One slurp of the ramen at Gogyo – a Japanese bar and restaurant in the former Salaryman space – and you’ll feel like you’re in the backstreets of Tokyo.
It’s owned by Chikaranomoto Global Holdings (which is also behind Ippudo Ramen in Sydney). Currently there are three Gogyo branches in Japan, one in Hong Kong and now, one here. The opening of the Surry Hills outpost is a nice surprise. For operator-manager Sho Yoshimura, Sydney’s burgeoning ramen culture was alluring. “I think it’s a very special scene. It’s slowly becoming like it is in Japan,” he says.
With over 80,000 ramen restaurants in Japan, to stand out from the pack you have to be good. Gogyo’s ramen master and founder, Shigemi Kawahara, broke with Japanese traditions in 2003 by burning the hell out of the miso. Deliberately.
“It was something that was first experimented [with] by us. We found out that if you burn things at the right level, then you can retain the umami [a fifth taste beyond bitter, sour, sweet and salty],” says operator-manager Sho Yoshimura. “You can burn [miso] and it still tastes good.”
And so the kogashi miso was born.
Meaning “charred” in Japanese, the method originally hails from Hakata, the ramen capital of Japan, and is made by over-heating lard in a wok, then adding miso paste or a special soy base (there are two kinds), followed by chicken broth. It’s then topped with chashu (barbequed pork), cabbage and a flavoured egg.
In Tokyo and Kyoto, locals and tourists huddle over bowls of the velvety soup. In Surry Hills, conversation stops while steam envelops diners’ faces.
To eat, submerge your ladle into the black, murky pond of ramen – the surface of which is rippled by a sheen of butter – to find a bitter and sweet pleasure beneath. The combination of burnt miso, butter and soy reaches an almost spiritual crescendo of umami.
“From the type of water and mineral composition, to adjusting the noodles by season and weather [moisture content in the noodles is matched to the humidity so the same texture is achieved all year long], we make sure that in the end it’s the overall balance that’s important. Every component comes together and completes this bowl,” says Yoshimura.
There’s also a more traditional tonkotsu ramen on the menu, made from a 24-year-old recipe. It uses simmered pork bones. You can also try kogashi shoyu; chilli shoyu (made with habanero pork mince, tomato and coriander); and a subtle soba-noodle dish with vegetables. Choose to season your ramen with bamboo shoots, roasted seaweed, spring onions and pork belly chashu (a type of marinade and braise).
There’s also Wagyu sukiyaki spring rolls, kombucha edamame, “Japanesian” coleslaw and karagage chicken on the menu. And between red bean, Nutella and sobacha sorbet, there’s no better finish than the taiyaki dessert.
The 80-seat restaurant was designed by Paul Kelly, who also had a say in the sculptural bowl your ramen arrives in, and the Japanese baskets you place your jacket in on arrival. Wicker lamps hang from the ceiling, and the timber tables and chairs give the concrete-and-brick space warmth. If you can, watch the theatre from one of the counter stools around the bar.
52–54 Albion Street, Surry Hills
(02) 9212 0003
Daily 11.30am–2.30pm, 5.30pm–9pm