凪 ゴールデン Nagi Golden Ramen @ Shinjuku Tokyo
Being more or less creatures of habit by now, we often set aside time to revisit some of our favorite places whenever we are in Tokyo. That said, we also try to make it a point to try out some new joints which we had not been to before, especially for foods we love. 凪 ゴールデン Nagi Golden Gai Ramen is our latest venture down the alley of sampling ramens from all over Tokyo and the experience here was quite an eye-opener to say the least!
凪 ゴールデン Nagi Golden Gai Ramen is nested within 歌舞伎町 Kabukicho near Shinjuku Sanchome. It is just a stone’s throw away from Hanazono Jinja, the main shinto shrine in this district which can be seen as the red and white building as the backdrop of the photo, This area is literally a drinking hole, filled with small pubs, bars and izakayas alike. All is pretty dead and quiet in the day but the whole place breathes a life of its own by night, attracting crowds from all over the metropolitan to chill and party.
Despite the lack of human traffic around this area in the day, there is never short of a queue at this Nagi ramen joint. The dining group is very varied, from working crowd donning classy business suits and gleamingly polished Italian leather shoes, to “gaijins” armed with maps and guidebooks who came in search of good ramen. We belong to the latter group but minus the maps and guidebooks of course.
This place is not difficult to find, given the red and white lantern hanging next to the doorway, as well as the huge signage that stands proudly at the entrance proudly showcasing the super rich broth used in the ramen making which boasted of 20 different types of niboshi specially procured from all over Japan. We shall see…
And here’s what the queue looks like when we were there, down a narrow alley between the two buildings. Through a street camera, the shop folks upstairs would be able to constantly monitor the crowd situation.
And here’s where the real fun begins! If you think queuing in that narrow alley prove to be a challenge for the claustrophobic, wait till you have to manoveur up the flight of stairs whose incline is so steep and the steps so narrow you would have to ascend sideways to get your entire feet on each step. It most certainly didn’t help to be lugging a huge camera bag around. And please watch out for the wooden beams above your head as you make your way up (and down). For those who are taller than 6 ft like the two German tourists in front of us, you might wanna find a way to fold yourselves in halves… nah, just kidding! But yes, these stairs are treacherous alright.
And yes you’d made it up, this is what the view above would look like. The space is incredibly small, with only counter seating for barely 10 at a go. Rubbing shoulders with someone be it when you are trying to get to your seat or when you are already seated is inevitable. Sometimes it may be more than shoulders you’d have to rub *chuckles*. So what happens is you choose the ramen you wanna try and buy a coupon for it from the vending machine just next to the stairs landing, hand the coupon to one of the staff who would also prompt you to your seat. They will try to assign dining couples to adjacent seats but there is no guarantee for that. If you do insist on sitting together which seem the logical thing to do, be prepared to have folks who are dining alone being moved ahead of the queue. When we were there, there was a lady staff who spoke rather decent English but we can’t guarantee that she is always gonna be there as this little ramen deli operates 24 hours all year round so the staff rotate to work in shifts.
And this is all the real estate you will get to enjoy your bowl of ramen, no more than the size of two sheets of A4 paper. Some call it squeezy, others think of it as cosy but we were cool with it. You getting the drift of how incredible the dining experience worked out to be so far?
We were lucky as we got seats by the huge glass panel facing the alley below. I wouldn’t exactly call it a “window seat” as tis not much of a view that was offered. But we did get a lot of light to relieve any sense of claustrophobia that might have amounted at this point and excellent for photography! I love these raw-looking bamboo chopsticks we’d used to slurp our noodles with. Just adds on to the “feel”…again if it is these seats you had hoped for, be prepared for others who are willing to take lesser desirable seats bumped up the queue…
Oh and this is NOT a non-smoking joint, being essentially in a part of town where folks chill and unwind after a long and stressful day at work over a couple of beers or warm sake, as well as yakitori and ciggies. So don’t be too surprised if you see someone lightin’ up for a quick a puff after they’d finished their bowl of ramen. The area is enclosed so if cigarette smoke irritates you as much as it did for us, dining here may not prove to be as pleasurable as it had been hoped to be. Still, we ensured it all… And much much more importantly, one of those metal cans over the wooden counter is actually an ash tray and do not contain condiments or toppings, so you might wanna be careful and check twice before you sprinklin’ the “goodies” over your noodles when your bowl is served. Yup, those are not ground black sesame seeds…
Oh yes, before making your selection at the vending machine, it might be good if you first decide how you want your noodles to be. You get to choose (1) the flavour of your broth, be it salt (shio), soya sauce (shoyu), or a special mix they came up with, (2) the texture of noodles you want to slurp down, i.e. soft, standard or firm, (3) how rich you want the soup base to be, i.e. mild, standard or rich, (4) how much oil you want to be drizzled over your soup, less than, regular or more than regular, and finally how 辛 spicy you want the noodles to be on a scale of 0 辛 for totally non-spicy to 1/2 辛, 1 辛, 2 辛 all the way up to 100辛! For first time visitors, it is recommended that you take the 酱油 “usual shoyu based soup” with all the options being 普通 “regular” and just a teeny bit spicy at 半辛 as denoted by the red words. If you are game for more heat, feel free to go up the scale but I wouldn’t recommend anything beyond 2辛 which would otherwise just spoil the balance of noodles.
And this was J’s standard bowl following all the red characters except the 0 辛 part. The broth was really interesting, cooked out of small dried sardines which lend that rich and smooth umami profile to the shoyu soup base. Hardcore afficionados of Hakata style tonkotsu soup base might find it difficult to sway their allegiance but we thought Nagi’s niboshi rendition tasted pretty good as well. Very generous with the 駒葱 chopped negi and the two pieces of 叉焼 “char siu” have more charcuterie-like qualities, still pink and succulent looking.
The other interesting thing is the texture of the ramen itself. Each bowl comes with two types of noodles, one thin and slightly flatten while the other much broader. Think linguini with tagliatelle being in the same bowl at the same time. Some might brush it off as a novelty just to attract customers but I think it provided a more varied “slurp experience”.
And this was mine, where I up the heat a little, which came in the form of chilied anchovies. For a person who is accustomed to eating spicy food day in day out, those few “ikan bilis” didn’t do really much for me. Perhaps I should have tuned it up several notches more. My soup base was also slightly more robust as I opted for “rich” option with more “rayu“, but otherwise, the nuances are very subtle. That said, I must say that the bowl of noodles was thoroughly enjoyable.
Oh and here’s another interesting nugget of info about ordering at Nagi Golden Gai Ramen. Apart from the usual 替玉 kaedama for another portion of noodles, they also have “kaedama” for the toppings as well! We only knew after seeing our Japanese “neighbour” order one for a more wholesome meal. It comes with pairs of toasted nori and char siu, around 2 tablespoons worth of negi and one whole ajitsuke tamago. This might be a good option for couples who just wants a more wholesome meal with a bit more toppings without the burden of ordering another bowl of noodles to share. And if it is the real kaedama you want, do note that additional portions of noodles would only be available in the thinner linguini-like form. And as of always, do remember to leave a considerable amount of soup in your bowl for the kaedama.
For folks who are travelling as families with young and old, I would not advise dining at this 本店 where Nagi Ramen originated from. They have another outlet on ground level also within Kabukicho Shinjuku just a couple of alleys away. Otherwise, they also have branches in Nishi Shinjuku, Shibuya, Akihabara, Shimokitazawa in Tokyo, as well as Nagoya and Omiya in Saitama alongside overseas franchised branches in Taiwan and the Philippines too! But its just us that we’d always like to try the food at the “honten” of any F&B establishments so here we are! Like I’d said right at the beginning, what an experience it was! We like it enough to recommend anyone who’d like to try something new apart from the regular tonkotsu or shoyu soup based ramens to visit Nagi. But if you only have the time or tummy for one bowl of ramen while you are in Tokyo, there are other more interesting options around.
新宿ゴールデン街店 本館 Shinjuku Golden Gai Flagship Shop
東京都新宿区歌舞伎町1-1-10-2F 新宿ゴールデン街内 Tokyo Shinjuku-ku Kabukicho 1-1-10, 2nd Floor, within Shinjuku “Golden Street”
交通: 東京メトロ丸の内線・副都心線・都営新宿線「新宿三丁目駅」 徒歩3分 JR「新宿駅東口」 徒歩8分
Transport: 3 minute walk from Shinjuku Sanchome Station on Tokyo Marunouchi line, Fukutoshin line, Toei Shinjuku line or,
8 min walk from JR Shinjuku Station East exit.
Open 24 hours all year round