You don’t have to go far in Tokyo to find a ramen shop, but you do have to do some searching for one that stands out. Ichiran in Roppongi is notable for both its unique seating arrangement and its wide variety of options stemming from a single-item menu.
The seating makes an impression because of the individual stalls. The fairly standard counter is broken up into little study-carrels by wooden partitions on the sides and a noren-style curtain hiding the staff/kitchen area in front. Once you are served your ramen (the one dish on the bill of fare), they drop a bamboo blind behind the noren to further insulate you from the servers. The idea seems to be that diners should have a little privacy in which to slurp their meals.
Despite the compartmentalizing, I actually found my Ichiran experience to be quite sociable, as my companion and I didn’t let a little countertop wall get in the way of conversation. The entire experience, from entrance to exit, was stimulating in its novelty. The entranceway is populated by a ticket-vending machine that has one button for the meal (790-yen ramen) and a couple of rows of optional extras, including extra noodles, rice, boiled egg, pork, seaweed, and more.
After purchasing your ticket(s)—don’t forget to push the lever to release your change—wander inside and sit down. Before handing your ticket(s) to the server, fill in the form describing how you want your ramen. There is an English version of the form available, so babble something in non-Japanese to the staff if you need one and they will hand it over. My selections were strong flavor, medium richness, regular garlic, weak green onion, with pork, double hot sauce (there is a space to write in if you prefer triple, quadruple, etc), and medium noodle-tenderness. That done, I pushed the button for the server to come and then waited a couple of minutes for my soup to arrive.
The ramen was quite good, though I am not enough of a connoisseur to tell you where it ranks in the pantheon. The double dose of hot sauce had just the right burn for my well-seasoned tongue, and the broth was tasty enough that I drank it all down.
I will return to Ichiran (indeed I already did), not only for the experience but also for the food.