In the battle for best ramen in Perth the most commonly mentioned candidates would be Nao and Dosukoi, with the odd dissenting vote for Arigataya. With their convenient Perth locations (Dosukoi have a branch in Fremantle too), they're probably some of the busiest and most visited ramen joints in Perth so its not surprising that they'd be the most well known and justly celebrated. However, I'd like to throw the name of a suburban quiet achiever into the Perth's Best Ramen ring - Kai Japanese in Bull Creek.
Located in the shopping village on Parry Avenue, Kai is a very small, 14-seater with an unassuming appearance - except for the fact that on a Friday and Saturday night, they invariably had a queue of people waiting patiently on the outside. Some sit and chat while playing on their phones while others linger by the door if they know they're up next and a table might be ready soon. Once inside, some stools might be pulled up to one of the large tables to accommodate some of the larger groups. Add to this the comings and goings of the takeaway clientele and it can be a bit cramped and hectic, though the air conditioning, constant faint jazz trumpet soundtrack playing in the background and the promise of delicious food provides a calming counterpoint.
This has been our local for a year and a half now and over that time we've tried a lot of the items on the menu. Almost invariably we'll order an entree of the pork gyoza. I've had some terrible gyozas that can barely call themselves pork or prawn gyozas due to the sheer amount of vegetables used as fillers but Kai's gyozas are always juicy and satisfying, with a lovely char that is never overdone, unlike a few times at Arigataya.
At the time of our first visit Alissa and I were very much into miso ramen, and Kai's version of the dish was not that exciting - it seemed a bit bland and less flavoursome than the big three ramen joints mentioned earlier, and the pork was a lot healthier than I prefer - meaning it was a little dry and lacking in that glorious, melt-in-your-mouth fattiness I've grown accustomed to.
The next time however I tried the tonkotsu with karaage, and this was totally on point. Just looking at the opacity of the broth and I knew we were dealing with some collagen-enriched, hours-on-the-hob porky deliciousness. And I was not wrong - this is a delicious broth with excellent noodles and very complimentary toppings. The egg has that lovely half-cooked texture that is better than the often fully cooked yolk at Arigataya, and the karaage is addictively tasty. Ramen is my favourite comfort food, and Kai's has brought me so many moments of joy. When that last noodle is slurped down, it reall is a sad, sad thing.
Beyond the ramen, Kai do a mean Teriyaki Chicken with salad, rice and miso soup. The chicken is nice and crispy and the teriyaki sauce is perfect - neither too sweet or too salty. Comparing it to the same dish at Ohnamiya, Kai's is much more flavoursome, richer and cooked to a higher standard I'd expect in more mid to higher priced Japanese restaurants. This is generally one of Alissa's favourite regular orders when she's not in a noodles mood, though ironically it was me who ordered this when the photo was taken.
If you're particularly hungry/indecisive, the bento box is a fairly deluxe meal, with sashimi, mixed vegetable and seafood tempura, grilled fish, agedashi tofu, karaage, rice and pickle vegetables. All components are of an excellent standard and its a good way to get a decent tasting of what Kai have to offer.
Or if you want to focus on a single main dish, you can always share a side of the agedashi tofu, karaage, and our favourite side order - the grilled squid, which is so simple and yet is amazingly delicious. No photo of the squid this time, but we'll be sure to do another Kai update in the future with some of their other dishes.
The Verdict: Excellent
Considering their low price point, going to Kai is very much a no-brainer for Alissa and I on days when we can't be bothered to cook, and with Japanese this good so close to home we're proud regulars. I've read a few people say the service was below par, but I've always found the staff here to be very friendly; I particularly like how they knowingly say 'see you next time' when we leave the store. Oh yes, you will.
Upon returning from Alissa and Don Eat Asia, I was worried that the tonkotsu ramen would not hold up. Sure, its not as refined as Ichiran's magnificent Hakata-style tonkotsu but its excellent in its own way, and the fact they do such a wide variety of other dishes so well is to their credit. Is it better than Nao and Dosukoi? I'm not prepared to call it just yet, but for true ramen aficionados who have tried Nao, Dosukoi and Arigataya, you need to pay Kai a visit to see for yourselves.