It’s said that you can tell a good Japanese ramen from an average one by its broth. Rich and full-flavored is always better, whether it’s bone- or miso-based.
If the chef can achieve it without having to resort to using MSG (monosodium glutamate), more points for him.
However, there’s another important factor to consider when choosing good ramen, and that’s the consistency of the noodles. Some like their noodles moist and chewy, while others prefer theirs springier or—to borrow an Italian term—al dente.
The ramen at Uma Uma at S Maison in Conrad Manila falls under the second category.
Iki Concepts’ Russel Yu recalled how his business partner first stumbled on the Uma Uma ramen chain while in Fukuoka, Japan.
“What intrigued him was the restaurant’s extensive wine list, but what really got him hooked was the texture of the noodles, how they were able to maintain the ‘crunchiness’ versus the expected chewy texture,” Yu said.
In 2012, Uma Uma Ramen opened its first branch in Singapore with Yu as business partner. A second Singaporean branch followed three years later. The branch at S Maison is Iki Concepts’s first Uma Uma Ramen outlet outside Singapore.
Japanese head chef Satoshi Nakamura, who relocated to the country, is at the restaurant daily to ensure consistency in the flavor of the broth and the texture of the noodles. He uses a pen-like “broth checker” called an Atago refractometer that can tell whether the broth is too salty, too cloudy or too diluted.
“We use different combinations of bones to achieve the desired result for our broth,” Nakamura said. It’s worthy to note that the restaurant does not rely on imported products to come up with its dishes. All produce is locally sourced. The only thing it imports is the soy sauce, which is made especially for Uma Uma restaurants.
For first-time guests, Yu recommends the signature Uma Uma Ramen topped with char siu, spring onions, black fungus, spicy miso and an egg; or the Mazesoba with spring onions, bamboo shoots, chili oil, bean sprouts, sesame seed and onsen egg. The second is a dry noodle dish that becomes a thick, deliciously gooey treat after mixing everything up.
Uma Uma is divided into two sections, with a dining area in front and a bar concealed by a thick curtain at the back. There is a bartender present who can mix both standard and bespoke cocktails. A selection of wines is likewise available.
Guests who come in the afternoon or at night can nurse their drinks and nibble on bite-size gyoza, yakitori (skewered chicken), kushiage (deep-fried skewers) on high tables, or the small lounge area at the back.
“We’re focused on growing Uma Uma here. We consider Manila as a good market for ramen and we believe in the quality of our yakitori and kushiage,” Yu said.