven provided the food is really as awesome as the hype. WW ordered the spicy garlic ramen while I ordered the astoundingly healthy-sounding cheese ramen, which I admit was a major reason in me wanting to try this place.
The food came pretty quickly, served by friendly (but really shouty) Japanese twenty-somethings that lend that little bit of coolness (I guess) to the place. Both looked rather large, and all attention was quickly drawn to the massive mound of garlic on WW’s bowl. “I think you should mix that”, I quipped, offering my wisdom, as if there was any other way of eating it. We both found the noodles to be a little al dente, which I love in a ramen setting but WW is not too keen on, while the broth was quite delicious but lacking a little bit of richness. Perhaps it’s not something that should be there, but I always like to have a little bit of smooth richness in my ramen broth to give it that extra “kick”. Speaking of kicks, it’s really not that spicy, especially to Mr. and Mrs. Iron Tongue like us. Overall, quite good but lacking a little something.
Of course, now my full attention is on my crazy cheese ramen, and despite a similar mound of garlic, what drew my eye was (understandably) the large quantities of cheese shavings all over my noodles. There was so much of it that it looked like the head of a mop. This was too beautiful for words (I do love my cleaning supplies), and I quickly mixed them all in gleefully, delighting in discovering that they immediately transformed into gooey cheese strings. As for the taste, I really did like how the cheese provided that extra creaminess that I was looking for in my noodles. The broth instantly became milkier and richer, but without turning into some sort of cream soup. The noodles were similarly al dente, and the ingredients all meshed nicely together. One weak point was the pork belly which is pretty much 100% fat (I guess the term “belly” should’ve given it away, really) and completely inedible, though it did have a hint of smoky char that I liked.
Overall, I felt that Kinton is a good ramen place, but is not really the worth the over-hype that it gets. It’s chic, cool, with good food, but I still don’t think the overall quality and taste justifies paying almost $10 for what is essentially noodle soup. I can get ramen of similarly good quality at J-Town’s Niwatei. So the sum total of the experience was solid but unspectacular. Except for their washrooms. Those were freakin’ awesome. So unless your level of satisfaction in a place of dining is driven primarily where people go to experience bowel movements (or play Flappy Birds, whatever), then I’d probably say this one’s not worth the hype.
I do feel a little cooler for trying it, though.
–Final verdict: Boleh Makan!
51 Baldwin St
Toronto, ON M5T 1L1