There are a lot of secrets at RaRa Ramen. Owners Katie Shortland and Scott Gault are the guardians of a ramen recipe passed down from Go-san and Hyodo-san, ramen masters and consultants. Gault travelled to Japan and trained with them, perfecting the intricacies of their house-made tonkotsu broth, tare (a concentrated paste that seasons ramen soup), noodles, and even their pickled bamboo, and the recipes remain under lock and key.
“If we go on holidays, that tonkotsu will come off the menu if we don't make it in advance. It's that secret,” says Shortland.
They do concede some small details, though. Their tonkotsu broth is made, as per tradition, with only water, garlic and pork bones, although they won’t divulge what part of the pig they use. It’s simmered in a custom-built pressure cooker, which reduces the cooking time significantly.
“The artisan way of making tonkotsu is 14 hours of slow stirring … It's very manual [and] if one tiny thing goes wrong, the whole lot goes wrong,” says Shortland.
The house-made noodles are produced in a custom-built steel machine imported from Japan. Every day, the small kitchen team churns out thin, Hakata-style noodles, made from high-protein flour and regular, unfiltered Sydney tap water.
“Generally in Japan, you need to have a [water] softener, but the water here is quite soft,” says Gault.
Considering the noodles’ thinness, there’s a surprising amount of firmness and chew to them. Gault and the masters deliberately designed a sturdier, stronger noodle because instead of Japan’s eat-and-run ramen culture, Australian diners prefer to linger over their bowls. The result is a balanced creation of “Japanese soul food”.
The signature tonkotsu ramen comes with a shio (salt) tare, black garlic oil (with the option to add chilli oil or have a miso base) and is topped with smoky chashu (Japanese roasted pork). The chashu is a standout; the pork is free-range, seasoned, slow-roasted and finished over a coal grill.
“Initially I thought [the grill] was overkill ... but it makes a huge difference,” says Shortland. “It gives a delicious, charcoal, butter-y fat to the pork.”
There is also a mackerel shoyu mazesoba made in limited numbers – a soupless ramen of thick noodles, grilled chashu, wombok, fried onion, a drizzle of chilli oil, mayonnaise and a mackerel bonito seasoning. Additionally, there’s a vegan option, where a soy-milk broth base provides the creamy tonkotsu flavour. There is a plan to produce a vegan “egg” topping, and two types of gyoza (the noodle machine comes with an attachment to roll and slice gyoza wrappers).
Shortland and Gault both come from careers in television (Shortland still juggles full-time work in the industry), but on a holiday to Japan in 2011 they fell in love with the country’s ramen culture.
As Redfern locals, they saw the area change with the opening of bars (Arcadia Liquors, Moya’s Juniper Lounge), eateries (Redfern Continental, Yellow Fever, Happy D’s) and gelaterias (Ciccone & Sons). Such was their passion for hunting down great ramen all over Japan, they felt compelled to open a restaurant in their own neighbourhood.
And though they’ve been trusted with a top-secret ramen recipe by ramen masters, the decor is anything but traditional. The 28-seater eatery is cool concrete and blonde timber, courtesy of architect Claire McCaughan from Custom Mad. There’s a pink neon light installation by Nani Puspasari depicting a beer and ramen, which we take as a serving suggestion. There’s a range of low-intervention wines, Japanese beers and tap beers from Alexandria’s Yulli’s Brews. “We wanted a really local-local beer,” says Shortland.
60b Regent Street, Redfern
Tue to Sun12pm–2.30pm
Tue & Wed 5.30pm–9.30pm
Thu & Fri 5.30pm–10pm
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on September 19, 2018. Menu items may have changed since publication.