Almost every ramen-dedicated restaurant in Sydney follows the same criteria: cheap, Japanese-run, no frills and more or less true to the style of what you’d find in Japan. There seems to be a general assumption about what ramen should be like and what kind of place you should eat it in. It’s time to rethink that.
“I'd seen a movement in London and New York toward a different scale of ramen, where people are doing stuff that isn't as traditional as what you'd see in Japan. That excited me,” says Stephen Seckold, executive chef of Flying Fish and as of last week, chef and owner at Salaryman, Sydney’s newest ramen bar. Like many new restaurants opened by fine-dining alumni, Salaryman isn’t really like any other restaurant, it’s just kind of its own thing.
Ramen is the centrepiece of the continuously evolving Salaryman concept. At this stage there’s robata (slow-cooking over charcoals) grilled meats and seafood, plus half-izakaya half fine-dining snacks. There are also plans for takoyaki (Japanese octopus balls) and taiyaki (fish-shaped, filled waffles) to be sold from the restaurant’s front window. Although it’s obviously Japanese inspired, Seckold says it’s not particularly authentic. “There's enough Japanese restaurants in Surry Hills to feed us for the next 100 years,” he says. “We’re not setting ourselves any rules and we're not setting ourselves any [fixed] menus, either.”
While summer lasts the ramen might be iced, served tsukemen style (with the sauce separated from the noodles in a dipping bowl) or devoid of soup altogether. “Like a pasta,” Seckold says. “We’re working on BLAT [ramen] with grilled lettuce, roasted tomato, a avacado-and-black-pepper emulsion and confit bacon.” On the menu right now is a rich tantanmen, a light quail broth and an incredibly layered, umami-rich vegetarian ramen based on roasted cabbage and mushroom shoyu.
Every ramen is available in a full or half size, so you can also dine on Seckold and his sous-chef Corey Reid’s Noma, Momofuku Seiobo snacks and robata grill. Currently there’s soft, buttery octopus; charred cucumber with plum; and bone marrow with duck ham and crisp-skinned milk buns. In January it’ll look completely different. As will the cocktail list.
Marzio Lanzini, also from Flying Fish, is running an impressive drinks list, including a range of natural wines, Australian beers, junmai sake and a short list of cocktails, some classic and the rest flowing to match the ramens of the day. The popular cocktails of the moment are a pandan-infused Flor de Cana with sake, kaffir lime, lemongrass and rice milk, and a powerful saffron-infused vodka with cantaloupe, agave and lemon. All of this is housed in an open, semi-industrial, but semi-sterile bunker-like space, with metal tunes on the sound system. Like the food and drinks, it’s certainly a variation from Sydney’s eat-and-out ramen shops.