I rarely go for ramen because I find the soups are beyond salty, fatty, and pretty tasteless. The only good bowl I ever had was in Tokyo over 30 years ago. But, my interest was piqued when I heard about a small casual restaurant that opened in Toronto by a Japanese chef. Not just any Japanese chef, but Atsushi Yamamoto, who started with an eight-seat restaurant in Tokyo that earned home a Michelin Star three years running, plus the Bib Gourmand Award four years in a row, created for restaurants with fabulous moderately priced food. He chose Toronto for his first overseas location. He flew into town recently to check on his 40 seat restaurant, that opened in 2017, Konjikin Ramen at 5051 Yonge Street, north of Sheppard.
He prepared a special “by invitation only” dinner and I was honored to be asked to come try out. I can’t speak for his regular menu, but his special menu was outstanding, and apparently he was trying out new recipes specifically for his Toronto spot, sourcing seasonal, locally grown ingredients. He used corn and tomatoes in his dishes as they are at their peak in Ontario in August when I dined.
What makes his food so exquisite? Every single step is painstakingly considered, noodles are made fresh, off-site, with four different types of flour, the rich style broth is made from scratch in the back. He uses uncompromising standards in preparing each bowl of ramen. Everything is made on imported Japanese equipment.
The restaurant shares space with a Japanese dessert place called Saryo, and they make the sweets for the restaurant. The space is long and narrow, with elevated seating in the middle, and regular tables around the outer edges of the establishment.
Our tasting menu began with lobster gyoza, a handmade dumpling with a nice size portion of lobster inside. Next up was a sensational soup made with corn, heavy cream and butter. On the side was a large bowl of noodles, with sous vide smoked chicken and vegetables with a barely cooked egg.
This came with a set of instructions on how to eat and enjoy the soup, in five easy steps.
1) Enjoy the noodles by itself by dipping the noodle into the soup and taste.
2) After eating up 1/3 of the noodle, dissolve the porcini sauce, that is on your spoon into the soup, then dip your noodles into the soup.
3) After finishing 2/3 of the noodles, squeeze your lemon wedge on the noodle, then dip the noodles into the soup, and taste again.
4) After finishing all the noodles, please pour some soup on the rice, mix well and taste. The small bowl of rice sat on top of a rich sauce made of two types of tomatoes, with butter and parsley.
5) If you like to drink the remaining soup, you may ask your server to add some more hot clam broth to your bowl.
We were moaning in ecstasy. His famous clam broth, made with pork bones is cooked for over 10 hours. The broth had complex and harmonizing flavours that were full-bodied and perfectly balanced. He introduces and creates innovative, upscale ingredients for his broths like truffles, and porcini mushrooms. He rotates his flavours on the menu as well. Our dessert was a yuzu tart and the best green tea ice cream that I have ever had.
Apparently, they bring in the tea from Kyoto Japan, and it had a nutty roasted flavour, of a top quality tea. It was worth the sleeping pill I had to take to fall asleep that night.
Tokyo Walker Magazine named his restaurant the number one ramen shop in Tokyo and the number two in Japan. We are lucky to have an outpost in Toronto, although unfortunately, the chef will not be the one cooking there.
I hear it is difficult to get into the restaurant, and there are long lineups. I suggest going on off hours. Chef Yamamoto told us some good news, through his translator. They will be opening another location in downtown Toronto on Elm Street, which is near Dundas and Yonge.
It is worth trying out to see and taste the traditional methods used to provide his flavour packed broth and his delicious noodles.