Japanese expats and Melbourne ramen-philes have been going wild for Hakata Gensuke, a specialty tonkotsu ramen shop that is now over a year old and still sporting queues as if it was brand-new to the scene. The thick, textural, pork bone soup is a Kyushu specialty and having had ramen champion, Kousuke Yoshimura, himself overseeing the restaurant start-up, you can expect an authentic Fukuoka-style tonkotsu ramen.
A check-the-box order form offers a fully customisable ramen experience from three soup options. Classic tonkotsu is a creamy, collagen-rich hit of salty, porky goodness, with the addition of a garlic and black sesame paste delivering a striking, inky soup with a hint of that distinctive kurogoma bitterness (a must-try). “Gods Fire” is the go-to for spice lovers but if you’re thinking of going all out with the four-chili version, be warned; this chili oil laden number will have the most hardened of chili-eaters sweating, with the remnant lip-tingling sensation lasting for hours afterwards.
Thin, house-made noodles can be served with a minimum of cooking, leaving them satisfyingly chewy, or cooked to varying degrees of softness. For toppings, meltingly soft chashu pork slices and soy egg are a given, with an assortment of veg (bamboo shoots, wood-ear fungus, bean shoots, sweet corn) for texture. You might want to skip the extra serve of noodles to save room for juicy, golden fried karaage on the side.
While the lines may be long, turnover is quick (you can tell from the frequency of shouts of “irrasshaimase!”), with efficiency worthy of a Japanese noodle bar, most patrons being in and out within half an hour. It’s pretty close to the real thing, down to the little sesame grinders for that final touch before you dig in. Any closer and it’d be standing room only with ticket machine orders.
With donutella madness hitting fever pitch in Melbourne, it was only a matter of time before Luxbite entered the ring with their take on the popular dessert mash-up. To be honest, I have not really understood the attraction. Much thicker than custard or jam, the downfall of the nutella-donut combo is the hazelnut spread’s inability to diffuse through the pastry. What you’re left with is one mouthful of chocolate-y goodness, followed by many mouthfuls of dry pastry, further exacerbated by low nutella-to-dough ratios. The solution to this problem? Introducing the Do-Nut-Tell-Lara. Two rings of golden, cinnamon-sugar crusted choux puff hemispheres, sandwiched together with creamy raspberry donut custard, light chantilly cream and hazelnut-centred nutella spheres, haloed by a ring of raspberry chocolate. This is masterful composition; the end product is a ring of bite-sized, nutella and cream-filled profiteroles. Decadent but not heavy, sweet but not cloyingly so, think raspberry ferrero with every mouthful. And it’s not deep-fried so it must get a tick for being somewhat better for you right?
Luxbite has been enticing visitors to South Yarra with creative desserts and colorful macarons since 2010. Master patissier, Bernard Chu, pays homage to his Malaysian heritage by fusing popular Asian flavours with classic French technique. Blueberry marscapone cheesecake is lifted by the yakult-like tang of calpis (a carbonated, fermented milk drink), while matcha lends its distinctive bitterness to fluffy sponge cake, balancing sweet and tangy flavours of layered watermelon yoghurt and strawberry mousse in their signature meringue-encased Meringue Monster.
Kopiko (a popular Indonesian coffee-flavoured candy), pandan, mandarin and oolong tea feature in the macaron selection alongside more conventional salted caramel, white chocolate and red velvet, while fragrantly sweet rose-lychee is upscaled and married brilliantly with tart, fresh raspberries in their Endless Love macaron dessert.
Patisserie is a craft of refinement and elegance, but that does not preclude having a bit of fun. A colorful Lolly Bag Cake looks just like something from the window of a candy store (of the specialty kind given its seven-layer complexity), complete with pink redskin glaze, while a Rilakkuma (Japanese pop culture character, “Relaxed Bear”) inspired cookie, chocolate, banana and strawberry tart is almost too cute to eat. Almost….
It’s a theme that extends to the design of the cafe. Brightly coloured candy stripes stand out against a sleek, monochrome palette of black, white marble and matte gold.