To make sure I do justice to this ramen shop, I've waited till I've tried a bit more ramen before commenting on Buta O. It hadn't been easy to get a place here. To be more practical, I've targeted the Causeway Bay branch instead of the main shop in Central. I have practically skived work to try ButaO (shh... don't tell my boss!
I can't believe my eyes - I've arrived at the CWB ButaO at about 11:45 a.m. and already there was a queue.
Not a long queue, luckily, only 3 persons were in front of me - a Japanese customer and a couple.
Already we were given the menu to fill in while we were waiting. As always, I came here with the sole purpose of trying the spicy ramen. It's called "Aka O" 赤王. I know the original pork bone ramen was the signature dish and it was apparently the one shop which sparked off the whole ramen fever in Hong Kong. However, in my quest to search for the lost spicy ramen broth which I've tried in Shizuoka, Japan, I would only order the spicy broth. So, without doubt: Aka O.
When I was queuing, I heard a staff asking a customer who had just finished his ramen for comments. He said that the Aka O (!
) was OK for him but might be a bit spicy for most people - I thought... really? It's getting interesting.
The ramen here was again customizable and I was given the "application form"
as I was queuing. I ticked Aka O and normal for everything else other than the slightly soft noodle. I also ordered an extra portion of "kikurage きくらげ 黑木耳". This was quite a random choice and I didn't really know why I ordered this. Perhaps it's a psychological thing - having spent so much time and effort to get to this shop, it felt a bit more value for time to get something other than "just" the ramen. Furthermore, just in case the noodle was really spicy, the kikurage could lessen the spiciness.
I was then led into the shop after about 8-10 minutes wait, which was quite a fast turnover of customers.
After sitting down at a pretty crowded table near the inside of ButaO, I was provided with a glass of water. I have to say the seats were really very, very crowded. Much more crowded than most restaurants in Hong Kong, akin to a really small old-school "Chaa Chaan Teng" (e.g. Laan Fong Yuen in Central)
It had about 4-5 seats per table and about 4-5 tables in total.
Even though I've already submitted my application form for the Aka O, the staff have been selling me and everyone in the shop a special guest ramen called Sanshyu O ( 山椒王）- literally "pepper king". After selling me twice and being refused twice ( politely, I stress
), he finally took my order for Aka O - the Red King.
I waited for another about 7-8 minutes for my Red King. It felt like a really long wait because everyone sat so near to each other without any personal space. Everything one does or say was under intense observations. Contrast this to the useful partitions of Tamashi, which was similar to the famous IchiRan in Tokyo. When partitions are used, customers will feel a lot more comfortable despite the lack of space.
Back to the most important part:
The Red King 赤王：日式詠藜園擔擔麵！？
I had a taste of the broth before mixing in the "niku miso 肉味噌", that is the red circular object in the middle of the ramen, so I could try out the pork bone broth. It was really quite good. It's thicker than Ippudo (whether it's the TST or the CWB branch), which meant it had a lot of collagen in it, and very, very aromatic. There is, yet another, newcomer, it's called "Ramen Kureha". It's pork bone broth is even thicker and stronger than Buta O. But I like Buta O's more and I think the taste here should be more "user-friendly". When it comes to Pork bone soup ramen, I have to agree that Buta O is definitely one of the top three in Hong Kong, if not the top.
The 4-5 pieces of decent sized char siu were very delicious. They were quite tender and had a bit of fat on the side. 4-5 pieces could be considered as generous compared to other ramen shops around town.
I'd say the quality of the char siu is definitely top three in Hong Kong as well. Definitely better than Ippudo's and many others.
I believe the spring onion is an essential part of a bowl of ramen as it adds complexity and a sense of freshness in the otherwise heavy pork bone broth. The kikurage which came with the broth was much better than the extra portion I've ordered, which came in a separate bowl. There was a very strong "grassy" taste in the extra kikurage I ordered. It was an unnecessary addition by me.
The noodles were very nice. It's the straight and white orthodox noodle type from Kyushu. I've always preferred softer noodles as it's easier on the stomach (so that I could eat more).
The size of the bowl of noodle was decent. I believe the portion should be quite sufficient for most people. (On the other hand, Kureha's noodle was quite small.)
Then I began to experiment with the niku miso. It looked a bit like a scoop of red-coloured ice cream. A meat miso is basically, surprise surprise, minced pork preserved in miso, sugar, soy sauce, mirin and most importantly - Tou Ban Chang 豆板醬. This is another area where different chefs show off their secret recipes and their skills to customers. The niku miso is usually used as an ingredient in Japanese style MaPo Tofu. To give it an extra kick, ButaO marinated the niku miso with extra Korean grounded chilli powder. I believe they have also added some sesame or nuts into the mixture.
The more I mixed the meat miso into the pork bone broth, the more familiar the taste began to turn into.
......I was thinking long and hard
what that taste was and it eventually dawned on me ...... It tasted very much like the Dan Dan Mien at the also very famous "Wing Lai Yuen Sze Chuen Noodle Restaurant"!
Indeed, it was unmistakably a Dan Dan Mien taste since I've chosen the soft noodles (like the normal texture of dan dan mien), plus the niku miso had quite a lot of tou ban chang and a bit of nuts inside (also essential ingredients of a dan dan mien).
So instead of queuing for Wing Lai Yuen in Wong Tai Sin or Hung Hom, I've queued for a bowl of Dan Dan Mien in Causeway Bay. Don't get me wrong - both are very good. I'm just amused by the similarity. Certainly, ButaO's broth had a stronger pork and chilli taste to it as well as the char siu and fungi, whereas the Dan Dan Mien at Wing Lai Yuen is even softer and the soup had more nuts in it. I have to say that the soup was not that spicy though. Again, the spicy level was similar to the dan dan mien level.
There were some condiments placed on the table for customers. Those included sesame, fruit vinegar (like the Taiwanese apple vinegar), garlic (I think) and three different types of preserved turnip and bamboo shoots. They might look a bit spicy but actually they weren't. There were more sour instead.
Service-wise, other than the bit of hard sell at the very beginning, the service was very good. The staff knew their products well and were very efficient. Although the environment was extremely packed, they managed to clear the tables and served the ramens smoothly and not really interrupting the customers.
When I paid my bill at the counter, I noticed a box of colourful elastic "hair bands" placed next to the cashier. I wonder whether it's for the staff or for customers? Interesting!
All in all, definitely worth a try. However, similar to Ippudo, I will not queue more than 40 minutes for it. I'd definitely suggest ordering the "Pork King" (ButaO). The Red King might be for novelty value only.
Ramen Kureha also served a similar spicy ramen with meat miso. The meat miso there tasted less like a dan dan mein but I would also only suggest you order the pork bone noodle there as well. I'll write a separate comment for Kureha if possible.
Loosely translated as best as I could - "Declaration/ Attention: This is a place where ramen lovers gather. Please enjoy the soup first. If you take one sip of the soup and one bite of the noodle at a time, the ramen would become even more delicious - that is, the marvelous ramen of ButaO."
Table Wait Time: 8 minute(s)
Date of Visit: Mar 16, 2012
Spending per head: Approximately HKD93(Lunch)Other Ratings:
Value for Money 3