For the past two months, a corner shop on Toorak Road has been plating up ramen not seen elsewhere in Melbourne.

Snow Monkey’s concise menu includes familiar favourites like tonkatsu (pork cutlets) and chicken karaage, and a miso-based broth for vegetarians. But it’s the 35-seater’s lobster ramen that has really piqued public interest.

“It started off as a special, but now we can’t take it off the menu,” owner Tommy Li tells Broadsheet.

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After a 15-year stint in Shanghai, where he ran an indoor go-karting venue and bar called Stampede Karting Shanghai, the Hong Kong-born, US-raised former race-car driver found himself in Melbourne just as Covid hit. When lockdowns presented an opportunity to deepen his culinary training, he enrolled in a two-year course at Le Cordon Bleu, where the fundamentals of French cooking were drilled deep.

For Snow Monkey – a name dreamt up on a chairlift in the Japanese Alps with chef and business partner Tim Li (no relation) – he hit upon the idea of combining French and Japanese cooking methods, inspired by the diligent attention both traditions pay to sauces and stocks.

“Now and then we do get pushback from purists who say we’re not traditional. But I’ve never claimed to be,” says Tommy. “If we were, we wouldn’t be serving ramen in lobster bisque.”

Broth is king in this kitchen, with no shortcuts allowed. For the classic tonkotsu broth, 60 kilos of free-range pork is cleaned and cooked down overnight to achieve its pleasantly fatty, gelatinous texture. (Tommy is proud to note that no added cream is required.) Before pouring, samples are meticulously tested with a machine designed to assess the texture and body of wine.

The king prawns get a similarly thoughtful treatment. First marinated in citrus peel to create a sharp contrast with the soup, they’re sturdily battered – a deliberate departure from traditional tempura, which is typically delicate and paper-thin, designed specifically for dunking.

“In a French restaurant, they always serve soup with some croutons or bread,” Tommy says. Likewise, “by breadcrumbing the prawn, you can grab it and dip. It’s gonna be messy, but who cares! It’s your food. Eat however makes you happy.”

Once the growing venue’s liquor licence arrives, the team will add crisp beers to complete the snow-inn setting.

At the moment, Snow Monkey’s egg noodles are brought from a supplier – but not for long. The Lis have just acquired a central kitchen and are set to open a second location in the city in coming months. Close to Flinders Street Station, Snow Monkey 2.0 will provide space for the team to make noodles from scratch.

Snow Monkey Ramen
180 Toorak Road, South Yarra
(03) 8383 3158

Daily 11.30am–8.30pm