Nick Smith isn’t your everyday chef. Nobody would think to put a motorcycle workshop and a restaurant under the same roof. Most would also not expect that such a restaurant would be serving pan-Asian cuisine. That such a restaurant would call ramen its signature dish – and living up to it – was the biggest surprise of them all. Enter the Rising Sun Workshop.
Date Last Visited: 27/11/2016 (1st visit 19/11/2016)
Address: 1c Whateley Street, Newtown, Sydney, NSW
Go-to Dish: The Darkness ramen
Price Guide (approx): $15-20pp
Rising Sun Workshop originally started life in 2014 as a pop-up on Lennox Street where motorbikes, coffee and ramen intersect. I never got to visit the workshop in that particular incarnation, but a cult following developed – here was a guy who was doing ramen differently to everyone else, but before I could make plans to visit, pop went the pop-up.
Now, with a permanent location, ramen master Nick Smith and coffee talent Daniel Cesarano (both ex-Single Origin Roasters) head up the new space with a far more comprehensive menu offering, backed by good coffee, and even cakes for the sweets-inclined.
There’s plenty of seating, with tables over two levels, communal-style seating featured on the second floor. The aesthetic is mixed – raw brick facade with Nordic, minimalistic furniture makes for an interesting combination.
The menu differs across breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast features a plethora of Asian breakfast goodies, from Malaysian-inspired kaya toast to a fusion-like breakfast ramen, a “prison bento”, just straight up cereal or a Hokkaido milk breakfast bun. Lunch focuses on Nick Smith’s signature ramen, with a pair of Vietnamese-style banh mi rolls for those who want something a bit different.
The coffee blend is called The Workshop Blend which fellow blogger and ramen/coffee fanatic Ramenraff describes as perfect for a flat white. I’m not expert enough to make a call, but my piccolo latte was surprisingly smooth and nutty. A great start, as odd as it may be to chase with ramen.
I’m going to put it out there – I’m not really a fan of breakfast ramen. The few I’ve had all feature bacon dashi which is supposedly what gives it that breakfast touch. However, I’m somewhat puristic – I don’t think dashi alone can make a ramen broth of substance, because it’s lacking in a key element called tare. Tare is essentially “flavouring”, and is responsible for the bulk of the flavour in a bowl of ramen. An example:
Tonkotsu ramen = refers to the broth
Tonkotsu shoyu ramen = refers to the broth + tare (shoyu – soy sauce).
While you could technically argue that bacon dashi’s tare is salt (bacon salt? Bacon broth?), the reality is that it’s not complex enough for my liking, In other words, the bacon dashi in breakfast ramen doesn’t cut it for me – there needs to be more “oomph”.
But guess what, Rising Sun’s put the oomph into breakfast ramen. In my signature style of reviewing ramen, we’ll dig right on in:
The maker or the breaker. Rising Sun’s buttered toast broth was legendary. How to make broth taste like buttered toast? Literally chuck in the stuff! This instantly uplifts the soup, easily excelling any other breakfast ramen in depth and complexity. You’d be surprised to hear that it’s not overly dense or heavy, instead giving off the right level of heartiness.
Taste-wise, kind of like bacon and bread – and that’s fab.
Slightly short of al dente, but otherwise these wavy noodles are quite slurp-worthy. They’re also a good thickness, and carry the broth well.
The usual breakfast-y accoutrements of bacon, 63C egg & tomato grace the bowl. The bacon was cut quite thin, had a great chew to it, with crisp edges. There’s not a lot of it so good luck if you’re sharing. The 63C egg was perfect when broken up and mixed into the broth, adding an extra layer of creaminess and warmth. Alternatively, you could just eat it by itself, but mixing it in was so very Japanese.
Breakfast ramen done right – and actually feels like breakfast!
The prison bento was instantly explained when it hit the table – the use of a silver canteen tray instantly conjures the image of incarceration, an austere look that worked quite well given the Workshop’s fitout.
However, if there’s to be one underwhelming menu item at Rising Sun Workshop, this would be it. The bento just didn’t do it for me:
– The tamagoyaki was watery, like a sponge that absorbed too much water. Flavour was also a little bit lacking.
– The miso soup was too salty, and didn’t include much in the way of ingredients like wakame or silken tofu.
– The grilled fish had a great crispy skin, but the portion was very small, and the flesh itself was a bit overcooked.
– I didn’t understand how the (plain-tasting) yoghurt was meant to mesh with the rest of the bento – what’s it meant to go with?
– The umeboshi on top of the rice was quite good with its salty-sour intensity; this was a highlight.
You can pass on this one, and move straight to…
…the porky banh mi. Banh mi enthusiasts will instantly pick up on how Rising Sun has chosen to deviate from tradition – primarily with the choice of bread roll. It’s much closer to dense foccacia than the traditional French-style baguette that’s synonymous with banh mi.
However, if I put tradition aside and take it for what it is – a brilliant pork belly sandwich, we’re doing this right. The star was the crispy kurobuta pork belly – meaty, fat rendered, and seriously fantastic texture. You wouldn’t think pork belly could taste like this. The rest of the banh mi did more or less stick to traditional flavours and ingredients – pate, pickled veg, coriander, and chilli. Things are kicked up a bit with a zesty-sweet pig’s head & lime terrine, and I’m never going to complain when chilli mayo is involved.
A sandwich worthy of its $13. Just don’t get overzealous about whether or not it’s a banh mi.
Rising Sun’s two cornerstone ramen dishes are available for lunch only. If you’re here to suss out what Nick Smith can do with noodles, lunch time is when you should strike.
The Light is Rising Sun’s take on a shio (salt) based ramen. For those who prefer something a bit cleaner.
The broth was chicken-based, flavoured with a tare of several types of salt. I don’t profess to know the differences, but this might be the best shio-based broth I’ve ever had. It fully avoided a potential pitfall of being unduly salty, and there was almost a sweet edge to its flavour. That could have been the katsuobushi (bonito flakes).
Regardless, a really clean, tasty broth that really impressed – and I’m not the biggest fan of shio-broth to begin with.
Same noodles as in the breakfast ramen, but if my memory serves me right, these were a tad harder than the noodles in the breakfast variant. Different day, different consistency.
The spotlight was on the thick strip of kurobuta pork belly. Fatty and chewy, this was definitely not your regular chashu. There’s a good deal of porky flavour here, however not too much beyond that. Further, the lean areas were perhaps just a little overcooked at places.
The pickled shiitake was a standout, with strong sour notes like it’s been in a jar since the last ice age. Crunchy menma (fermented bamboo shoots), a gorgeously gooey ajitama (lava egg) round out the highlighted goodies. It’s a well-appointed bowl.
Novel use of various salt ratios to bring out one of the best, most well-balanced salt-based ramen in Sydney hands down.
While The Light really surprised me with its flavour profile, my ramen compass still points towards heavier, more complex flavours. Rising Sun doesn’t offer tonkotsu ramen as an option, instead they have an almost ambrosially addictive shoyu-based ramen in The Dark.
Oh. Mah. Goodness. That chicken & pork broth might as well be tonkotsu in terms of flavour. There’s actually pork bones and smoked hock in there anyway, so it’s not all that far off. The flavour was punchy, deep but not overbearing. The soy was both sweet and smoky and it’s pretty much competitive with Chaco Bar’s broth – if you normalise for the fact that the latter features pork backfat.
Real ace stuff.
Same old, same good – I’ll be sure to ask for harder noodles next time though!
The same pork belly and black fungus as with The Light. A 63C egg (to mix into the broth) was provided instead of an ajitama and crunchy black fungus (served in a rare, un-shredded manner) marked the differences. If only there was a way to get a bit of both worlds. But luckily you can – just ask!
One of the best shoyu – nay – one of the best ramen you can get in Sydney.
So does a ramen shop run by ex-cafe staffers in a motorcycle repair shop work?
This post is based on two independently-paid visits to Rising Sun Workshop
How do you like to get your slurp on? Let me know in the comments below!
- Excellent ramen and not where you would expect it.
- Good menu options throughout the day.
- Thoroughly unique setting and concept.
- There are some dish pitfalls to be aware of.
- The lack of an all day menu is killer!
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 | S4 | A2