You’ve probably read or heard about Butao before. It’s the famous restaurant in Hong Kong where people start lining up very early in the morning just to eat their ramen. I’ve been to Hong Kong several times but have never set food inside that place so I can’t really say what the hype was all about. When news spread that it was opening in Manila under the name Ramen Nagi late last year, things got crazy in the local food scene. Finally, after the initial hype has gone down a bit, my parents and I were able to try their food and find out what was attracting so much attention.
Ramen Nagi is located at the 5th floor of SM Aura. It’s right next to Yabu and is very near another famous restaurant, Todd English Food Hall (which I should visit soon, by the way). We arrived a good hour after the usual office lunch break on a weekday, and yet we had to wait for another 15 minutes or so until they could find a table for us. We didn’t mind since it gave us an opportunity to observe the things happening in the area.
The inside of the SM Aura branch was small and we noticed that table sharing is a common practice. It can get noisy with the staff members routinely shouting Japanese phrases for greeting new customers, forwarding orders to the kitchen and saying goodbye to leaving customers. If you’re looking for a place to enjoy your meal in peace and quiet, Ramen Nagi won’t be your best option.
Ramen Nagi had several condiments placed on each table which their customers can help themselves freely to. One was this bowl of spicy bean sprouts, which tasted a lot like kimchi (without the slightly sour tinge). Mom enjoyed munching on these things while waiting for our food to arrive.
Dad became very curious with the garlic cloves in another bowl. We didn’t find out until later on (through own observation and research) that we could request for a garlic press and then use it to add a stronger garlic flavor to our ramen.
We were already provided with some cold barley tea when we were seated, so I’m not sure why I still went ahead and ordered their Homemade Iced Tea (Php95.00, single serve).
I have to warn you: my parents and I were pretty famished at that point, so we knew we were going to be ordering a lot more than what’s enough for just 3 adults. 😉
Ramen Nagi had a separate menu which highlighted their newest dishes. Dad said we should order some and try them out. Their gyoza (Php190.00 for five pieces), served in a sizzling plate, was stuffed generously with a mix of meat and vegetables. They were served hot but lacked the crisp outer texture which we expected.
The chicken karaage (Php200.00) came in a pretty big serving and was served still piping hot. It also came with some shredded cabbage and mustard mayo on the side. Unfortunately, the chicken didn’t have any flavor to it so it was one of the items none of us enjoyed. This is one entry that truly needs a bit of extra work.
Mom wanted to try their Chashu Rice (Php165.00), which is Japanese rice topped with roasted pork fillet and belly. The sauce they used for this is on the sweeter side, so Dad was unable to give it a try. Mom said there was nothing special to this either.
Despite all those side dishes, my parents and I didn’t forget to order the stuff that the restaurant was known for: their ramen. Once seated, you’re given a form to fill out so that you could specify the things you want to have in your ramen. If you’re a first-timer, just plain lazy or simply enjoy how the chefs usually prepare your meal, then just encircle Chef’s Recommendation and you won’t have to strain your brain by thinking too much. :p
We fell under the first-timers’ category, so we went with Chef’s recommendation for all our ramen. Mom always goes for the safest stuff on the menu, so she ended up getting the Original King (also known as the Butao Ramen, Php390.00). The classic tonkotsu pork broth was very rich and was a nice match to the springy noodles.
Dad had his eyes set on the Black King (Php410.00). The jet-black color is due to the calamari ink mixed with the broth. Dad said that it was mix of salty, sweet and spicy. He thought that it was pretty good, but made a mental note to request for the removal of everything sweet (if possible), if we decide to go back to the restaurant.
Since Dad already went with the Black King, I decided to choose something else and ordered the Green King (Php410.00). This one is a Japanese dish with Italian influences; the tonkotsu broth was mixed with olive oil, basil and parmesan cheese. It’s a strange thing, eating ramen which tasted so much like pesto, but it does grow on you after a while.
At the end of our meal, my parents and I agreed that Ramen Nagi was just so-so, not something that’s worthy of all the hype. We appreciate the fact that you can easily customize your bowls of ramen to make it match your preferences and we did enjoy the gyoza and beansprouts, but everything else fell a bit short.
Service was mostly excellent throughout our visit, although some of their servers managed to ruin everything towards the end. One of them decided to throw the bill on our table instead of handing it to my Dad, and then left us without a word. It may not be something that happens often, but we did have a short talk with the manager on duty to make her aware of the incident and hope that their entire team will make an effort to improve on their manners.
*Curious? Ramen Nagi currently has two branches in Manila: one at the SM Aura and another at the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay. They will be opening other branches soon at Robinson’s Magnolia and SM North EDSA. Visit their official Facebook page here.