In spite of being adventurous eaters who are always on the look out for new and interesting places to eat, Alissa and I can be very much creatures of habit. On a regular week night when we're too lazy to cook or to go anywhere too far from home, Alissa and I will invariably go for 'Japanese'. In spite of a few Japanese restaurants within 5 minutes from our house, we both understand that going for 'Japanese' means going to Kai - a tiny, always packed restaurant in Bull Creek that serves up one of our favourite bowls of tonkotsu ramen in Perth as well as excellent renditions of others classics like teriyaki chicken, gyoza and udon (both hot and cold). With Kai's ramen being as good as it is, it took us a while to follow up on a tip to try the ramen at the relatively new Japanese restaurant Tatami.
Located in the same complex as Bateman Eating House, Alissa and I actually drive past Tatami every time we go to Kai. When Alissa and I moved into the area, the same site was a fish and chips shop of some repute before a change of owners apparently drove down its quality (or at least its Urbanspoon rating), and its perhaps for this reason that we hadn't paid much attention to Tatami's opening. The restaurant's decor is simple but effective, with a surprisingly large open kitchen that is probably a legacy of its days as a fish and chips shop. Aesthetically, this is a larger and far better looking space than Kai's somewhat ramshackle interior.
A few days before visiting Tatami, Alissa and I had visited the very well regarded Kanta Japanese in Langford. While most of the dishes at Kanta were incredible, their Gyoza was surprisingly mushy and below the standard of the best that we've tried. Tatami's Gyoza was definitely better, with the filling having the right amount of give and being neither tough or mushy in texture. Kai still had it beat in our opinion, however it was better than many others we have tried in Perth and overseas, with the Chilli Oil Dipping Sauce making it taste much like its Chinese cousin - Jiaozi.
For mains, Alissa decided to go with the Chicken Teriyaki Bento Box. Though it lacked the delicious (if unhealthy) crispy skin of Kai's incredible version, the Chicken Teriyaki itself was succulent and flavoursome with a pleasing gingery flavour alongside the dominant salty-sweetness of Teriyaki Sauce. The rice was particularly well cooked, being able to clump together and be picked up by chopsticks while at the same time still being whole grains of rice. This is the bare minimum of what you should be getting at a Japanese restaurant when it comes to rice, however its amazing how many fail this simple test. The seasoning on top added extra flavour and was much appreciated by Alissa, as were the Takoyaki Balls. While not as large as the ones at Nao, the Takoyaki were on the larger side, with a nice fluffy texture and a good amount of octopus inside; these we as good as Kai's. The rest of the components were all competently made if not particularly outstanding - most Edamame and Seaweed Salads don't vary much from store to store to be honest. Overall, Alissa and I agreed that this was better than similar bento boxes at Silver Sushi and Ohnamiya.
Of course, my main reason for wanting to visit Tatami was to try their ramen. Tatami offer a choice of a Tonkotsu broth or Spicy Miso. Preferring the porkiness of a good Tonkotsu, I went with the former. For me, a good bowl of ramen is 40% about the noodles, 40% the broth and toppings taking out the remaining 20%. The noodles used at Tatami were good, albeit generic, and were cooked to the right level of bite I would want in ramen noodles. The pork belly topping had a nice fall apart texture and rich flavour, and the egg was perfectly cooked with a nice, still not set yolk. The broth was a bit more problematic however. Except for a slight distracting sweetness, the broth itself was flavoursome and porky as it should be however I could tell just by looking at it that it had not be boiled for anywhere near as long as it needed to be. A good tonkotsu can be boiled for 8 hours or more, with the the long cooking time releasing the collagen from the bones. The result is the thick, intensely porky broth I expect when I order ramen. Tatami's version seemed like it had only gone halfway to where it needed to be, so while it was tasty enough it was far from the best tonkotsu I have tried. Usually I would rate Tonkotsu broths far above the other styles of ramen, however the Miso-based broths of Nao and Dosukoi and the Shoyu broth of Kanta were better than this bowl.
An additional topping of Chicken Karaage was tasty, with a nice kick of ginger and succulent, flavoursome meat. However, the batter seemed a bit heavy-handed. When you compare to the refined, thin outer layer of the Karaage served at Jun in the city to these, their is no real competition.
A few days after trying Tatami for the first time, Alissa and I came in for a second visit. Just as Kai are better at making a Tonkotsu broth than they are at their Miso broth, I had wondered if the Spicy Miso was Tatami's strength. My curiosity paid off; the Spicy Miso broth was way better than the Tonkotsu. This was a legitimately good miso broth, with a richer umami flavour than the Tonkotsu broth I had tried during our first visit. In the big picture of Perth's ramen restaurants specialising in Miso broths, I would rate Tatami's Miso behind Dosukoi and Nao, however it was superior to Kai's miso broth.
Alissa tried their Udon which proved to be a another successful dish. The nice, clear udon broth had a pleasingly umami dashi-based flavour, with juicy noodles that were not overcooked and chicken pieces that were crispy and well cooked. They seemed different to the Karaage served during our first visit, perhaps being pieces of teriyaki chicken that had been deep fried. Overall, Alissa and I agreed that Kai still had the edge over Tatami when it came to Udon, but that this was better than the Udon we recently tried at Silver Sushi.
The Verdict: Very Good
Overall, Alissa and I felt their was much to like about Tatami. Although their Tonkotsu Broth was a bit disappointing and their Karaage a bit overly battered, the rest of their dishes were well executed and tasty. The Spicy Miso Ramen was for me the star dish, being one of the better Miso Broths I've had in Perth and a dish worthy of being added to our semi-regular roster of locals to visit when we are not going to Kai, alongside Silver Sushi and Kitchen Inn. And therein lies a bit of a problem for Tatami - in other suburbs they would probably be the best local Japanese restaurant, however their proximity to Kai puts them in direct competition with one of Perth's best. With Kai's Tonkotsu Ramen, Udon and Teriyaki Chicken being such major and persuasive draws, Tatami will probably always be a second tier choice for Japanese in the area. However for Bateman and Bull Creek locals who prefer Miso over Tonkotsu, Tatami are definitely recommended.