Restaurant Review: Torasho Ramen and Charcoal Bar Elevates Classic Izakaya Grub With South East Asian Flavours

Izakayas have been creeping into Singapore’s bar scene in recent years and growing, before Covid-19 brought the world to a standstill.  And to set the record straight, we aren’t complaining. After all, who can say no to a one-stop spot that brings together the best of Japanese cuisine and beverages? The brainchild of restaurateur Tora Widjaja and Head Chef Sho Naganuma, Torasho Ramen and Charcoal Bar, is the newest gem in the Tras Street gourmet enclave.

Unlike a traditional izakaya, slick cement screed flooring and stripped-down industrial accents contribute to the contemporary style that Torasho has embraced. This also extends to Torasho’s menu, with Chef Naganuma (who formerly headed Hide Yamamoto at Marina Bay Sands) adopting a Southeast Asian approach to Japanese fare so as to better suit the Singaporean palate.

Before we knew it, our table was hit by a flurry of unique appetisers all at once, and not one looking like the other. To keep things simple we decided to follow the order of the tasting menu and start off with the Wagyu Chips (S$8++). Fried to perfection, the unassumingly simple-looking chips surprised us with its flavour complexity. The initial burst of umami from the white truffle shio konbu dissipated over time to reveal the fatty goodness of the A4 Wagyu beef fat it was crisped up in.

The ‘Som Tum’ Unagi Taco (S$15++) is a marvellous blend of four culinary cultures in one dish: Thai, Mexican, Indian and Japanese. Light and crispy pappadums, taking the place of corn tacos, hold the fluffy unagi topped with fresh green papaya salad. The saltiness from the crisps balances the sweetness of the unagi bites and tangy salad beautifully, making it a lip-smacking treat. The pappadums do get soggy quite quickly so eat ’em fast.

Switching it from pop, snap and crackle to smooth and velvety was the Uni Pillow (S$15++ per piece). Slurp the pillowy delight by itself or have it together with the nori and karaage crumbs it is served with for an added textural dimension. The influence of various cultures from around the world also extends to the mains, like the Truffle Baby Chicken (S$38++) where the roasted bird is stuffed with East Indian style biriyani.

The truffle was a bit of an overkill —  its earthy, nutty notes masked the fragrance and flavours of the fluffy basmati rice – but we appreciate the noticeably tender and succulent meat of the young chicken. Want a rice dish done right? Go for the Bak Ku Teh Donabe (S$28++). Served steaming hot in a donabe (clay pot), watching Chef Sho mix it up was a visual treat in itself as the oozy egg seeped into the rice, binding it together. The char siu-rice mixture falls right between fried rice and risotto with the characteristic pepper punch of Bak Kut Teh kicking in later. Undeniably gratifying, it’s the kind of comfort food you would want to savour on a cold rainy day.

We haven’t forgotten the ramen, what with Torasho being a ramen bar at its core. Between the Tsukemen “Singapore Best” Dippin Ramen (S$14++) and Tonkotsu Soup Ramen (S$12++), we prefer the latter for its perfectly cooked springy noodles and slow-simmered milky broth that was a flavourful mix of creamy bone marrow and seasoning.

If you like your noodles to have more of a bite, the dipping ramen will be more up your alley with its thicker noodles that you briefly submerge in the potent dipping sauce. Go light with the sauce as it is salty and only meant to lightly coat the noodles.

As prominently ramen is featured in its name, their repertoire of creative bites were the underdogs of the night, offering a refreshingly modern variation of appetisers and robata commonly served at other izakayas in Singapore. We look forward to seeing how Torasho evolves and incorporates other cultures into their diverse menu!

Torasho Ramen & Charcoal Bar is located at 32 Tras St, Singapore 078972, p.+65 6970 5055. Opening hours have been changed to Mon-Sat 12pm–10.30pm, Sun 12pm–9.30pm. Both takeaway and delivery are available. Check out their delivery menu here.

If she isn’t neck-deep in a self-imposed existential crisis, you can find Niharika trying to master a new skill – anything from handicrafts to instruments, or simply browsing the internet’s never-ending collection of dog videos.