What makes a great Sydney restaurant? Is it a guava snow egg and a billion-dollar backdrop of harbour icons? Or is it spaghetti vongole with the retina-piercing blues of Bondi Beach on the side?
Yeah, nah. About 300 kilograms of pork bones and a food court will do the trick.
So the legend goes at Gumshara, the Chinatown eatery that serves what Merivale’s Dan Hong has called both “the chronic” and Australia’s “most hectic” tonkotsu ramen. Like broth to noodle, that label has clung to Gumshara for most of its 14-year run inside the Eating World food court off Dixon Street.
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But the legend almost came to an end in August, when owner and head chef Mori Higashida posted on the shop’s Instagram account that Eating World would soon be demolished, and his shop’s last service – maybe forever – would be at the end of the month unless a new home was found.
“They gave me plenty of notice, about six months. I looked for many places, but I just couldn’t find one. After I put it on Instagram we had a lot of phone calls from our customers. They helped a lot. Someone contacted a friend of theirs in real estate, from there we finally found a place.”
As Eating World prepares to be swallowed up by a residential and retail development, Gumshara now trades very close by on Kimber Lane, in a space owned by Banna Property Group. The group’s CEO Brad Chan is a major voice in the revitalisation of Dixon Street, a project that City of Sydney has pledged $44 million to over the next decade.
Higashida says there have been lines every day since his shop reopened, a claim Broadsheet can confirm after waiting it out for almost 30 minutes before last Thursday’s lunch service. Same old Gumshara, really.
“A lot of customers still come to us once a week, or every two weeks. A lot of students grow up and bring their kids with them now. That’s why we didn’t want to leave Chinatown.”
So what is it about Gumshara’s ramen that drives fans hog wild? “Lots of pig,” laughs Higashida, who trained at Kyoto’s lauded Muteppou, and estimates only 20 other shops in Japan use the same hardcore methods he does.
“When we opened in 2009, I made a base soup with my master. It took us about seven days to make a 40-litre soup. We used around two to three tonnes of pork bones.”
That base soup endures today like a master stock in Chinese cuisine. It’s been continuously topped up with water and fresh pork bones – exclusively from the animal’s back legs for maximum marrow content – every day for the last 14 years.
“We use about 300 kilograms of pork bones in a day, maybe 10 tonnes a month. So four times more than a normal ramen shop. When we boil the soup, we only use water and pork bones. That’s all. Nothing else.”
Crushing one of these beasts in a food court was surely part of the fun, but the charm isn't completely lost here. You still go to the counter to order, and when your number is called, the staff slide your stove-hot bowl to you on a plastic lunch tray. And you can still zhoosh up your bowl with free condiments – or adjust your soup with lighter broths – at the self-serve station.
Crucially, the ramen is as hectic as ever. A tangle of toothsome noodles arrives in a bath of intensely savoury pork soup that’s so thick it’s like gravy on a Sunday roast. Every slurp of the stuff coats your mouth in umami. You – and all the students, tradies, parents and kids you just crammed in with – will be smacking your lips long after you’ve exited the paifang gates.
9 Kimber Lane, Haymarket
Daily 11.30am–3pm, 5pm–9.30pm