When Ryo’s Noodles opened in Crows Nest almost 16 years ago, ramen was a bit of an unknown entity in Sydney. No one really knew where to get it or even what it was.
Now everyone has a favourite ramen joint. Debates about who makes the best, thickest and cheapest bowls are almost unavoidable.
The truth is, there is no best. Every style, flavour and texture will have its zealots and its critics. Here’s our guide to find the best bowl for you.
Sydney’s original cult ramen shop. Owner and chef Ryosuke Horii is a native of Fukuoka, the home of tonkotsu ramen. It’s a thick cream-coloured soup made from just pork bones and water. That’s the style most Sydneysiders associate with ramen generally (understandably, as it’s the most widely served). Ryo’s speciality is a pungent tonkotsu that’s blended with soy. But the dish that’s brought him fervent support is his clean but complex Tokyo-style shoyu (a salty chicken and soy broth) ramen.
This is the kind of tonkotsu ramen Japanese students eat for lunch after a long night of boozing and singing. It’s insanely thick, closer to gravy than it is to soup, and intensely porky. There’s so much collagen in it you’ll develop an unctuous sheen on your lips after only a few mouthfuls. In Japan it’s called “mud ramen”. One of its greatest exponents is Kyoto’s Muteppou, the restaurant that first inspired Gumshara’s chef Mori Higashida to leave his two-decade career as a jewellery executive. He trained there to be a ramen master.
The ramen here doesn’t fit into neat regional categories or broth styles. Chef Keita Abe draws less on tradition and more from his experience with Japanese stock making and his intuition. He has four styles. He calls them fat soy, fish salt, chilli coriander and yuzu salt. The recipes are top secret but we know they’re mostly chicken-based soups made with the leftover cuts from his evening yakitori service – bones, offal, skin, neck, etc. As they’re less hearty and powerful than pork-based ramens, Abe offers extra pork back-fat for those who want their ramen heavy.
One of the cheapest, quality ramens in Sydney (beaten only by Hakata Maru and its $10.80 tonkotsu). That’s not the reason we’ve included it though. The first is the history. Ichiban Boshi was one of Sydney’s first ramen shops and provided many non-Japanese customers with probably their first bowl of ramen ever. The other is its dedication. The restaurant chain makes all its own noodles, chashu (the slow-braised pork belly slices that sit on your ramen) and an incredible variety of broths. Not all of them are equal but the tonkotsu special (only a limited amount is made each day) is rich, salty, creamy and incredible.
Despite the incredible variety of ramen styles available in Sydney, the vast majority of restaurants specialise (or are good at) just one variety, Kyushu-style tonkotsu. Zundo specialises in a popular Tokyo-style ramen that mixes tonkotsu and shoyu soups. It’s a salty soup with some of the depth and texture of a tonkotsu, but it’s cleaner and subtler. On top of the ramen you’ll find something a bit different too. Instead of the usual thin, circular cuts of chashu (slow-braised pork), you get long soft strips of pork done tsugitashi-style, a technique used in traditional Japanese eel restaurants where each batch of sauce is added to the previous day’s for greater intensity of flavour.
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Alongside Gumshara, it’s our pick for the thickest and most intense bowl of ramen in Sydney. The secret to its texture and meaty flavour is the choice of pork cuts. Rather than just toss various bones or even a single cut into the pot, the restaurant uses pigskin, trotters and pork belly. While most places use thin wheat-dominant noodles, owner and chef Kazuteru Oh prefers a thicker, eggier style closer to Hokkien noodles.
Of all the heavy tonkotsu-style ramens in Sydney, this has the cleanest mouth-feel. There’s less of the meaty smell and sticky sensation in the mouth that comes with tonkotsu. The difference is that most restaurants simply cook pork bones in water for several hours. Ippudo does a triple-cooked bone method where the first and potentially second boil is only to prepare the bones. The third round produces a thinner, milky soup with a good intensity of flavour but far less oil and pungency.
Manpuku is adept at a variety of ramen styles. But the one you can eat everyday is gara-shoyu, a chicken-and-soy-based broth. It’s easy to see why. What it lacks in viscosity and intensity, it more than makes up for in depth of flavour. The noodles, Manpuku-made, are medium thickness and more al dente than most in Sydney.
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Hours: Mon–Sun 11am–9.30pm
226 Victoria Avenue, Chatswood
Hours: Mon–Sun 11.30am–9pm
Yasaka’s chef, Takeshi Sekigawa, trained at Gumshara. Unsurprisingly, there are a few similarities between the two restaurants. They both specialise in tonkotsu, and both serve a particularly dense and rich version of it. But Sekigawa’s doesn’t have the same mud-like viscosity to it, or such a dominant porky flavour. His is slightly more delicate (as much as tonkotsu can be) and varied in flavour, likely from the tare (the flavour added to the bone broth before its served), which uses a homemade soy. For toppings, order as Sekigawa does – a hunk of kakuni: pork belly braised until soft in dashi, soy, mirin, sake and sugar.
Konakara’s ramen is different from the tonkotsu (pork-based stock favoured by many Japanese restaurants). “Tonkotsu stock is very popular,” says owner Mariko Takeuchi. “It tastes rich and nice, but it’s very heavy.” By contrast, Takeuchi’s torigara (chicken stock) is light. As a rule, she prefers light flavours. “Sometimes [foods with] strong taste, one bite, two bite is okay and very tasty. But you can’t finish it.” She says a lighter flavour is moreish. For homemade miso-based ramen, Takeuchi does chashu (grilled pork neck with corn and shallots). For soy-based, chashu is served with seaweed and spinach.
This article was updated on August 16 2017.