In less than three years, Scott Gault and Katie Shortland’s Rara Ramen revolution has spread cult-like across inner Sydney, with outposts in Redfern and Randwick, and a specialty vegan ramen joint, Lonely Mouth, in Newtown. Rara Chan is the team’s newest addition – the name chan an honorific Japanese term for someone you find endearing, like a cute little sister. The nine-seater ramen bar forms part of the evolving South Eveleigh precinct, which is also expecting a restaurant opening from Kylie Kwong, and bar Re by Matt Whiley later this year, among other new daytime eateries.
While Rara Redfern and Randwick are built around Rara’s signature tonkotsu ramen, Rara Chan specialises in tsukemen – a dipping-style ramen, with cool, thick noodles and toppings served in a separate bowl to the broth. Gault tells Broadsheet he always wanted to put tsukemen on one of the Rara menus. “Particularly in summer months, it’s eaten a lot in Japan. We just didn’t have the time to give the love to the dish in the other stores.”
He’s serving two types of tsukemen – ebi (prawn and pork) and gyokai (fish and pork). The noodles, which are thicker and chewier than traditional hakata-style ramen noodles (tapioca flour is used to get a firm, bouncy texture), are rinsed in cool water before serving. As with Rara’s other stores, the broths are made offsite and recipes are top secret, but Gault divulges that the tare (a concentrated sauce that seasons the soup) in the ebi broth is made with a blend of ingredients including fish and niboshi (dried sardines or mackerel). Crisp fried prawn-shell segments are sprinkled on top of the soup. It’s creamy, salty and rich with fishy umami.
Nab a seat at the grey stone bar overlooking the open kitchen to get the full experience. Here, a waiter carries over a 130-degree, grill-heated stainless-steel stone and drops it delicately into your broth with tongs for a theatrical, sizzling effect (and a warmed-up soup). In honour of the precinct’s history, Gault collaborated with nearby forgery Eveleigh Works to create the bespoke stones (ishiyaki). The forgery operates out of the only intact blacksmithing bays leftover from the precinct’s heyday of locomotive manufacturing. The boiled eggs are also branded with the Rara logo, a nod to the whimsy Gault misses from dining in Japan.
While Gault originally learned his techniques from ramen masters and consultants in Japan, he now works with his executive chefs to create flavours that conjure memories of his travels there. “We’ve been toying with the recipes and changing the flavour profiles to what we like, and particularly to what I miss from Japan, what I can’t get over here at the moment.”
Beyond the tsukemen, you’ll find Rara’s popular Tokyo-style ramen; a vegan rice bowl with slow-cooked jackfruit and house-made kimchi; and a katsu curry with freshly crumbed free-range chicken breast, another favourite dish of Gault’s when visiting Japan.
“We wanted something that was really approachable but deep in flavour, so we came up with this recipe. A smooth, creamy – in texture, not in flavour – curry, and it’s rich with vegetables.” For snacks there’s crisp pork gyoza and chicken karaage.
At the rear of the restaurant is a common eating area, shared with neighbouring food outlets such as Fishbowl. Customers can dine al fresco out front – though the mode for both areas is takeaway only, meaning disposable bowls and cutlery. Long table seating is due to arrive soon. Grab a Suntory Premium Malt beer on tap, a tinnie of Yulli’s lager (a collaboration with the nearby brewery and Rara, it’s made with pureed apricots, umeshu and umeboshi) or a non-alcoholic Japanese drink from the Suntory-branded vending machine out the back. It’s reminiscent of the deep-blue machines you’ll find scattered along the streets of Tokyo.
The space transports you to a buzzing evening in Tokyo, packed in next to other diners, eagerly awaiting your food. The space at Rara Chan is very small but the design by Byron Bay’s Aphora Architecture (Rara Randwick) is sophisticated and edgy.
“It’s almost like that corner, stand-up salaryman style with the nine seats,” says Gault. “So we wanted to give that vibe off [with] the charred timber wall and the nice warm lights, and the stained Japanese black timber overhead.”
Shop 6/1 Locomotive Street, Eveleigh
Mon to Thur: 11.30am–2.45pm
Fri 11.30am–2.45pm, 5pm–9pm