I’ve been living the life of a Japanese salaryman ever since I got a new job. I wake up at 4:30, leave the house at 6:30, arrive at 8, work until 12 and have lunch, go back to work at 1 and take a coffee break at 3, then work until 6. It takes me two hours to commute home that I only need to sleep by the time I arrive. Eat, sleep, work, repeat. Just like my Japanese counterparts, however, I tend to stop by a random restaurant to eat dinner so I’m full when I arrive home. Nightly izakaya visits are part of the Japanese salaryman lifestyle. Iza-what? For those who have no idea what the word means, an izakaya is a casual drinking place in Japan that serves both alcoholic drinks and food to go along with these. Typically located near a train station, an izakaya is always full of salarymen who want to unwind after a stressful day at the office, similar to a watering-hole for the working class in Western countries. I’m not actually a drinker, but I would want to go to a place where I can have a good meal and loosen up – and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a Japanese restaurant.
Fortunately, there’s one along West Avenue accessible by public transportation – Ramen Cool. It’s not exactly an izakaya per se with alcoholic drinks and all – but a Japanese restaurant serving ramen, sushi, and a whole lot of culinary offerings from the Land of the Rising Sun. This is actually their second branch, with the original being located at Kapitolyo in Pasig. Conveniently located at the ground floor of the WestLife Building beside Starbucks, Ramen Cool is a quaint refuge from the perennially busy stretch that is West Avenue. (I understand if the English boy band comes to mind with the name, but the building’s name is seriously legitimate.) If you’re riding a jeep that passes by West Avenue, simply go down at Bulacan Street (Barangay Bungad) and walk a short distance. Despite being located in an unassuming spot, Ramen Cool is one place you’d definitely stop by to unwind (or maybe reward yourself) after a stressful work week. There were a few diners that Friday – maybe they went to the other food spots nearby. There’s a Starbucks, Sa Lido Panciteria, Infinitea, and a bar on the same row where Ramen Cool is located. I’ve read a lot of reviews about it; an officemate warned me about their huge ramen servings, which I kept in mind.
A J-Pop concert was playing in the background as soon as I entered. The staff led me to a seat in the restaurant’s inner area. Each dining section had wooden dividers that lent an air of privacy and warmth. Mind you, all that wood evoked memories of a Japanese rest house, complete with an onsen (hot spring) bath. A waitress then gave me their menu; it took me some time to choose my order. Truth be told, this was my first time to have ramen in a Japanese restaurant as I’m more of a donburi (rice bowl) eater. I settled for their Mushroom Tempura and Tempura Ramen. A friend recommended the former as he already tried it at Ramen Cool’s main branch, while the latter was a personal choice of mine.
First to arrive was the Mushroom Tempura (P100). Six shiitake mushroom halves breaded with panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) and fried just like the shrimp version, served with a dipping sauce made of sweet soy sauce and ginger. It’s crunchy as expected of good tempura, with an intense umami flavor. Mushrooms such as shiitake contain a high level of umami, which explains the savory taste; too much of this becomes overwhelming in the long run, though. Good thing there was the dipping sauce with its refreshing tartness and sweet taste that balanced it out. I managed to eat two pieces before my order of ramen arrived.
Just like what my officemate told me, their Tempura Ramen (P205) was served in a large bowl. It’s topped with three pieces of tempura – two prawn and one eggplant slice – with bok choy, shredded nori, and spring onions. The prawns and eggplant became soggy due to being soaked in the broth. I put aside a piece of prawn and ate the rest, then proceeded to the ramen itself. As I mentioned, I’m not exactly a noodle person so it was a bit of a challenge to finish it (I succeeded, though). Sadly, the meal wasn’t satisfying enough; the noodles didn’t have much redeeming qualities. I didn’t find anything special in the broth, albeit managing to taste a faint hint of miso (fermented soybean paste). Maybe I’m not exactly used to eating the stuff yet since it was my first time, or I guess it’s different strokes for different folks.
Given that I wasn’t fully satisfied with what I ate and there were still some tempura left, I ordered an extra cup of rice at P55 and a drink. I still had four pieces of the mushroom one and the soggy prawn I set aside – this was more than enough. This one was initially bland due to the overwhelming taste of the ramen, but I realized that the condiments on my table were placed there for a certain reason. Out of curiosity, I tried out the shichimi togarashi (seven flavor chili pepper) – and boy, it was a treasure! It added that much-needed tartness and kick my palate craved for during that time.
And then, my drink arrived. I wanted to have something sweet to wash down everything and cap off the umami explosion. I got what I wished for with the Milo Dinosaur (P100), Ramen Cool’s take on the Singaporean classic. A tall glass of the chocolate drink, topped with Milo powder and a scoop of vanilla ice cream; truly a dessert and beverage rolled into one. Considering that it’s served in a tall glass, the price is rather cheap compared to other dining spots that sell this for around P120-P150. This is more of an American treat from my point of view and seeing it in a Japanese restaurant is rather…off, in my honest opinion. But let’s put that aside. My only comment: it was already filled to the brim that any attempts to stir it caused the drink to overflow. Good thing they had a saucer underneath that tall glass. Later on, I added water as the drink was almost cloying – imagine the Milo and ice cream fusing together. I don’t exactly recommend this to you if you are diabetic or have high blood sugar levels. Either way, my P100 was worth it.
I may not be working in Japan, but I can say Ramen Cool comes close to an izakaya. Despite the lack of alcoholic beverages, a simple spot where one can eat a warm donburi is more than enough. Their ramen may not have been satisfying based on my experience, but I’m definitely returning for their rice meals (not to mention the Milo Dinosaur). As usual, the salaryman needs to go home to his family after an izakaya trip. There were jeeps passing by that went to SM North EDSA, but I chose to walk. Besides, I needed to walk to give my stomach an easier time digesting what I ate and it was only a short distance. Just like the salaryman walking to the train station after a night out, I’m ready for the new week ahead and the eat, sleep, work, repeat cycle.
Check out Ramen Cool on Facebook to get updated with the joint’s latest news, promos, and offerings. Until the next review here at the Guide, bon appetit.