Five years after opening its popular Japanese joint, Shop Ramen, on Smith Street, owners Pat Breen and Lydia Wegner knew it was time to head north.
The new shop will be further along the number 86 tram line, setting up on Plenty Road in Preston, just around the corner from the pair’s home.
Breen and Wegner’s diner has gained a loyal following for bowls of delicate wheat noodles in different tasty broths, the recipes of which were perfected by the owners over several study trips to Japan.
The reason for the expansion largely comes down to the need for more space.
“We don’t really have much room here,” says Breen of the diminutive original in Fitzroy. “We needed to solve the problem of the prep kitchen eventually … We can [now] make a lot more and we can have more consistency.”
The dining area is closely modelled on the Smith Street restaurant, and will have 30 seats and a similar communal seating arrangement.
“We’ve really tried to keep the same sort of atmosphere because that’s what we’re about,” says Breen. “[Fitzroy] is a local sort of hangout, it’s super casual – we didn’t want to try to get more polished.”
The new site was once a second-hand furniture shop that had been derelict for a few years. The pair intended to open this month, but the launch date has been pushed back due to a number of issues, including hooking up a new gas connection.
“It’s very much a blank canvas, we’ve had to do absolutely everything from scratch, which is why it’s taken so long,” Breen says.
One advantage of delays? More time to experiment in the kitchen.
While their simple, short menu of Tokyo-style ramen, steamed buns, rice bowls and sweet pies will remain the same, a few new additions are coming, including ramen-fried chicken and a greater emphasis on sake. The team has played with dehydrating its own housemade wheat noodles for the former, which are then crumbled and used for chicken coating.
“We’ve been working on that recipe for a while,” Breen says. The focus on sake comes from an increased interest in the stuff by diners in Fitzroy.
Breen was last in Japan in November to research and develop recipes. “Basically from the moment you walk out the door in the morning your mind’s pretty much blown – even just walking into a 7/11 it’s blown,” he says. “The standard is something to always try and aspire to.”
Shop Ramen Preston will be open early August at 143 Plenty Road, Preston.