In another life, I would be a ramen chef. Two simple reasons: one, I can’t ever see myself being an astronaut – yes, even in another life. Two: I can slurp the good stuff at any time, without having to leave the comfort of the house. Alas, this is the life I live, and I’m neither of those things. But you know what I retain? An insatiable appetite for ramen, and it must be satisfied.
Enter Chase Kojima – mastermind behind Sokyo, coincidentally my favourite Japanese restaurant in Sydney. While we’ve never met, he and I clearly share something in common – a great love for ramen. The difference? Well, he actually knows how to cook.
Thus, picture the look of glee on my face when, after months of ramen experimentation (teased via his Instagram account), he finally announced the Sokyo Ramen popup at The Star for the next three months. I didn’t walk, nor did I run. I flew.
Date Last Visited: 19/9/15
Address: Level G, Café Court, The Star, 80 Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont NSW 2009
Recommended Dish(es): yuzu shio ramen, kyoto shoyu ramen
Long-time readers will know that I’m no stranger to a good bowl of ramen – heck, I wrote an 18,000 word monolith of a post just to try and find Sydney’s best. Before that post, my blog was like me – a nobody. Now? It’s still a nobody…with a post worthy of the ramentology religion.
What, not a thing? I’ll establish it, Sokyo Ramen will be my church. But first, lets get the technicals out of the way.
The popup will run for an anticipated three months, until the end of November/early December. There will be four types of ramen on the menu, with varying levels of richness, soup base and seasoning. While you can’t please everyone, the 80/20 rule will work out nicely here – chances are there’s a bowl for you!
Fried chicken also graces menu, which I regrettably did not order. Additionally, a selection of classic Japanese drinks such as ramune and yuzu soda is available – it would be a crime to serve ramen without a refreshing drink to soak up all of that sodium.
With the niceties out of the way, let’s get onto the good stuff.
Those familiar with my Best Ramen in Sydney post will know I have a particular, systematic way of evaluating ramen. Let’s first talk about an overarching element – the noodles. My advice which I strongly suggest you follow? Ask for hard noodles.
Before my visit, I had encountered a myriad of feedback claiming that the noodles were too soft. That would be an absolute killjoy for me – eating mush in soup is not my idea representative ramen dish. As such, my order was placed with an emphasis on hard noodles.
Thankfully, I can say that with this proviso, the noodles at Sokyo Ramen are kanpeki. Chase has opted for thin and straight for choice of noodle, which is carried across to all four bowls. It’s a good choice, and arguably the most popular type used in Japan. They’re really, unctuous – extra chewy, resistant to the soup’s heat, and carries the flavours of the various broths well through capillary effect. With the noodles a deliciously known quantity, let’s turn to the soup bases.
Oh uh, remember how I mentioned didn’t order the fried chicken? (with apologies to my homie and FC-lover Isaac). As The Star is not convenient to travel to, I decided to channel the very name of this blog, and ordered all four bowls to eat between The Lady and I (which means three bowls to one very hungry food blogger). Life is honestly way too short, so apparently, it makes sense for me to shorten mine even more.
As Chase & Yasaka Ramen puts it – #NoRamenNoLife. Now, I’ve got three bowls to chow through, so let’s waste no more time and dig in.
Welcome to the four types of ramen – by Chase Kojima:
Top Left: Spicy Miso Tantanmen w/pork and seafood dashi, spicy miso butter, pork cheek chashu, marinated egg, nori, shallots and black fungi ($16)
Top Right: Gyokairui Tonkotsu w/pork, chicken & seafood dashi, pork cheek chashu, egg, nori, shallots and black fungus ($16)
Bottom Left: Yuzu Shio w/chicken and katsuobushi dashi, yuzu and mixed green salad, pork cheek chashu, egg and nori ($15)
Bottom Right: Kyoto Shoyu w/chicken dashi, pork backfat, soy sauce kaeshi, pork cheek chashu, bean sprouts, egg and nori ($15)
The yuzu shio in particular? The most unique bowl of the lot, and one of the most interesting bowls of ramen I’ve ever had. First up – it’s light. As much as I love tonkotsu, I found it remarkable just how drinkable this broth was. Chicken and dried skipjack tuna flakes comprise the soup base, with shio as the flavour enhancer. This makes for a broth that’s ever slightly tinged with umami, and primarily reminds me of a delicious chicken soup I would love to drink if I ever fell sick. It’s not heavy, it’s not oily, it’s highly recommended for ramen beginners, or for those of you with palates that can’t stand the thickness and intensity of a rich tonkotsu.
As for the yuzu? I can’t say I tasted it. Interestingly enough, the Lady told me there was kumquat in the broth, which definitely adds a strong, tangy hit. Unfortunately, I didn’t bear witness to this citrus hit, as there seemed to be only one piece in each bowl (another friend who ordered her own bowl of yuzu reported the same).
So this is a yuzu ramen that doesn’t taste too much of yuzu, but I didn’t mind that – it succeeds in achieving its mission of being a light, refreshing bowl of ramen, which is a wonderful break from the tonkotsu I’m usually drooling over. If you could only order one bowl of ramen from Sokyo Ramen and want some differentiation, this is it.
Apologies for the lack of an individual shot, but my favourite bowl would have to go to the Kyoto shoyu ramen. I could go on and on about why this is the case, but here’s an easier way to do it – Sokyo Ramen’s Kyoto shoyu is the bowl that most closely resembles the Fat Soy from Chaco Bar, one of my favourite ramen in Sydney.
That particular bowl absolutely floored me with how good a shoyu ramen could be – oodles of pork backstrap fat, and a deep, rich shoyu flavour tinged with sweetness. It’s beautiful as it is intense. Now Sokyo Ramen’s doesn’t quite approach the same level – the flavours aren’t as vivid, and the sweetness is taken up a notch, but call it a “Chaco Bar Lite” and I’m sold – it’s a great broth.
I should also speak of the half egg included with any bowl of Sokyo Ramen. Kojima-san has decided to use a lightly-marinated variant of ajitsuke tamago, which imbues a light, sweet flavour to the egg that is the Bert to the ramen’s Ernie. A match made in heaven? Nay – this is stronger than that.
Each bowl also includes menma (crunchy, fermented bamboo shoots). They’re a little divisive, but something I personally really enjoy – more power to me! All of this, plus those excellent hard noodles, deliciously porky broth and adequate toppings makes for a bowl for which I’m proud to be a return customer.
Think of the yuzu shio ramen, take out the yuzu, replace with pork bones, add woodear mushrooms and BAM, you’ve got the gyokairui tonkotsu ramen. This is Sokyo Ramen’s take on the ever-popular tonkotsu (pork bones-based broth) ramen, which currently appears to be dominating the Sydney ramen scene (and indeed, that of Japan as well). Chase Kojima likes it lighter, and that shows – It’s quite possibly the lightest tonkotsu I’ve ever had, to the point where I wasn’t sure it was indeed the explosion of porcine joy. On the plus side, it’s not a heavy broth, and I could happily drink several bowls of stuff. On the downside, it’s not as hearty as the tonkotsu I’m used to. That said, the flavours punch far above their weight given how relatively dainty the soup is.
Now’s a good time to get cheeky – about pork cheeks. Each bowl of Sokyo Ramen includes Chase Kojima’s own spin on the venerated ramen topping. Instead of pork belly, Chase opts for the cheek – an often neglected and underutilised cut of any animal. When prepared properly, cheeks can be just as tender and juicy, and Sokyo Ramen proves this. The cheek just falls apart upon chewing, such is its tenderness. The only downside for me was that there’s physically more fat than actual lean meat. I would have preferred a bit more of the lean stuff. That said, break the cheek up and you’ve essentially created broth laced with pork fat!
I sincerely hope nobody came into ramen thinking it’s a “healthy” option. This is not the blog you’re looking for.
If there’s a favourite, there must be an antithesis, and the bowl to receive this unenviable crown is the spicy miso tantanmen. It’s not the noodles, it’s the broth. It’s too flat, lacking depth of flavour, tasting more or less like a salty soup with a decent spice kick. It’s not that the soup is bad, it’s just not great, and one of the more inferior miso-based ramen Sydney has to offer. As for the toppings, they’re a bit more unique – some crunchy broccolini and minced pork grace the bowl instead of the usual. No problems here!
I don’t like dwelling on negatives, so I’ll just say that despite the fact that this is a disappointing bowl, it’s only one miss out of three hits.
Yeah, I did it – I ate three bowls of ramen for science. I wish I meant that – for science? That sounds like an awesome job. When such an occupation exists, I’ll be the first on the waitlist.
Sokyo Ramen? It just goes to show that there is a place even in a crowded market – provided you can execute. Chase’s experimentation has for the most part, clearly paid off. Ask for hard noodles, grab a bowl of yuzu, shoyu or gyokaurui ramen, and let yourself be transported to Tokyo – the way Chase intended.
This post is based on an independent visit to Sokyo Ramen
What are your thoughts on Sokyo Ramen? Did you remember to ask for hard noodles?
- Sokyo Ramen dishes out some pretty killer versions of Japan’s icon dish
- Pork cheek chashu in place of pork belly chashu? Super cheeky, I like it
- Some real surprises in the broth that are automatic winners
- The spicy tantanmen is a letdown in an otherwise strong showing of ramen
- Three months only? Seriously Chase, you’re killing me
- Hard noodles are not the default choice – I’m of the mind noodle hardness should always be asked of the customer
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 (w/hard noodles requested)