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. The intricacies of their house-made tonkotsu broth, tare (a concentrated paste that seasons ramen soup), noodles, and even their pickled bamboo, are kept under lock and key.
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 110-litre pressure cooker, which reduces the cooking time to just two hours.
The house-made noodles are produced in a 380-kilogram steel machine imported from Japan. Every day, the small kitchen team churns out 200 batches of thin, Hakata-style noodles, made from high-protein flour and regular, unfiltered Sydney tap water.
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 the option of a shio (salt) tare, black garlic oil or chilli oil, topped with smoky chashu (Japanese roasted pork). The chashu is a standout; the pork is from Bundarra Berkshire pigs on the Murray River just outside the small township of Barham in Southern NSW. It’s seasoned, slow-roasted and finished over a coal grill.
There are also two vegetarian options, where a soy-milk broth base provides the creamy tonkotsu flavour. There are also plans 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.