Crescent is a bar with two faces. Visit 468 George Street at night after 9pm, you’ll come face-to-face with a Tokyo subway’s worth of Japanese businessmen and a predominantly female staff tending to their (almost) every whim. At night, the space is Crescent Club, a hostess bar catering to a male audience – of the type that’s ubiquitous in Japan.
Visit during Monday to Friday lunchtimes however, and Crescent’s hidden speakeasy and old-school lounge vibe is re-purposed in slinging out some of best bowls of ramen in the Sydney CBD. Welcome to Crescent Ramen Bar. I presume that’s what you’re here for, else better look for a very different blog post!
I’ve been receiving DMs – in greater number than usual – about this literal hole-in-the-ground ramen shop for some time now. It seems like the secret that everyone knows about, but only in the right circles. Clearly, I was never part of the club (also literally true). But in any case, Crescent genuinely seems like one of the few ramen-ya that’s yet to hit the mainstream, other than a recent feature on Broadsheet.
Head chef Tsuyoshi Shishido’s stints knocking up ramen for hungry CBD workers at Crescent was to be temporary, in the form of a pop-up. The concept – like Shishido’s signature broth – had legs, as it’s been going for over eight months now. A ramen chef setting up shop in a Japanese hostess club? Funny, that actually makes much more sense after I typed it out.
Shishido san’s views on ramen in Sydney: as a whole, they aren’t ‘Japanese-y’ enough, where broths are generally thinner and lack the kind of complexity and depth you can find in Japan. This is nothing new – every Japanese chef worth his shio tare (salt soup base) claims to be the one to import authenticity down under. Putting aside whether or not I agree (the exceptions may perhaps prove the rule), he certainly puts his broth where his stockpot is – his flagship chicken & pork ramen (kind of a tonkotsu & paitan hybrid) is pretty much one of the richest I’ve come across in Sydney. Any serious ramen broth is made laboriously; Shishido uses entire chickens – bones and all – which dissolve and integrate into the broth over a godly long time. Pork shins are also added to bring out that extra porcine dimension. It’s quite salty, but you can ask for extra soup, which would placate any sensitive palates.
It was a delicious, albeit ‘homely’ bowl. And when I say ‘homely’, I really just mean inconsistent, to a degree. The chashu was tasty, but oddly cut – the missus’ piece was in the shape of a long pyramid, whereas mine was just a thick slab throughout, with too much fat (1.5cm+) on the end; not how I like to eat fat. The beansprouts and ajitama were plonked into the bowl raw & cold, which meant that they didn’t warm up fast enough and when they did, brought the temperature of the broth down – so it was neither here nor there. If you like them raw that’s okay, but cold eggs or broth? I can’t imagine anyone digging that. Fortunately, things seemed a lot better on my second visit, not that this is a new restaurant, so ‘teething’ doesn’t seem like a plausible explanation.
Shishido’s choice in using of thick, super al dente (barikata+ for the 日本語ができる人) is an excellent companion to the velvety, rich broth. Along with the beansprouts, there was an un-ignorable SEA vibe to the dish. Am I eating laksa with a ramen broth? Not an accolade/criticism, just an observation.
But in the end despite some interesting execution, it’s the lip-smackingly tasty broth that sealed the deal. We’re really talking about oodles oodles of flavour, even in the noodles. I personally would water down the broth just slightly, but the fact that it’s an option is credit to Shishido’s willingness to cater to individual preference.
Note that there are three versions of the chicken & pork ramen, depending on which base (tare) flavour you prefer. My vote goes to the soy, as I felt it had a deeper flavour than the miso, which itself was overweighted towards salt. Be aware that if you choose soy, there will be a lot of roughly-cut pork backfat in the soup itself. Hey, I didn’t say beware – this isn’t a bad thing! However, it may really hurt your diet plans if you decide to drink all the broth. I have not yet tried the bonito version.
As much as I love tonkotsu, the anchovy (niboshi) ramen is perhaps my favourite bowl at Crescent. The noodles are thinner, with medium hardness vs the jaw-testing egg noodles used in the chicken/pork. The soup was just incredible – light & clear, and yet packed with umami as deep as the sea. The inclusion of the onion was a clever touch, piercing through the fishiness (which I thought was perfectly done), and there was a distinct smoky flavour (presumably from some high temp burning of the niboshi) that reminded me of Gogyo’s kogashi style. Interestingly, the nori came as a thick segment that was cut out from a circle, instead of the sheets I usually see. As such, it soaked up more of the anchovy broth, though I’m still undecided as to whether that’s a desirable result.
A sublime bowl. It just shouldn’t be this way, and yet it is. Perhaps it’s because good tonkotsu is far more plentiful in Sydney and it’s hard to find a genuinely exceptional fish-based broth. It just might be the best such bowl in Sydney.
The fourth bowl I tried was the tsukemen (dipping noodles). It’s traditionally a summer dish, but I’d have no issues ordering again it in the depths of winter. The noodles and toppings are broadly the same as used in the chicken & pork ramen, but with perhaps an extra piece of (this time thinly-cut) chashu, plus woodear mushrooms. The broth had a distinct katsuobushi flavour with pork undertones, as well as onions to cut through it. I particularly enjoyed thinning out the dipping broth after finishing the noodles and slamming the whole thing as a soup (this is what you’re meant to do). Sure, I may have been food-pregnant for the rest of the day; no regrets.
Crescent Ramen isn’t the harbinger of a radical ramen revolution, but it has certainly shaken things up for this blogger: with a second visit down, it’s destined to be on the regular work lunch rotation this winter…if this winter is actually going to deliver on its promise of getting cold!
A great ‘find’ within walking distance from work, colour me happy as Larry…san.
Date Last Visited: 13/June/2019 (two visits)
Address: 468-472 George Street, Sydney NSW
Price Guide (approx): $15-17/bowl
This post is based on two independently-paid visits to Crescent Ramen Bar
- One of Sydney’s best ramen-ya in the Sydney CBD!
- A rare killer fish-based ramen in a tonkotsu-dominated scene
- Rough, inconsistent treatment of toppings
- The thicker broths are pretty high in salt
- Arrive by 12pm if you want a seat at the bar. Otherwise, there’s plenty of seating on the sofas.
- Pay with cash to receive a 50c discount – for the time being, at least.
Would I return: already have, and will again
F8 | S4 | A2
See how I score here