Unless you've really not being paying much attention, the online marketing for Lucky Chan's has been unavoidable. Late last year, the restaurant's innovative Pozible campaign drew a lot of attention from the media as it is the first restaurant in Perth (and apparently Australia) to be crowd-funded (at least partly; the venue is the brainchild of the team behind Cocktail Gastronomy and The Classroom who are hardly unsuccessful). With the Chinese Laundry theme suggested by the restaurant's name, it was to my surprise and delight to discover that Lucky Chan's would in fact specialise in Ramen - that most delectable of Japanese noodles, and a dish for which my love and obsession is well known and documented. When a preview of Lucky Chan's Shio Ramen at the Night Noodle Markets turned out to be a massive disappointment (it was the absolute worst Ramen I've ever eaten), I was worried that Lucky Chan's was going to be a very well publicised dud, and the restaurant's first week jitters of poor service seemed to all but confirm this. Still, as someone who actively Google searches to discover Ramen joints in Perth, I had to try Lucky Chan's for myself, and Alissa and I paid the restaurant a visit on the Wednesday of their second week.
The first thing we noticed when entering Lucky Chan's is that, like the Classroom, the restaurant's design and decor concept is completely on point; this is a really stunning and well planned out space that draws heavily on established Asian iconography in an eye-popping Pop Art, Maximalist pastiche...
... complete with a wall of colourful ironing boards along the stairwell,...
... nice use of text on the steps themselves...
... and the typical hats, fans and lanterns common to the style. Alissa commented that the stairs, industrial look and the multi-storey format of the venue reminded her of Dan Hong's Ms. G's in Sydney - a point of comparison I'm sure that the Lucky Chan's crew would like.
Impressively, the second floor features a very expensive Ramen Noodle-making machine imported from Japan. I presume then that the noodles are made on site, making them the third place in Perth I know that has such a facility (the others are Nao and Arigataya, although I've not seen the machine at Arigataya in use in years, and our last visit was disappointing).
With the rooftop bar full, Alissa and I were sat down at a table on the ground floor. Perusing the menu, it was clear from the Bao and Ramen focus that restaurant was clearly taking its leads from Momofuku Noodle Bar - the successful Ramen Shop from which David Chang built his wildly influential Momofuku empire. The Vegetarian and Lamb Baos didn't really take our fancy, so we decided to go with the Buttermilk Ramen Chicken and Sriracha Mayo Bao - basically a fusion of Chang's famous Pork Bun and his Ramen Fried Chicken. We tried a version of this dish at the Night Noodle Markets Pop-Up which was already pretty good, but this was even better; the decent size piece of chicken was particularly juicy with a crunchy, spicy coating to die for. This was lovely contrasted against the fluffiness of the steamed bao bun, and was like eating a better, less oily version of KFC's Hot and Spicy Chicken in a Bao Bun - what's not to like about that combo? The only criticism we had - and one that we repeatedly questioned about almost every dish we tried - was that the asking price of $7 for 1 bun seemed a bit steep, and we thought that perhaps combo deals of ordering them in sets of 2 or 3 could have been used to get the individual unit price down. Consider that three of the Mantou Buns at Low Key Chow House will set you back $15 while three of the Ramen Chicken Baos come to $21 and its does not look like good value for money.
With the $12+ asking price for the dumplings seeming a bit steep when compared to other Noodle Shops and Dim Sum restaurants, Alissa and I decided to try the Whitebait from Lucky's Littles bar snack menu. These were a fun take on chips - tasting umami due to the intense flavour of Whitebait, with the outer coating reminding Alissa and I of the Fried Chilli Squid Tentacles you can often get at Chinese Malaysian restaurants. The Wasabi Mayo was also good, however the quantity seemed a bit small for the amount of Whitebait on the plate as we had almost run out by the halfway point. This was a good bar snack kind of dish, however we again thought the asking price of $8 seemed pricey when you consider that the Baos are actually cheaper, and we regretted not ordering the dish of Crispy Pig's Ears instead (which itself seemed expensive at $9).
With the memory of the terrible Night Noodle Markets Shio Ramen still fresh in our minds and some of the early reviews since opening being less than stellar, I was worried that Lucky Chan's Tonkotsu Ramen would be another major disappointment. Thankfully, this was not the case; in terms of porky Tonkotsu broths, Lucky Chan's is probably the most Hakata-like I've had in Perth in terms of flavour. The seasoning and porkiness were right for the style, recalling for me such memorable bowls as Ichiran Ramen in Hong Kong and Kokoro Ramen in Melbourne. If it was not quite as good as either of those, it was still a very good Tonkotsu Broth. Next to the comparable Tonkotsu of Hikaru Ramen in the Perth CBD, I would say that I preferred the seasoning of Lucky Chan's bowl, while Hikaru's has a better lipsmacking collogen thickness. The house made noodles served were also pretty good - a vast improvement on the overcooked sogginess served at the Night Noodle Markets. If anything, the fear of overcooking the noodles lead to them being perhaps a little under. Alissa and I agreed that the doneness of the noodles would have probably been spot on if it had been placed in a steaming hot bowl of broth as they would in Asia, however with the cooler temperature it was served at the noodles didn't continue to cook in the broth in the same manner. Still, these were within the acceptable range of doneness for Ramen noodles, and slightly under is definitely preferable to overcooked.
The toppings were not particularly generous, but what was there was good; the thinly sliced slice of Chashu was exceptionally tender, and the Menma had a certain sweetness that was very pleasant, however I thought the Wood Ear Mushrooms were less flavoursome than others I've had. I appreciated that the Chilli level could be tailored to taste (I would go for the full 20 level of heat next time), however I felt the fact all other additions were $3 each seemed a bit pricey. I could understand $3 for extra Chashu, however $3 just for extra garlic or for sweet corn seemed unreasonable. Also, when the asking price of $17.90 gives Lucky Chan's Tonkotsu Ramen the dubious distinction of being the most expensive regular bowl of Ramen I can think of in Perth (excluding large upsizes and Arigataya's triple-sized Mega Ramen), I don't think half of a Half Cooked Egg for free is too much to expect, especially when the half cooked egg served at the Night Noodle Markets was the only geniunely impressive component on the plate. When you consider Tonkotsu Ramen with Karaage and half an egg can be had at Kai and Hikaru Ramen for $9.80, and $10.90 respectively, $20.90 for Lucky Chan's with an egg seems very hard to justify.
Being a Miso fan, Alissa ordered the Danny Ramen, the eponymous chef's choice and house specialty dish. This is basically a Sapporo-style Spicy Miso Ramen with Sweet Corn and Butter added, similar in style to what is served at Nao in Perth (with the addition of Corn and Butter) and Sapporo in Carlisle. As with the Tonkotsu, we were relieved to find that Lucky Chan's Miso Broth was very good, with a good depth of Miso flavour, unctuousness from the Butter and pops of sweetness from the corn. This was better than the Miso Broths we had at Sapporo, Hikaru and even Kai, though I would still say Nao - and to a lesser extent Dosukoi and Arigataya - do Miso better. While the Minced Pork was quite tasty, Alissa and I agreed that Chashu or Karaage would have been preferable, and Alissa came up with the excellent suggestion that Ramen Fried Chicken should be an optional additional topping or substitute. At $15.90, this was closer to a more reasonable price for a bowl of Ramen, and would be comparable to the $15 for the Spicy Miso with Corn, Butter and Mince added at Nao. Overall, Alissa enjoyed the Danny Ramen, although some Fried Chicken and a more reasonable asking price for additional Roasted Garlic would have pushed this bowl to the next level for her.
The Verdict: Very Good
Considering some of the poor reviews of haphazard service they received in their first week and the disappointment of the Shio at the Pop-Up, Alissa and I were glad to say that we enjoyed the food at Lucky Chan's a lot more than we had expected, and were impressed by good service and a pretty good wine list as well. The Chicken Bao was a must try entree (the Whitebait less so) but at the end of the day the Ramen is the restaurant's star attraction. I always say Ramen is 40% broth, 40% noodles and 20% toppings, and Lucky Chan's are already a good way there with both their Tonkotsu and Spicy Miso broths being quite impressive and comparable to some of the better broths we've tried in Australia and overseas. The noodles too were pretty good, and if they were a little underdone I feel like this is something they will be able to work out with a bit more time and experimentation.
Where their Ramen falls a bit behind a few of our other favourites in Perth would be the toppings and lack of affordable customisation, as the options that came standard were good in terms of quality but a bit stingy in terms of quantity, and the $3 blanket charge for any extras other than chilli seemed way too steep for something like more additional garlic or an egg. Additionally, Karaage or Ramen Fried Chicken would have been a nice alternative to substitute in - a common option offered by other restaurants. Affordability and value for money was probably our major issue with the restaurant in general, as every dish seemed about $2 more expensive than local and Eastern States price benchmarks for this kind of food, and would be a consideration for Alissa and I in making repeat visits. Still, Lucky Chan's has definitely debuted as one of the better Ramen restaurants in Perth, and we'll be interested to see how they improve and develop their Ramen as time goes on.