Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Taka's Kitchen (Shafto Lane), Perth, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

Taka Japanese Cuisine (AKA Taka's Kitchen) needs little in the way of an introduction. Its Fremantle branch was the place that introduced me to Japanese food back in the '90s, a time when sushi was still a little alternative and Matsuri was considered one of the best Japanese restaurants in town (oh how times have changed). Given its remains a renowned and popular cheap and cheerful Perth institution in spite of better Japanese restaurants having opened in its wake, blogging about it might seem a little unnecessary. However, with the addition of ramen to their menu sometime in the last 2 years or so, my goal of eating and rating every ramen in Perth would not be complete without giving my thoughts on their version of one of my favourite dishes.

While saving for our honeymoon, Alissa and I often found ourselves at the Barrack St store when our budget couldn't be stretched beyond their super cheap prices. Taka's is like McDonald's as its pretty consistent from store to store, so having parked at the west end of the CBD we decided to visit their branch in Shafto Lane for a change.

The layout is very similar to the Barrack St store - numerous tables lined up to form two rows in a large share table/mess hall configuration, with smaller 4-person tables on the sides. There also is bar seating for periods of extreme capacity, though I can't recall them ever being used when I've been in.

My order of Ramen Noodles came served with chicken, boiled egg and seaweed in broth. The broth seemed to be a kind of Shoyu-based broth with a strong chicken flavour, and was sweeter and milder than the Miso or Tonkotsu styles. It was quite tasty in its own right, reminding me of the Asian-style Maraconi Chicken Soup I often ate as a child, and was more successful than the the tasteless tonkotsu broth at Zensaki. Still, it couldn't compare to the more complex flavours of heartier (though less healthy) broth styles found at Nao, Arigataya and Kai.

The noodles served here were described as 'thin egg noodles', thankfully not the thin egg noodles served with wanton noodles, but something with the expected ramen thickness and appearance. The use of egg in ramen is something I find a little controversial as the yellow colour is traditionally a product of alkaline salts (kansui) rather than egg content. Nao's much lauded ramen is also made with egg content, so its not like Taka's are the only ones doing this. Overall the noodles had a nice toothsome bite that I appreciated. Though they were no where near as as good as Kai or Nao, they were an improvement on the overcooked mee pok-style noodles served at Arigataya. The topping of chicken was the Taka's Teriyaki Chicken Standard Issue they use in many of their dishes. This was decent enough, though far from the best Teriyaki Chicken I've had; Karaage would have been preferable. Finally, the boiled egg was just that - a boiled egg, not the marinated egg with the slightly liquid yolk I've had at other places, but at least lacking the blue ring of overcookedness.

For a point of difference, Alissa went with the Teriyaki Chicken Udon, which contains the same standard Teriyaki Chicken that came with my ramen.. For a mass production no-frills place like Taka's I was expecting that the broth served here would perhaps be identical to the Shoyu broth used in the ramen noodles or the same as the miso soup that comes with all the large serves of rice dishes. So I was quite surprised to find that it was a different, thinner broth in keeping with the udon style. The broth and noodles tasted correct for the style, but it was inferior to versions made by Kai and Zensaki which come with mixed tempura and soft shell crab respectively.

Feeling like sharing a side of something, Alissa and I ordered a plate of the Chicken Karaage, which came with rice and a serve of Miso Soup which we didn't eat. I've ordered this dish many times in the past and its surprisingly good for what it is, having that nice, gingery flavour and crispiness you'd expect from a good Karaage.  It was better than Zensaki's Karaage, though Alissa and I agreed we like our standard order of Karaage at Kai's a lot more.

The Verdict: Good
Taka's are far from my favourite Japanese restaurant in town, however at such a low price point they practically rule the budget Japanese market. And with good reason, as they are great value from a price to quality perspective. Their ramen was not exactly the most exciting ramen I've had, but it was at least tasty and enjoyable; if it didn't reach the level of Nao or Kai, it at least didn't fail at achieving an aspect of the dish as recent bowls at Zensaki and Arigataya did (bad broth and bad noodles respectively). Alissa and I have tried most of Taka's dishes over many years of eating here, and while its never mindblowing its always at least satisfying. On a budget? Want Japanese? Go to Taka's.

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