It’s funny how chicken, which is just about the mildest and least flavourful meat, has one of the most distinctively flavoured fats. My favourite step in making homemade chicken rice is the rendering – low flame and a pot half filled with scraps and skin, and then the slowly spreading aroma, if aroma is the word for it.
At Menya Takeichi, they certainly are aware of how potent this smell can be, judging by the flasks of mild soup they offer to thin out the noodle broth. Nutty, sweetish, with a subtle whiff of feathers and gooeyness from collagen, the stock can reek a little – a property it shares with roasted pork bones, the base of tonkotsu ramen. But can chicken also play well with the versatile, easygoing noodles? Well, in the hands of an acclaimed Tokyoite chicken ramen chain, yes.
A large, simply decorated space, with big stacks of bowls lined up along the counter, Menya Takeichi’s menu is in the spirit of a ramenya – there are some other options, but ultimately it’s about what you want to bathe the noodles in, and the choices are all variations on the thick, creamy chicken broth. The hungry and/or gluttonous can also get rice bowls and gyoza – chicken, of course – with the noodles.
On my first visit, the miso ramen actually left a rather poor impression – miso ducking away and the chicken becoming too clingy and dominant. Determined to give it a second chance, I come back for the shio ramen, and this turns out to be a more inspired choice. The lighter salt base brings out the chicken element rather than jostling with it, and the result is something more distinctive – sweet, rather light, but still nutty and rich.
Toppings are variations on chicken, and amusingly some of the toppings feel dry compared to the soup. Chicken thigh, with flame-brushed skin, is juicier than the thin slices of breast, and adds a little char to the broth as well. But the chicken balls stand out the most, with a whiff of sesame oil and mirin in its juices. Eggs, still wobbly and suffused with the fragrance (but not the salt) of shoyu, are another highlight.
An excellent complement to this is the chicken tempura on rice. I thought it was going to be tori karaage, but it turns out the batter really is closer to tempura, blossoming and bubbling away from the chicken itself. Timing is accurate, the coating still crackly and oil-scented, while the meat within is just cooked and running with juices.
I’ve written ‘chicken’ enough times in this review that the word is beginning to look weird, so the gyoza is a fitting ending. Yes, the filling does have said bird, but it hardly shows up except as springy texture. Far more prominent is negi – plenty of spring onions, including the diced roots, that pack a gentle hint of sulphur and heat.
It’s interesting, but rarely have I had such dramatically different opinions of a restaurant over two visits. It could simply be new opening jitters for the first visit, but if that is the case they’ve gotten into their groove now that the opening crowds have faded into a smaller but more stable stream of customers. Wait staff are prompt, even conversant; the noodles do take a while to come, though when they do it’s easy to forget all that. As a newish take on ramen in Singapore, Takeichi is definitely worth a visit.