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Butao King ramen in Soho – a queue too far

You know Butao King ramen is good because Time Out and HK Magazine love it.  You know it is great as you have to wait for a TV crew to finish off their interview with the owners before you can be seated.  You know it is fantabulous as the queues are legendary and at a minimum you have to wait at least an hour.

Unfortunately, when you actually get to the front, after having queued next to a trash can for over an hour, you get to the food, not the perception, and it is lacking.

Butao King ramen has done something brilliant with their opening in Hong Kong. They have judged the local market perfectly and with a genius piece of marketing have limited their offerings to 200 hundred bowls a day.  In a city obsessed with limited edition it is the equivalent of offering a free Louis Vuitton bag with every meal. And the queues speak to the success of this tactic. To ensure that we would get one of those 200 bowls our merry group of #ramendorks began queuing at 10am on a Saturday morning!

The ramen chef, Ikuta Satoshi, is so confident in his skills that instead of just sticking to traditional Kyūshū style ramen he has gone crazy and fusiony on things. He offers four styles:

  • Butao King (tonkotsu pork bone broth);
  • Black King (tonkotsu pork broth dyed dark with squid ink);
  • Red King (spicy miso); and
  • Green King (Italianesque pesto soup with olive oil and basil).
The order sheet with hand modelling by e_ting

Expectant on the back of the good reviews I went #ramendork crazy and tried the Green King. Bad move. It came out smelling like an overwrought Italian pesto pasta. It tasted like one. Pesto heavy for spoon after spoon which meant that the ramen itself, which was well judged, was irrelevant. I did something I rarely do whilst eating and actually made a suggestion in situ to the waiters. The suggestion was that in a small portion, as a taster, the Green King could be interesting. But as a whole bowl; overwhelming.

The "Green King" - the only time Japanese food has left me feeling like I ate a McDonalds

The others at the table, even with traditional style tonkotsu broth bowls of ramen, weren’t fairing much better and were similarly dominated by over cluttered bowls of ramen. The advantage of this was that I got to try half of Jen’s Butao King  - a tonkotsu broth – of which I was hopeful that it would be worthy of all the queuing. Disappointingly, whilst enjoyable for a couple of slurps it was once again simply too heavy.

"Butao King" tonkotsu style with seaweed

So, not the meal I wanted or has been reviewed by others. Still, I started queuing at 10:00am on a Saturday morning next to trash cans and left with a smile which speaks to the quality of the company of the other Hong Kong foodies who turned up to be #ramendorks – E_ting, Marsha H, DimSumDiva and Jen.

  • Price – HK$100 a head or £9
  • 11-12 Wo On Ln, Central, Hong Kong

PS you might want to read another Hong Kong foodie’s review here who went separately – Jason BonVivant.

15 Comments

  1. can’t believe you queued from 10am!!!!

    • It was probably the dorkiest thing I have done in quite a long time. But a lot of fun. Ironically I didn’t have a single good meal all weekend but enjoyed them all nonethless.

  2. Oops I wasn’t very good with holding that sheet straight was I? Overwhelming – word.

    • It looks stylish that way.

      I am going to ramendork at that sanpacho [sic] place in CwB sometime soon. I need to get the taste of parmesan and basil out of my mouth. I feel the Green King may have killed my joy of Italian food for a while.

  3. I can’t believe that they offer ‘soft’ and ‘softer’ as options for noodle texture. It shouldn’t be allowed!

    Is it me or is this quite expensive by HK standards? I guess the limited edition cachet allows them to charge a bit more.

    • Hmmm – HK modern / European / Japanese stuff is not cheap. It is only the local noodles which are. So I suppose this sneaks in under that heading. But 100hkd (or 8/9 quid for a meal) is not soo expensive. Though it would have helped if it had been good!

  4. Eurgh – that green king one sounds utterly rank.

    • Yup – I learnt my lesson there. When a place is well reviewed but it looks like they are cooking crud, they probably are. A bowl of liquid over rich pesto. No thanks.

  5. You have to hand it to the owners. A stroke of genius. It’s a shame they couldn’t have put as much thought into the food as they seem to have with the concept.

    • I still kind of wonder whether this would also work in London. I bet it would…

      That said, perhaps their original tonkotsu bowl of ramen is how kyushu noodles should taste. I kinda doubt it though.

  6. G

    i went there with a friend on a weeknight about 2 weeks ago. As we were lining up, we found out we were bowl number 201 and 202. We literally had the beg the guy to serve us! We enjoyed the ramen but you’re right about the heaviness. Another “problem” i had was extreme thirstiness afterwards. But I must admit, I think I’d still go back though – once the wait is shorter, if ever.

    • I have to say I am not sure if I would go back. I think I need to do more ramen hunting. Given the profligate amount of Japanese restaurants in HK there have to be some better, secret, venues right?

  7. What a coincidence that I just queued here in NYC for the best ramen this side of town too! Ippudo NYC, if you’re here and craving ramen. Butao sounds ok, the overcrowding sounds uncomfortable. Ippudo is at least comfortable after the hour long queue oh and the broth is also delicious :)

    • Ippudo is hella amazing. Basically one of my top 5 places in NY. I know they are from Jp originally but I understand they have branches elsewhere. I really might have to travel to hit one.

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