You know you can’t get enough of ramen when you rock up to a new joint in full work attire, on a hot, 29C summer lunchtime. Because it’s a life of dedication, of commitment, and of the search for some genuinely tasty noodle soup.
For those that don’t know, ramen and (and to a close extent, burgers) are my poisons of choice. Offer me ramen and I just cannot – I repeat cannot – turn it down. My vice in a bowl, as it were.
You can imagine how excited I was when I heard that award-winning Chef Kazuteru opened up Ramen O-San in Sydney. Non-ramen lovers will think “another one?” and click away from this post. Good riddance to them, here’s to the true ramen acolytes. Read on, my brethren.
Date Last Visited: 12/2/15
Address: Shop F1A, Sussex Centre Food Court 401 Sussex Street Sydney 2000
Recommended Dish(es): tonkotsu ramen (esp. black garlic), spicy ramen (for the hotties)
Before I go on, I’m going to give the well-worn Usual Disclaimer, as I was informed of, and invited to have a few bowls free by SD Marketing. Pro-tip to PR: if you wanna get some I’m Still Hungry action, get him some ramen 😉
I did pay for my third visit though, so there is that.
To drop some reassurance – Chef Kazuteru’s no stranger to ramen. He’s got six shops elsewhere in the world (five in Japan and one in Cambodia), and now the seventh in Sydney. He’s won 3rd best ramen in the entire Kyushu area, no mean feat. The guy has the chops to plate the chops.
His specialty? Tonkotsu. It may be quite prevalent in Sydney (we seem to have a love affair with this particular ramen base), but once again, if you think there’s too many tonkotsu ramen joints here….ciao!
Now, I don’t want to appeal to authority with all that credential dropping – the true test is in the bowl. And here are two delectably looking bowls. BAM!
Let’s start with Ramen O-San’s tonkotsu ramen on the right (and above). This is the default, the vanilla that tastes so much better than vanilla. I’ve had the tonkotsu twice now, and I’m surprised to say that it actually grew on me with each tasting.
My initial thoughts were mostly positive. The broth is at a hearty level of thickness – it’s definitely a thicker tonkotsu versus any other tonkotsu here in Sydney bar Gumshara. That is either a good or a bad thing depending on your tastes. For most people, it’s actually good news. You can definitely taste the collagen-rich thickness, and you know the broth is legit when you can actually see the almost-microscopic particles of pork bone that was reduced over and over to make this stock.
The soup’s flavour is very aromatic, with a heavenly porky umami. Unlike Gumshara’s, it’s well-seasoned and has a fragrant pork and umami taste to it. In that regard, it would be between Gumshara and Ippudo in terms of seasoning (Ippudo goes a bit heavier).
The carb hero itself makes for a good showing alongside the broth. Noodles were a bit on the softer side for my liking (I usually order them hard if I can), but do a good job of taking in the flavours of the soup. Slurp slurp? You bet.
As for toppings worth speaking about – plenty of shallots make for a happy me (love the stuff), and the chashu is alright as well. It’s not melt-in-your-mouth like some others I’ve tried, but it holds up the protein side of the bargain.
O-San’s got a good bowl of ramen going on, that’s for sure.
While the tonkotsu will surely sell, I’m not as sure about the sumo ramen.
I’m not sure what struck me as odd at first – was it the mountain of bean sprouts and cabbage? Was it the dramatically different broth? Was it the (smaller) mountain of garlic on the side? Or was it the width of the noodles in this particular bowl?
Bean sprouts and cabbage are staple toppings in Hokkaido ramen. If you want a healthier ramen, this would be it. That said, I was very surprised by just how much veg was in this dish. O-San went full-on here – I would estimate that at least half of the volume of this bowl was veggies.
The noodles are a curious oddity as well – they’re almost like Hokkien Noodles in size and texture. I thought my eyes were fooling me but no mistake – in this particular bowl, the noodles were definitely of a different type to the ones found in the tonkotsu ramen. I didn’t have a big issue with it, but one of the outcomes of this is that it didn’t feel like I was eating a bowl of ramen.
The broth is another aspect that’s different – it’s not O-San’s tonkotsu specialty. Rather, it’s a “double chicken” broth. It’s much, much lighter and watery, more reminiscent of a Chinese chicken stock with lashings of soy. It’s a broth I wouldn’t mind drinking just as soup, actually. However, it does not do as good a job as supporting an entire ramen dish – that is, flavouring the vegetables and noodles.
The garlic on the side is a good indication of whether you might like the broth or not – garlic haters, I’d suggest avoiding this one. With the garlic mixed in, it becomes better or worse depending on your disposition. I may have killed a few vampires after the meal.
As for the pork kakuni, I felt work was needed. They were tougher than I expected, quite chunky and not much tenderness in or around. I would have preferred chashu instead.
Overall, I would say the sumo ramen is the weak point in the lineup – it doesn’t taste like ramen, there’s actually too much of a vegetable presence, and the pork is a bit of a downer. Having said that, you’re not exactly out of options at Ramen O-San.
For those who are into a bit of the hot stuff, Ramen O-San has you amply covered with his spicy ramen. The fiery bowl of angry red makes no attempt to hide the heat within, and I definitely felt my sweat glands going “oh sh*t” the moment I laid eyes on this beauty.
Kazuteru uses a chicken broth for this particular bowl not dissimilar to the one in the sumo ramen. But if you thought they’d be similar, you deserve to drink all of the spicy soup (hey, that’s not a punishment!) The thing is, all the extra chillis and spices added to the spicy ramen turn it into a completely different, absolutely delicious beast. I love it, it’s one of the best spicy noodle soups I’ve had in a seriously long time, despite its insane level of oiliness.
Ramen O-San’s recipe incorporates actual big chillis in the broth as well – I ended up picking out about six finger-sized pieces (you shouldn’t be eating them!) There’s no holding back, for sure.
I may even have choked a little downing this bowl, but let me tell you – I finished it to the last drop. Sure, I was sweating like a pig, but there you go. Delish.
Remember that second time I tried Ramen O-San’s tonkotsu? That would be in the form of Kazuteru’s shallot ramen. This is exactly the same as tonkotsu, but with a most liberal dump of chopped shallots. I would get this option every time in terms of the base tonkotsu. Who doesn’t love shallots?
Or even better, here’s their black garlic tonkotsu with extra shallots and a nitamago (lava egg). I think I’ve found my ideal ramen dish here at O-San. I love black garlic, so this is a bit of a no brainer. The sweetness of this magical ingredient marries with tonkotsu like white on rice. It’s spot on, taking an already great soup into something better still.
Pack in the shallots and an oozy egg (don’t take too long with the pictures or the yolk will harden!) and you’ve got a deadly dose of poison with my name on it.
Despite an odd sumo ramen, Kazuteru’s contribution to Sydney’s ramen scene in Ramen O-San is laudable. I will definitely be back not long from now (even though I’ve already visited thrice), and it may be quite the frequented joint during the winter months. Can you imagine how good that spicy ramen would be in winter? I’m salivating already.
This post is based on two sponsored visits and one independent visit to Ramen O-San.
As usual, feel free to leave a comment or three 😀
- Tonkotsu is on point like the signature it is
- Spicy ramen is out of this world
- Sumo ramen is more like a mediocre Chinese noodle soup
- With only OK pork, the noodles and broth are left to fend for themselves. Toppings need improvement!
- The food court location may have some negative connotations with certain customers
- It is very odd that the place is not open on Tuesdays…
I have a new scoring system! Read all about it here.
Most important takeaway – three separate scores for food, service and ambiance to give the final score. The new system is not compatible with any score given prior to 11/11/2014.
F7 | S3 | A2