Lonely Mouth by RaRa
The thought of vegan ramen might be heresy to noodle purists. Hemp seeds and soy milk are surely no match for boiled pig parts and time-honoured tradition. But given the Japanese masters and ramen consultants behind RaRa Ramen’s secret tonkotsu recipe – which was handed down to Katie Shortland and Scott Gault to serve at their Redfern and Randwick RaRa outlets – are totally on board with the non-meat ramen recipe, perhaps tradition shouldn’t be the sole definer of what’s acceptable.
Lonely Mouth takes its name from the Japanese word kuchisabishii, which roughly means the longing to put something in your mouth, even if you’re not hungry. It’s tiny, and doesn’t have Redfern’s neon or Randwick’s noodle theatrics – just a whole lot of understated raw oak and devil’s ivy, with a low communal table in the centre of the room and high stools along the walls for counter-style dining.
The stars of this show are the three vegan ramens, which are chalked up on a blackboard opposite the bar. Each one shares the secret tare seasonings (the soup-broth flavouring) and signature thin Hakata-style noodles found in RaRa’s famous pork soups.
Top of the list is a hempseed-and-sunflower-based vegetable-broth ramen, which mimics the creaminess and umami of unctuous tonkotsu. The first bite mystifies because the junk of seitan (a vegan meat substitute made from hydrated gluten, the main protein found in wheat) tastes a lot like chashu (barbeque pork), which you get in a standard ramen, along with the noodles, nori, bamboo and shallots.
Next is a sesame-and-soy-milk tantanmen, which is both nutty and fiery. It’s served with punchy minced seitan (normally it’s pork mince) spiked with Sichuan spices, bok choy and black fungus. “We worked on the meat version with the masters back in Japan and just re-engineered it slightly to make it vegan. It’s almost identical,” says Gault. “That’s what we’re all about. We’re doing this not just for vegans, but for anyone who wants to enjoy a great ramen.” And finally, the one that started it all: RaRa’s miso broth topped with grilled tofu, sprouts, charred corn, purple cabbage, fungus and pickled bamboo.
Simple izakaya-style sides will rotate every few weeks, but past dishes have included pickled cucumbers, kimchi, cauliflower karaage (breaded and fried), and tempura corn flecked with numbing Sichuan pepper. The booze list is small, with five low-intervention wines, Suntory whisky and sake from Kyoto. Yulli’s Brews is about to release the house beer, the RaRa Lager, but until then there’s a raft of their tinned brews plus Asahi on tap.