Koukaibou (こうかいぼう); Another Shop of W Soup, Monzen Nakacho
So the consecutive reviews of “W Soup” ramen restaurants is me realizing I have some back log of restaurants I need to review and I’m trying to group them together so I can make a top 5 list in the near future. If you’re a follower of my blog, you may know that the “W Soup” isn’t necessarily my favorite ramen style, but I’m trying my best to review all the top ramen restaurants so here I am banging out another one. And yes, this was from last summer, hence everyone in the photos wearing summer clothing. Anyways, Koukaibou is quite a popular ramen shop near Monzen Nakacho station out towards the new fish market, Toyosu. The shop is located just a brisk five minutes away and you’ll immediately recognize it from the long lines it draws (as you can see from the photo).
Koukaibou is closed on Wednesdays and Sundays and only open for lunch on Saturdays from 11:00 to 15:00. Rest of the days Koukaibou’s hours are 11:00 to 15:00 for lunch and 17:30 to 18:30 for dinner. Yes, you read that correctly, they are only open for an hour for dinner. Your best bet is to come for lunch on weekdays if you’re visiting Tokyo, and come early on Saturdays if you live here in Japan and are busy on weekdays. Anyways, once you reach the store, just head to the back of the line and as the line diminishes a menu will be sent back towards you. While the menu looks long, its actually quite simple. From the top is Ramen (680 yen), Char Siu Ramen (1000 yen), Menma (bamboo shoots) Ramen (830 yen), Ajitsuke Tamago (soft boiled egg) Ramen (780 yen), and Tsukemen (780 yen). On the next level down, the toppings are on the left and rice dishes on the right. The toppings include Char Siu Roast Pork (320 yen), Soft Boiled Egg (100 yen), Menma bamboo shoots (150 yen), Nori Dried Seaweed (100 yen), Wakame Regular Seaweed (100 yen), Boiled Dumplings (330 yen), and Grilled Dumplings (380 yen). Regular rice (100 yen), Large Rice (150 yen), and Char Siu Roast Pork Rice (300 yen) round out the rice dishes. Next level down is the set menu of Char Siu Roast Pork over Rice and Ramen (930 yen) and Ramen with Rice and Raw Egg (780 yen). The very bottom level is the beer on the left and appetizers on the right. Beer selections include Carlsberg on tap (450 yen), Heartland Beer bottle (600 yen), and a Suntory Malts bottle (550 yen). The appetizers include Menma Bamboo shoots (150 yen), Char Siu Roast Pork (320 yen), Boiled Dumplings (330 yen) and Grilled Dumplings (380 yen).
I opted for an order of Ajitsuke Tamago Ramen with a side of Char Siu Roast Pork over rice. I’ll start off with my thoughts on the ramen with the rice bowl to follow. Adorned in the bowl of ramen, in addition to my topping of soft boiled egg, are menma bamboo shoots, a slice of Char Siu roast pork, dried seaweed and a sprinkle of green onions. The bowl is quite small and I should have gotten the Oomori, extra noodles for 100 yen more, as it didn’t quite fill me up. However, I have no complaints about the ramen itself as it was quite a flavorful bowl. The soup here at Koukaibou is a pork broth mixed with a Niboshi, dried sardine broth. The tare, or seasoning sauce, is Shoyu based and it helps accentuate the Niboshi, umami flavor. The soup leans heavily towards the fishier side, so many niboshi ramen fans love Koukaibou’s bowl. You can sort of see from the photos the remnants of the ground niboshi around the edges of the soup. The flecks of soup around the rim is actually bits of powdered fish, or Gyofun. The thickness comes from a combination of the gyofun fish powder and the rich pork broth resulting in a pretty dense soup. It’s definitely not for all as those who might not enjoy a heavy fish flavor might not enjoy the bowl, but as you might have guessed, it draws tons of fans as many Japanese ramen enthusiasts love this variety. I did think that Koukaibou was able to simmer the broth in a way that eliminated a lot of the bitterness of the fish so its not overly fishy, but I can’t recommend it to people who might have a dislike of that flavor. I’ve heard fans of Koukaibou say that the soup here is quite light in comparison to other W soup restaurants making it quite refreshing, but again, this is in comparison to other W soup ramen which is already a rich soup base.
(Apologies for the poor photo quality, lighting was quite bad in the store) The noodles, which are round with medium thickness, are made in house and pairs perfectly with the soup at Koukaibou. Noodles are egg based and packs a lot of gluten so you’ll have a protein rich, chewy texture throughout and doesn’t lose to the rich flavor of the soup. As the soup is thick, even though the noodles are straight, it still clings a good amount of soup with every bite. The menma bamboo shoots are sauteed in the shop so it adds a wonderful, smoky charred flavor to your bowl. It’s seasoned with a bit of sesame oil and soy sauce so it is a bit more flavorful than most bamboo shoots. My soft boiled egg was cooked a bit too much for my liking as you can see from the picture a bit of hardened yellow on the edges, but it was perfectly seasoned in the same marinade as the char siu and therefore was quite good. The pork char siu wasn’t anything to write home about, but was very tender and melted in my mouth. Would have like a bit meatier char siu with this soup base, but the flavors were on point.
The Char Siu roast pork honestly fit better in this rice bowl as it loses in the flavor battle with the soup, but pairs perfectly with the pillowy rice. The saltiness and savory flavors of the soy sauce marinade makes for an amazing compliment to the rice and I honestly wished I had more rice to go along with the pork. As it is quite tender, its easy to break apart and spread it over the entirety of the bowl and it makes every bite of rice feel like heaven. The dried seaweed was a nice touch as it added a bit of seafood umami, but also prevented the marinade from soaking too much in to the rice. I definitely recommend going for the rice bowl rather than an extra topping of char siu for your ramen as I think this is infinitely more enjoyable. While it may not look like a lot, it is still a lot of flavor for such a small bowl of rice, so definitely get a portion size up on the rice for an extra 50 yen.
While the W soup may not be my favorite, I can still appreciate good ramen when given to me. I may not go again in the near future, but I definitely don’t regret going as I am glad I got to experience what others rave about. The sweet and savory pork char siu, intense umami flavor of the soup, the eggy noodles, and charred menma bamboo shoots came together harmoniously for a memorable bowl. If you find yourself not liking a fish-y bowl of ramen, look elsewhere, but if you do, this is definitely the shop for you.