For whatever deep and mysterious reason, Melbourne never really caught onto ramen. Sydney has been slurping hand-rolled noodles and pungent broth for over a decade, but down south it never really broke into the mainstream.
Good ramen’s relative scarcity probably explains the feverish excitement around Shop Ramen, a little shop on Smith Street dishing up genuine, home-style ramen. Established by Pat Breen and Lydia Wegner, Shop Ramen is an extension of a wildly successful pop-up venture, Shophouse Ramen, that squatted in Collingwood cafe Storm in a Teacup for 10 days earlier this year.
Found all over Japan, ramen essentially combines delicate wheat noodles with a tasty broth – appearing in vastly different iterations. Before opening Shop Ramen, Breen and Wegner travelled to Japan as part of an intensive ramen-study tour. “It was very helpful, just for the flavour,” says Breen. “You can’t really go there and learn how to make ramen, unless you wanted to work in a shop or something, which would be awesome. It’s more like you taste it there and then try to work out how they’ve constructed those flavours.”
At Shop Ramen, the pair draw heavily on tradition while adding an individual spin: a Tokyo-style Tonkotsu ramen uses a broth brewed from pork-bones, a slice of free-range grass-fed pork, sliced spring onion and perfectly soft egg floating on top. More unusual is vegetarian ramen with pepitas, tofu with black wakame, raw zucchini, lightly blanched broccoli, pickled shitake mushrooms and feathers of dried chilli in a cashew milk broth.
Besides ramen, they’re also cooking up a selection of buns, including the pork belly and pickle, which is both tart, crunchy and gooey-sweet.
While the Shop Ramen team has plans to introduce outdoor seating and booze for summer, for the meantime they’ll be concentrating on improving what’s already a damn fine ramen. “We’re still learning, for sure,” admits Breen. “But we think we can do that and still have fun with people coming in during that process.”