Winter has arrived and with it, all the fevers, colds and thick folds of coats. There are many ways to combat the scourge of Jack Frost, but one option stands tall amongst the madness of methods: the humble bowl of ramen.
I’m here to help you decide one thing, and one thing only: the best ramen in Sydney. Seventeen ramen shops, seventeen(+) bowls of ramen, 1.5 months of crawling, one objective reviewer. Let me be your ramen shaman, and I will show you the light.
With roots from China, the Japanese have over the centuries turned this modest noodle soup into a craft that has the power to define an entire food culture. Sydneysiders are no strangers to ramen, with our shores fortunate enough to receive bounties of porky broth, springy noodles and oodles of toppings in all shapes and forms.
A bowl of ramen is to be slurped without a care in the world. However, what is easy to eat isn’t easy to make. Thus, some background to my insanity is provided below.
The Best Ramen In Sydney – Methodology
I visited each ramen restaurant (even if they’ve been visited before) and ordered what they designate as their ‘signature’ ramen. Some shops don’t have signatures, or have several. In these cases, I order what I think is their “default” bowl. That means no fancy “super mega ramen” or “ramen with all the toppings”. For this post, we’re looking at the fundamentals. It also allows a better value judgement to be made as sometimes toppings can be the tipping point. That said, toppings provided by default still factor into the score, as nobody eats ramen with broth only.
Upfront disclaimer: I’m biased towards tonkotsu (pork bone) broth. But hey, guess what? Most ramen shops have said their most popular bowls are in fact tonkotsu. Thus, Tonkotsu is over-represented. I will however endeavour to make comments about other broth bases, if I’ve tried them on the same visit.
A few more minor notes:
One: I visited all ramen shops during occasions when I was moderately hungry. This resolves the “food crawl” issue, where as you eat your way through the day, your satiety levels increase, resulting in an inherent bias against food eaten later in the day off a fuller stomach. Approaching each bowl of ramen with the same level of hunger goes a long way in mitigating this.
Two: to ensure post-hoc accuracy, I took detailed notes immediately upon consumption of each bowl of ramen. This reduces recollection errors and improves informational integrity.
Three: in this post, you’ll often see pictures of multiple bowls of ramen. However, I will only be discussing at length, the signature bowl which I personally ate. It’s impossible to take every offering from every restaurant into account. That said, I have tried them all, so feel free to ask follow-ups on other ramen you may be interested in, in the comments below!
You like soy and I like pork; you like soft noodles while I like them to be steel. There is no singular “best”, for best is what you ultimately prefer.
Nevertheless, I will do my best at providing an objective and quantitative scoring for each ramen joint. In other words, nothing beyond what I normally would do.
I will be focusing on four cornerstones: broth, noodles, toppings, and miscellany. Broth and noodle scores are out of 10 (highest weighting), toppings and miscellany out of 5 (lower weighting). The best ramen in Sydney will be the one that scores the most points. Please take into account your own preference when considering the scores. These criterion are elaborated in an Appendix, for extra interested readers.
I will also provide other commentary where appropriate, for example if I tried a non-signature ramen on the same visit. These comments will not influence any scores. Previous visits (that predate this post) to any ramen restaurant will be excluded from influencing my judgement. For example, even after 20 visits to Ippudo, I will only count the latest visit for the purposes of this post. This is to be fair for ramen restaurants that have had few, or even no visits, prior to creating this list.
Without further reading (have I already written half a post’s worth of words already?), BRING ON THE BEST RAMEN IN SYDNEY.
Table of Contents
Sydneysiders were well ingratiated into the ramen scene long before Ippudo joined the scene. Restaurants like Menya, Ryo’s and Gumshara are institutions that have set a high bar. Surely, Ippudo was going to find it difficult to break into an already well-entrenched market?
The reality is, Ippudo has enjoyed huge success in Sydney ever since it opened. Peak meal times still draw queues, despite ample seating, testament to the enduring style of its noodles which frankly, is amongst the more unique propositions in the Sydney ramen market.
Ippudo’s ramen is Hakata-style, which points to whiter, milkier broths (something similar to a paitan broth), straight noodles (instead of wavy), and a hardness system for the noodles that you can specify.
The signature bowl at Ippudo is the Shiromaru Motoaji, which is tonkotsu broth-based, with thin noodles, a massive amount of chashu, bean sprouts, woodear fungi & shallots. At $15, it’s one of the most expensive bowls of ramen by default. Is it worth it? Most assuredly.
Broth: a high standard is set from the get-go. Paitan tonkotsu broth is milkier than traditional tonkotsu, and doesn’t taste as heavy. The result is a broth with depth of flavour that approaches that of tonkotsu, without a corresponding increase in oiliness and thickness. Ippudo’s broth, as such, is light as far as a ‘tonkotsu’-marketed broth is. It’s well-flavoured, with a good level of umami and saltiness. It’s probably the best example of Hakata ramen in Sydney (there are a few others covered in this post). Personally, it’s a broth I like very, very much.
Noodles: where Ippudo shines. While wavy noodles provide a way to soak up extra broth, I find the Hakata-style, “wheaty chewiness” of straight noodles difficult to outdo. I always order them ‘extra hard’, the way I like it, which dramatically improves the experience. Cutting my teeth on ramen is what I’m doing half the time, anyway. The noodles are slightly on the thin side, while I prefer them to be just a tiny bit thicker. That’s a small niggle though, because these are overall amongst the best noodles around.
Toppings: the toppings at Ippudo is why it’s hard to fault its comparatively higher asking price. Do you remember the first picture? That’s six pieces of chashu. Most other places provide 2, while some stop at one. Ippudo’s chashu also happens to be one of the best I’ve had of all ramen. It’s the most tender, with even the lean portions of pork being on the verge of melt-in-your-mouth level of texture. The meat/fat ratio is also roughly even, which while a concern for the waistline, does wonders for mouth feel. It is the most unctuous chashu of them all, even if the meat/fat ratio isn’t always consistent. Exceedingly delicious.
As for other toppings, you get a standard issue of scallions. You also get a bunch of woodear mushrooms, which adds a unique dash of colour as not all places offer it by default. I personally don’t actually like these, but lovers of fungi should find it a nice touch.
Miscellany: as mentioned above, you can ask for noodles to be cooked to your desired level of hardness, which is a huge boon, as it directly affects texture, which directly affects overall enjoyment. This deserves to be applauded. Ippudo also happens to be one of the cleanest and nicest looking restaurants, with food coming quite quickly unless you’re dining during peak-of-peak. Sesame seeds, shichimi peppers and chilli oils are provided for you at the table to adjust to your level of spiciness. Service is top-notch.
As for price, it is materially more expensive than other ramen joints, but you get correspondingly more for your money. On the flip-side, the portion size is amongst the smaller bowls I’ve had, so if you’re a big eater, this may not be the best value for money option.
Ippudo is damn good, regardless of all the flack it gets. And, even though this is early into the post – it’s one of the top five. Yup. Spoilers? Oops.
Ippudo has plenty of other ramen on offer (all tonkotsu-based), as well as a wide selection of non-ramen dishes such as rice, sushi and sides. Also, they have a second location in Central Park, as well as an upcoming location in The District, Chatswood. For further background, I’ve got three separate Ippudo posts if you’re interested in learning more:   
Total score: 23/30
When chef Haru Inukai of Blancharu fame decided to close shop on his fine dining establishment, an eyebrow was raised. When it was found out that he did so in order to open up a humble ramen shop, in a food court no less, both eyebrows raised.
When Hakata Ikkyu opened up, the foodiesphere exploded. I can honestly say that Ikkyu likely received the most media and social media attention of any ramen-ya opening, other than Ippudo.
Thing is, this guy knows how to make a mean bowl of ramen. I know this, as I have visited before. Ikkyu’s style focuses on broths with a clean mouthfeel, emphasising subtler flavours, as per the Hakata heritage.
After all that’s said and done, it’s yet to be seen how Haru-san fares in this exclusive ramen round-up. You can’t rest on your laurels, after all!
Ikkyu has several signatures, which forces me to choose their most popular ramen. This is the Tokyo Soy, marked as ‘popular’ on their menu – clear chicken-based broth, light and mild. In the above picture, three of the ramens pictured is Tokyo Soy. No prizes to guess which one’s the odd one out!
Onto the interesting stuff:
Broth: Ikkyu’s broth is perfect for those looking for something light, but still flavourful enough to make for a satisfying noodle soup base. There’s several layers of flavour here – initially, there’s a hit of soy. It’s not strong, as per Ikkyu’s method, but it’s there, with every slurp. Then comes the chicken umami that begins to close off the aftertaste. At the end, there’s a hint of pepperiness which adds a hairline level of heat to the broth. For those more sensitive to it, there’s also the unctuousness of oil, though I personally didn’t find that an issue. It’s a nice broth, but ultimately it lacks some punchiness. However, this broth does have a dedicated audience.
Is it the best shoyu? Not quite. However, it is acceptable for the ramen fanatic.
Noodles: Ikkyu uses Hakata-style noodles, which means fairly straight strands rather than wavy noodles. In a shoyu broth, this doesn’t work as well as there’s less broth to lap up per unit of surface area in the noodle structure. That’s a small issue however, as the texture of the noodles is quite chewy, in a rather addictive manner. It’s not particularly hard, nor is it particularly soft. Middle of the pack, really. I personally could have preferred harder noodles. You may be able to make this request of them, but it’s not advertised.
All would have been well and good, but…
Uh oh, we have a problem. This was my friend’s Tokyo Soy, and as you can see, there’s an unmistakable noodle clump. I was stunned. In four visits to Ikkyu I have not seen this before. To be sure, I took a closer look:
Confirmed. We’re looking at uncooked noodles, ouch. This is unfortunate, but as it was on the visit that counted, I should note it. The fact that they can bring out a materially significant portion of noodles that’s uncooked to the customer is not an issue to be taken lightly. Fortunately, the situation isn’t unrecoverable, as we simply ordered a free noodle refill (an Ikkyu-only provision), and they were gold:
In any case, it doesn’t hurt to check and take your noodles back if they turn out uncooked.
Toppings: for what you pay, the toppings you get are fairly generous. You get an entire nitamago (lava egg/ajitsuke tamago), while most places only give you half. You also get 3-4 pieces of chashu, which is more chashu than any other ramen-ya apart from Ippudo. The chashu is unfortunately mediocre, in that it greatly varies in textural consistency. Some parts were quite chewy, while other areas were fattier and more tender. Overall, fat content is on the low side, which results in a leaner, almost gamey kind of chashu. The uneven distribution of fat exacerbates this, and as such, I can’t rate Ikkyu’s chashu highly.
I do like the lava egg, Ikkyu’s got one of the better eggs out there. The yolk is mostly viscous, while the egg white is done just right. Mmm, gimme some more of that egg, please. Ikkyu’s is a great example of it.
As for the rest – a standard collection of scallions, bamboo and nori seaweed. There isn’t as much scallion as I would have liked, but I am a fan of the chewy, crunchy bamboo. If you don’t eat it, I’ll be happy to take yours!
Miscellany: the fact that you can get free kaedama (noodle refills) is an excellent provision that is unique to Ikkyu. This is worthy of praise, especially for those who have bigger appetites and can’t help themselves. Condiments such as sesame, sauces and chilli are available, but not at the table as Ikkyu is a food court restaurant. You may or may not like that fact, but the reality is, a huge number of ramen-ya find homes in food courts.
I must also commend on Ikkyu’s wide variety of ramen (23 types!), catering for almost all tastes. Many are just variations on toppings, but it’s good that they’ve put some thought into what customers might possibly like.
If it weren’t for the uncooked noodles incident, Ramen Ikkyu would be an instant recommendation with no hesitation. As it were, if you could literally only eat at one ramen-ya in Sydney, I can’t say Ikkyu would be my pick. That said, would I go again if asked? Definitely. However, the competition isn’t sitting on their hands.
For further information on Ikkyu, I have a previous post.
Total score: 20/30
I was still attending university (go UNSW!) when Manpuku opened up. When it did, we all cried tears of joy, for there was finally a ramen restaurant in Kingsford. You’d think it would have happened sooner, given UNSW’s high-Asian demographic, but hey, this is definitely a case of better late than never.
If you don’t have a reason to travel to Kingsford, you’re probably thinking “boy, that’s far for a bowl of ramen!” Indeed, you are correct. Fortunately, Manpuku is opening up a second branch in Chatswood.
I have fond memories of Manpuku when I visited all those years ago during uni, but now, it’s time to see if this Man is still the King.
Manpuku doesn’t have a signature ramen, but two popular options appeared to be the Manpuku Black, and the Tonkotsu Shoyu. If you’re reading this post in order, you’ll eventually see that tonkotsu shoyu will become a bit of a theme, so let’s keep the ball rolling!
Broth: the first thing I noticed about Manpuku’s broth is that it’s very creamy. Not in a heavy way (as you’ll see with Gumshara/O-San), but in a more silky and velvety manner. Texturally, I really liked this. While all ramen is excellent at remediating winter, Manpuku does a better job than most thanks to that velvety broth. In terms of taste, it’s just about in line with most tonkotsu – packs a salty and porky punch, but doesn’t nearly approach the flavour bombs that some other broths are. Careful moderation is what I’d call it. As for the downsides? Despite the creaminess, it’s still a bit too watery for “true” tonkotsu, and there wasn’t as much of an umami kick to it.
Noodles: oh my, these noodles are good. They’re served hard by default, which is perfect teeth-cutting material. Don’t worry, while I say “teeth-cutting”, what I really say is a rather firm al dente. To me, this is the only acceptable texture for noodles, the texture of these wheaty strands beg to be slurped and chewed without abandon. They’re also about the right thickness, and carry a decent kind of “ramen-ness”, the kind of taste that you can’t quite describe, but you know it’s ‘ramen’ when you eat it. They’re as good as Ippudo’s noodles in that respect, despite not being the same type.
Toppings: you don’t get much here. Some cabbage (which is a rare ramen topping), a small handful of woodear fungus, scallions, and two pieces of chashu. The crime? No nitamago/lava egg. For a bowl of ramen that’s $13, I find that difficult to swallow, unlike an egg, which I would be more than willing to swallow.
As for the chashu, it is amply fatty – amongst the fattiest I’ve encountered. However, I’m not sure how they cooked it, but there’s too much delineation between the lean and fatty portions of the pork, so it felt like eating strips of fat and strips of lean in alternating fashion, instead of a harmonious, united experience. It was a let-down.
Miscellany: of all the ramen-ya in this post, Manpuku has the smallest portion size of them all. Not the kind of award I want to be giving out. If you have a small appetite, the portion will be suitable, but then you would want a cheaper asking price. $13 is dear, especially when the average price is $10-$12 for much larger portions with better toppings. I guess maybe you’re paying for that indelible ink nori:
Which I didn’t actually get, so nope, didn’t count. 🙁
You also don’t really get any kind of table service, but DIY is quite easy to do at the counter.
If live in/near Kingsford, you’ve got a great option, no doubt. You could do better if you travelled, but honestly, Manpuku is more than sufficient for your local ramen haunt. Judging from relatively busy foot traffic even at 2pm, I’d say you’ve already decided that. Slurp on, Man!
Total score: 19/30
One of the oldest ramen institutions in Sydney, Ichiban Boshi doesn’t mess around. With winter peak lunchtime waits of between 30-60 minutes, it knows it has a grip on the Sydney ramen market. It knows it’s good. It knows you want it.
My first ramen experience ever was at Ichiban Boshi. I’ve never had ramen in China (over there it’s lamian – ?? which is not the same), so imagine how my eyes were opened when I took a slurp of Ichiban Boshi’s broth…
…and promptly, never came back. Like many others in this beautiful city, I’m guilty of moving onto the “next best thing”. You can’t blame me – this post covers seventeen ramen restaurants, and that’s not even the half of them! However, I knew that an “I’ll be back” moment is only a matter of time. That time has arrived. Hello, old friend.
Ichiban Boshi’s signature is without a doubt, their tonkotsu. In fact, only 30 bowls are made per day. You can guess which bowl I ordered and which bowl my friend ordered then, heh. I don’t even remember the price of the shoyu! Not important, sorry.
Even before I start the scoring, check out the sheen on that tonkotsu broth. We’re in for some fun, people.
Broth: this is a superb tonkotsu broth, easily one of the best. It’s full of collagen from the pork bones, which you can tell from the lactoderm congealing on the surface of the ramen. For a seasoned tonkotsu-lover, this is a sign of remarkable tonkotsu. For those who are put off by it, I suggest you start eating immediately – it only forms after a few minutes. In my case, due to the fact I was taking photos. Accordingly, the soup is quite creamy and thick, which is in line with some of the heavier tonkotsu broths out there. Despite this, it was never over the top. Don’t get me wrong, if you drink the entire bowl it will definitely be onerous, but a spoonful at a time? It’s a delight. There’s incredible depth of flavour by virtue of its density, full of umami porky flavours. The addition of sesame oil gives it a nutty edge that’s very attractive.
This is a damn good broth, and if it only weren’t so incredibly salty, would be almost perfect.
Noodles: these noodles, oh wow. They’re a wonderful thing. First up is texture: slightly harder than even Ippudo‘s ‘barikata’ (hard) setting. That’s awesome. I wouldn’t call it a teeth workout, but my goodness these are some of the best textures I’ve tasted in a ramen noodle. Ichiban provides Hakata-style noodles for their tonkotsu, which is the correct choice, as wavy noodles would soak up too much broth with each chopstickful. There’s a good deal of wheat-like flavour to them as well, but at this point, you’re tasting the broth more than anything, with the noodles as carrier. Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, great noodles.
Toppings: the one downside of getting Ichiban Boshi’s signature. You only get about 1.5 pieces of chashu, which is a bit on the el cheapo side. It is quite good though – mostly soft and melt in your mouth. It doesn’t quite approach Ippudo‘s chashu prowess, but it is one of the better ones, for sure. I’m glad the nitamago is included; by now, a bowl of ramen doesn’t feel complete without it! A semi-melted yolk makes for one happy chap, that’s for sure.
In short: toppings are tasty, but not enough!
Miscellany: as far as service times go, Ichiban Boshi is on the slower side of things. Nearly half an hour passed before my bowl of tonkotsu arrived. This is odd, as ramen broth is always prepared in advance, for rapid serving. Making a hungry person even hungrier is not cool. My friend got his shoyu much quicker than I did, raising even more questions.
We also did not get condiments at our table, which meant no easy access to chilli or sauces. A small, but notable aspect.
On the plus side, the tonkotsu ramen is one of the cheaper ones out there, coming to below $12. For what you get, it’s a good price. It’s also a nice restaurant in general – full of natural lighting and open space, if that’s your mojo.
Ichiban Boshi puts up one hell of a fight. It’s easily one of Sydney’s best ramen. Enough said.
Total score: 22/30
Gumshara is perhaps the ramen-ya with one of the most dedicated followings of them all. Ask on any internet forum “what’s Sydney’s best ramen?” and collectively, the most responses are always a heated duel between Gumshara and Ryo’s. With classics such as their super mega ramen, and their legendary (and I mean legendary) broth, there’s little left to the imagination on how this humble food court ramen maker has made such a name for itself.
Here’s the thing, if you want to know why Gumshara comes has its incredible backstory, I have one word for you: thickness.
Gumshara’s broth is the thickest and densest you will have outside of Japan. But as with all things, the test will be in the slurp.
Gumshara’s signature is really any bowl of ramen that happens to have tonkotsu without a requested reduction in thickness. Yes, their broth is so dense, they actually have a sign saying they can water it down for you on request. If this is your first timer, please don’t do this, otherwise you’re not really having Gumshara.
In my case, I got a bowl of the black garlic tonkotsu. To me, this is their unofficial signature ramen.
Broth: Gumshara’s been around for a long time, and even though several challengers have risen up, these guys remains the undisputed king in broth thickness. The legends do not lie – this is the thickest, most viscous ramen broth you will find. Chef Mori takes inspiration from Japanese ramen chain Muteppou – his broth involves only 120kg of pork bones and water. As a result, the broth, while thick, has very little flavour as it arrives in your bowl. Even black garlic, which improves broth flavour by a substantial amount, only brings Gumshara’s broth in line with other tonkotsu broths. If you get plain broth, be prepared to use liberal levels of soy and salt, lest you be drinking pork bone gruel.
The legends are definitely true, but broth is more than just texture – on the flavour front, Gumshara is literally lacking. There is a little bit of umami, and fortunately, it’s something you can fix. However, most people won’t be aware of this. The broth is truly legendary, but is it great? Some people swear by it, but I don’t think it’s a great broth just because it’s the most extreme at one particular aspect. Thickness is one thing, but is it well balanced on flavour? Definitely not.
Noodles: the noodles at Gumshara aren’t lacking in any specific department, but do not stand out in any particular way either. They aren’t soggily soft, but they aren’t too hard. The noodles lack the same chewy satisfaction I get from other ramen-ya with harder, chewier noodles. There’s not much of a wheaty taste either, which means the broth has to do heavier lifting to provide an extra flavour dimension. As we just established, the broth is not capable of that.
On the plus side, there’s a strikingly large portion of noodles in a serving – more than the average bowl. It’s almost as there’s a kaedama (noodle refill) in there already!
Toppings: I applaud that Gumshara gives an average of 5-7 pieces of chashu with a normal order. This is far beyond the norm, but upon closer inspection, it can be seen that its chashu is cut much thinner than every other ramen-ya. The result of this thinness is that there’s not much of a melt in your mouth character. There’s less of a wholesome feel of pork, which I sorely miss.
There’s one piece of nori, scallions, and chewy bamboo which I highly appreciate. There’s also a half-lava egg/nitamago underneath the bowl of noodles (where did presentation go?), which somehow escaped from being overcooked, thus tasted lovely!
Miscellany: it’s great that Gumshara allows you to customise their broth. Just remember to actually do so – plain tonkotsu is truly plain. Add some salt/soy, or opt for the black garlic version. The feel of collagen lining your mouth after a bowl is something that only Gumshara can really boast. For $11.5, it is one of the cheaper bowls of ramen out there for what you get. Then again, you’re eating it at a food court, so there’s also that service aspect to consider.
Just for fun, allow me to show you another reason why Gumshara has such an incredible halo in the minds of many ramen fans:
Yep, say hello to the super mega ramen. This doesn’t count for the purposes of this post, but I thought you should see it, just so you have an idea for a dare. A dare for yourself, of course. I’ve eaten this on three occasions, and I’ve never regretted it.
I mean, it’s like getting a pig on the side with your ramen – awesome stuff!
It’s easy to bandy the conclusion that Gumshara’s most-hyped attribute – it’s broth, is also the most overrated. While its not a stellar bowl for me, I can definitely see Gumshara’s role in fulfilling a part of the market. We need a ramen-ya spinning out an incredibly thick broth, just so we know we can go there. What are limits, right?
I have extensive further information on Gumshara in a discrete post.
Total score: 20/30
Yasaka Ramen’s motto is a simple one, something I can get behind 110%:
No Ramen, No Life
A-freaking-men. Show me your doors, I’m coming in.
Yasaka is one of the newer entrants into Sydney’s ramen scene, and is yet to celebrate its 2nd birthday. They’ve got balls though – they dared to open in summer, in sweltering 35C heat. Yet, there was still a line that formed outside.
I think my worship of ramen is being challenged by some very dedicated zealots, that’s for sure. In any case, I decided to hold off until better climes to pounce. I have made one visit before this post, but it’s time to see if anything’s changed.
Like most dedicated ramen-ya, Yasaka make their ramen onsite, something you can see in the left-hand-side of the first picture (damn reflections!). They are clearly proud to show off their noodles, and even have shirts to boot. Where can I get one of those?
The store comprises two levels, which makes it one of the bigger ramen restaurants in Sydney. If you want to see the chefs work, you’ll have to park yourself at the bar seats on ground level. I didn’t mind that – I think counter/bar seats are the best, as you’re essentially receiving a chef’s table for free!
Yasaka specialises in tonkotsu ramen. Indeed, you won’t actually find any other broth represented. However, for their tonkotsu, they have three sub-broths – shoyu, shio (salt) & miso. So in a way, they do actually serve the primary ramen broth types, just with a tonkotsu base each time.
They don’t have a signature, which means a default to the tonkotsu shoyu. Now, I have to take an exception, as I accidentally violated my owl rule about ordering the most basic, default bowl. Instead, I ordered a non-standard tonkotsu shoyu kakuni ramen. Don’t fret – this is simply their standard tonkotsu shoyu, but replacing the chashu with a generous piece of pork kakuni (simmered pork rib). Observe:
The picture’s caption shows what you would otherwise receive if you opted for the default bowl. It’s $4 cheaper than my kakuni bowl, coming in at $12.8 versus the $16.8 I paid. Fortunately, my friend ordered another ramen set which does contain chashu, so yes, I still managed to get the chashu scoop for you, and trust me, it was worth it.
Broth: I’m unhappy to report that the broth is mediocre. It’s subtly tonkotsu, but it’s lacking the porcine aspect that makes a good tonkotsu. It’s just not that flavourful. It is quite thick, almost as thick as Ichiban Boshi‘s tonkotsu, and actually within striking distance of Gumshara. That said, while the texture is good, there is a lack of flavour depth to make up for it. There’s a little bit of umami from the salt & subtle pork flavour, but that’s really all there is to it.
Noodles: on the one hand, the noodles are about standard in terms of hardness and thickness. They’re good enough to soak up the broth and have a nice springiness to them. On the other hand, they don’t taste very “wheaty”, which I consider critically important in ramen. They have a rather plastic taste to them, which I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but that ended things for me, sadly.
Toppings: I’m not painting a great picture of Yasaka so far, but here comes the inflection point. Are you seeing the chashu in my friend’s bowl? It’s the best of them all. Yep, Yasaka has the best chashu out of all seventeen ramen-ya. You know why? Because they take the extra step to blowtorch the chashu, serving it almost like it were chashu aburi. The result is charred perfection. It’s ever so slightly less melt-in-your-mouth as Ippudo’s chashu (the butter chashu king, as I would put it), but the blowtorching adds another dimension of texture and flavour that cannot be beat. It is the best chashu I’ve had.
For the record, my pork kakuni was also amazing – it is the best kakuni I’ve had in a bowl of ramen. I suggest trying this as a topping if you’re sick of chashu. Fair warning – it does cost $4 more, and there is a big ‘rod’ of tendon going through the centre, though that is absolutely edible.
Furthermore, the addition of corn is a very clever touch, indicative of a Hokkaido influence. Corn is a ramen topping that’s too seldom used, in my opinion. I could use it in every bowl!
Miscellany: Yasaka’s one of the most expensive ramen-ya in this post, and I’m not entirely sure if the ramen’s quality is up for justifying that price tag. That said, you get condiments at your table and a decent level of table service. I’m just not sure if it would be worth the price of even a default bowl.
Yasaka ramen is not a ramen-ya that stands head and shoulders above the rest, but its most enduring lesson is its motto – no ramen, no life. Words to live by.
Total score: 18/30
Ramen O-San takes the honour of being the latest entrant in the Sydney ramen scene. With it, a curious triumvirate is formed: there is now a ramen-ya in each of the three food courts in Chinatown: Ramen Ikkyu in Sussex Food Court, Gumshara in Eating World, and now, O-San in Dixon House Food Court.
Crowded? O-san head honcho Kazuteru doesn’t think so. He’s personally expressed his admiration for establishments like Ryo’s, Gumshara and Ikkyu. However, he feels he can still bring something different.
Does the man put his ramen where is mouth is? Let’s find out.
Ramen O-San’s signature is their tonkotsu. O-San does serve other types, but in a PR media release, he has personally stated that his specialty is tonkotsu. Guess I’m spared the torture of choice, eh?
In the above picture, we’re focusing on the left bowl, but I’ll spare a few words on the – yep – extra creamy tonkotsu at the end. You’ll want to hear about that one.
Broth: O-san’s broth is top-notch. This is a top five broth – full of flavour, and crucially, full of porcine notes. Some tonkotsu are just plain salty, but O-San’s truly tastes like it was pork that went into making it. The texture is also exceptional – thick and creamy, probably the thickest after Gumshara, and on par with Yasaka and Ichiban Boshi. In O-san’s case, the depth of flavour was incredible – it was all there. One of the best tonkotsu broths I’ve had the pleasure of tasting.
The one downside? Unfortunately, Kazuteru wasn’t able to avoid making the broth too salty. Cue a 2L water bottle.
Noodles: O-san’s noodles are on the thin side, which works, though a thicker noodle would have worked as well given the viscosity of the broth. They’re very well-made, wheaty and chewy. They’re not particularly hard, which is a negative in my books. You can however ask for noodle hardness your way, as I found out later on. Ramen-ya really need to communicate these customisation options more openly…
Toppings: O-san’s chashu game is incredibly strong. It’s about as good as Ippudo’s, which means it’s in my top three chashu of the seventeen. Big, fat slices, wholly delicious. When I first visited O-san, there were some consistency issues with their chashu, but no longer! Their chashu has been on point recently, and I’m pleased to say that for this post.
Additionally, you get woodear fungi (if you’re into that – I’m not), bean sprouts, and plenty of scallions. Bean sprouts in tonkotsu broth is a clever idea as they tend to have a way of soaking up the broth, which make for a delectable series of crunchy & juicy bites.
Miscellany: O-san is in a food court…and to add insult they tend to run out of tonkotsu pretty quickly. You’ll also need to add any preferred condiments before finding a table – an exercise that can be frustrating during peak hour. On the plus side, O-san’s got some of the cheapest ramen around.
As a final comment, O-san has thick, almost Hokkien-style noodles available, if you prefer that to normal ramen noodles. Thicker noodles are better at handling thicker broths, so O-san providing them is pretty neat. To see what it looks like, see after the score jump.
I promised the extra creamy tonkotsu, and I deliver:
This is everything good about the classic tonkotsu, but made much creamier. This my friends, is broth that is on par with Gumshara. If you want a Gumshara-like broth, but with much more depth of flavour, O-san’s got it right here. Be warned – these are extremely limited in number, so get in before the peak!
Also notice those noodles. Now that’s thick.
For more information, I direct you to my discrete post on Ramen O-san.
Total score: 22/30
Hakata-Maru Ramen is a relatively young ramen-ya, having yet to reach its second birthday. As with many others in Sydney, its positioning in a food court (Central Haymarket, in this case) comes as no surprised to hardened ramen veterans. For those curious, you’ll be pleased to know that this places harks from the same group that brings you Manpuku. In fact, that’s why I included it on this list!
For a food court stall, the frontage is quite wide, commanding a good share of foot traffic attention. It’s a fair bit wider than other stalls at Haymarket food court, so it shouldn’t be easy to miss.
The staff couldn’t tell me with concreteness which ramen is their signature, but I was recommended the white tonkotsu ramen w/kakuni, which is apparently their most popular bowl.
Being another Hakata-style ramen, the broth is milky-white, and the noodles straight and stringy. It reminds me of Ippudo to an extent, so I was pretty excited to see how it would pan out in the taste test.
Broth: being a paitan broth, the white tonkotsu at Hakata-Maru is quite light, with minimal amount of saltiness. For once, it’s a tonkotsu that doesn’t go overboard with the salt levels. However, if you’re a true blue tonkotsu fan, I would suggest you look elsewhere – while the texture is quite milky and creamy, it’s not particularly porky. It’s difficult to actually tell that it’s tonkotsu to begin with. As the broth lacks this depth of flavour, I can’t really recommend it as a good example of tonkotsu. That said, it’s a good broth for those who prefer a lighter touch.
Noodles: the best way describe the noodles is that they are very spindly. They’ve got a nice chew to it, harder than the average of most ramen noodles in this post, and have a bit of the wheaty flavour that I associate with a good ramen noodle. Nothing terribly outstanding but ticking all the basic boxes.
Toppings: the kakuni at Hakata-Maru is a bit of a consistency puzzle. It’s full of porky flavour, and is quite lean, which should please the fat-avoiders. That’s assuming you actually get a lean piece – while one piece I got was 99% lean, another was pure fat. The variance is pretty extreme. I’d say a combination of fat and lean pork is the way to go, but I only received one and the other, not both in the same piece. For a great example of kakuni done consistently well, Yasaka is your bet.
As for other toppings, you get a standard serve of woodear fungi, and a half nitamago/lava egg, which is a bit too overcooked for my liking. I also disagree that cabbage is a suitable ramen topping, as it possesses little ability to soak up broth. Choy or bean sprouts would serve as much better veggies.
Miscellany: despite Hakata-Maru being located in a food court, I’m quite impressed with the condiments they provide (at the store counter). You get multiple types of chilli, sauces, scallions, fried onions and sesame seeds to your desire. This shouldn’t be underestimated, as it can turn an otherwise on-the-fence ramen into a story worthy of sharing. Also, pricing comes in at a modestly fair $11.5, which is a well-priced proposition.
If you can’t be bothered to walk to Ikkyu or Ippudo for Hakata-style ramen, Hakata-Maru will be a good compromise. I wouldn’t rave about it, but I would be happy to be served a bowl of their ramen any time – as long as I don’t get a piece of pure fat they refer to as kakuni.
Total score: 18/30
Goshu Ramen Tei
With fond memories eating here when I used to work closer to Wynyard, Goshu Ramen Tei still holds a soft spot in my heart, as one of the first ramen-ya friends recommended. Back then, it was a refreshing change, having discovered a new ramen restaurant. I wonder if I would feel the same way, now that I’ve become much more seasoned at noodle slurping. Only one way to find out.
Goshu Ramen Tei, like most of its ramen-ya compatriots in the CBD, tends to be a hotspot for suits during the lunch rush. In winter, arriving at 1pm would be asking to wait in the cold. That said, where there’s a line, there’s bound to be good food, right?
The ramen of focus is on the bottom right – the negi miso ramen. Goshu differentiates itself in being the only ramen-ya I visited that considers its miso broth to be its signature. Miso has a very different flavour profile to tonkotsu, and is closer to shoyu. In the case of negi miso, the negi refers to leek/Welsh Onion, which is a common topping when it comes to miso ramen.
Broth: The muskiness/pungency of miso is its defining factor, and Goshu Ramen Tei’s is very flavourful in that respect. I find that a good miso broth is only exemplary if the flavour of miso is brought out to the forefront. No subtle attempts, please – a weak miso flavour is essentially a poorly-executed shoyu/shio broth, which nobody would be keen to get when they signed up for miso. As far as Goshu’s broth goes, this is thankfully a non-issue. My only constructive, but important piece of criticism is that the broth is too watery. While this could stem from the fact that I prefer the viscosity of tonkotsu, I do feel that the miso needs to be much thicker, especially to cater for the winter.
Noodles: Goshu Ramen’s noodles look good, but they’ve got a very slippery, almost waxy texture. This plasticity didn’t go well with soaking up the broth, which is sadly a great big let-down. As far as I’m concerned, that’s already a difficult hurdle to surmount. The noodles aren’t bad, but they’re decidedly below the average in this post.
Toppings: the inclusion of a naruto on top of the bowl makes for excellent presentation. They don’t taste like anything in particular, but my inner child always gets excited by these. It adds a good deal of presentation character to the bowl. I wouldn’t mind if every ramen had it!
Onto the more substantial chashu – it’s amongst the tougher, leaner types. However, it’s not chewy or tendon-like, which is a good thing. Overall, I’d say it’s a different style of chashu to the melt-in-your-mouth type, as it is a thicker cut. It’s not my preference, but those looking for a leaner, chunkier chashu may apply.
There’s also a nitamago/lava egg that was buried deep within the bowl. This is not a good move, as I didn’t find out about it until a few minutes of eating, which by then, resulted in an overcooked egg.
The last point of note is the leek and been sprouts. I like the leek in the miso, but there was far too much bean sprouts in the bowl. By volume, there was as much as there were noodles. Noodle soup salad? That’s too much.
Miscellany: still childish, still a fan of the inclusion of naruto. It’s the little things. Shichimi, sauces and sesame seeds are provided at the table, which score points. As 95% of seating is external, the provision of heaters is also a welcome (and mandatory) touch. I’m quite satisfied with the provisions – they make a good case for visiting a proper ramen restaurant, as opposed to ramen in a food court.
Total score: 18/30
Ramen Zundo, finds itself in a good position in Sydney CBD’s World Square. Other ramen-ya, while not far, are just a little too distant to walk to, thus allowing Zundo to capture a good chunk of the Town Hall/World Square ramen traffic.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all about the location – Zundo’s ramen is good enough to deserve its prime real estate. Fully slurp-worthy.
A nice touch to Zundo’s menu is that they offer a small version of most of their ramen, suited for those who just want a snack, or those with lesser appetites. I was interested to see how this would pan out, so for the only time in this post, I opted for a small version of their default tonkotsu.
Broth: really good. A rare breed of tonkotsu where it’s not overly salty, but maintains a very marked porcine flavour. One of the most ‘drinkable’ tonkotsu. It’s still fairly thick, as tonkotsu should be. The only notable downside is that the porkiness of the broth tends to subsume much of the umami that should be coming through, but that’s a minor niggle in the scheme of things. A great broth that does battle with the best of them.
Noodles: really hard texture – easily as hard as the ‘very hard’ option possible at Ippudo. I appreciate this, though I am concerned that people who prefer a softer noodle don’t get it by default. I’m still of the mind that every ramen-ya should provide noodle hardness options #my2c.
In any case, there’s a nice chewiness to the noodles, which makes for a good pairing with the broth.
Toppings: Zundo is on a roll with the two fundamentals of ramen, but falls short with its toppings. The main culprit is the chashu – it’s fatty, but in a very rindy, gluey kind of way. It’s very unappetising; I didn’t feel great about eating the whole piece. I’m thankful there was only one, though it is long (you get two pieces in a regular-sized bowl). A big downer.
There’s a good amount of cabbage and scallions, but no fungi or bamboo. It’s light-on.
Miscellany: that Zundo offers a small version of ramen is to be commended. Additionally, for those that find traditional tonkotsu to be too heavy, Zundo offers a lighter version of its tonkotsu – marked as a wholly different item on the menu. This is a great way to ease people into tonkotsu ramen. That said, it’s only a $1.2 difference for a vast difference in quantity. Thrifty people might feel like they’re being ripped off, but if you really can’t eat a large, why spend any extra money at all?
Table service is a bit lacking (for a restaurant) – water and condiments are self served.
Zundo’s toppings need some work, and some table service would be nice, given its restaurant setting. These aren’t deal breakers, but sometimes the little things have a funny way of making an impression. In the end, Zundo’s a ramen joint that’s got the fundamentals down pat, and that counts the most.
Total score: 21/30
Possibly the only Sydney ramen-ya that rivals Gumshara in fame and support, Ryo’s Noodles is all by itself an organised ramen movement. For the longest time, the best ramen in Sydney was inevitably going to be answered with Ryo’s or Gumshara, and I’ve always felt that Ryo’s actually gets the edge in terms of public support.
With this much hype, I finally bit the bullet and visited in late 2012, with mixed results. Unfortunately, I couldn’t buy into the hype. I have since made a few interim visits, where I had better experiences. However, it was going to be all the more interesting when I finally return for the purposes of comparing one of Sydney’s public favourites, to the best of the rest.
This time, I didn’t bandy about – Ryo’s has a blackboard which lists their top five most popular ramen, and I went straight for #1 – their Tokyo soy. It’s interesting because this is a shoyu ramen that has a bit of a porky essence added to it. I suspect it’s some kind of pork fat, but whatever it is, it made an incredible difference in my perception of Ryo’s.
Broth: this is quite possibly one of the best shoyu broths I’ve had the joy of tasting. The shoyu flavour is powerful but also deep – it’s not just a whole heap of saltiness. There’s a soy-like pungency to the soup, which adds an excellent dimension of flavour. It doesn’t stop there: the sesame oil in the broth adds another nutty aspect, which I find goes well with shoyu. This harks back to Chinese sour noodle soups, which often use sesame as a flavour enhancer. It’s great to see that in action here.
So why didn’t I like Ryo’s when I first visited? It because the broth was far too oily from ordering a spicy ramen broth. I’ve since learned that most spicy ramen involves an oily broth, a problem that this shoyu avoids.
Noodles: Ryo’s noodles are toothsome and chewy, but not particularly hard. Once again, I believe it is possible to ask for a harder/softer noodle, but then again, this is not a commonly-advertised fact. They’re not particularly thick, though could be a little thinner in order to cover more of the broth, as it’s more watery than a tonkotsu. For noodle lovers, there’s a more-than-average amount of noodles in the bowl – I definitely got value for money.
Toppings: I’m a big fan of the fact that bok choy is an included topping. This is not standard for ramen, to be sure, and Ryo’s is the only place I’ve visited that has it. That said, I feel choy beats surpasses say, cabbage, as choy is able to absorb more broth with each bite, while cabbage tends to be really crunchy while not being able to take up much flavour. Another personal preference – bok choy > bean sprouts. The vibrant green of the choy (and the nori!) make it a more attractive ramen than most, which is a intangibly nice experience.
There’s also a giant piece of nori, and half of a nitamago/lava egg, in line with the average. Overall, good toppings, let down by a chashu that went maximum pig.
Miscellany: eating at Ryo’s is almost like eating at your Japanese aunt’s house. The walls are a bright cheery yellow, an analogue TV is playing random TV shows, and the space is quite small, giving off a homely vibe unmatched by any other ramen-ya. The downside is that Ryo’s only seats around 15 people at a time comfortably, and as such there’s almost always a line that forms outside. This is a cruel punishment in winter, but perhaps that’s just Ryo’s being Ryo’s.
Water is DIY, but nobody should complain when it’s five steps away. Other than that, table service is attentive and quick. Orders also arrive quickly, and you have a decent selection of condiments on every table to sprinkle/splash to your heart’s content.
It’s one thing to go against the grain of what everyone else likes (hi hipsters), it’s another to see the beauty in what other people appreciate. I’m glad I was able to eat a bowl of Ryo’s at its best, becoming a ramen-ya I can wholeheartedly recommend to novices and seasoned ramen-hunters alike.
Total score: 21/30
Kuroneko Ramen Bar
Never let it be said that I don’t try to go out of my way to find hidden gems out in places you wouldn’t expect. Yes, it’s an inescapable fact that most ramen-ya are located in the CBD, but that doesn’t mean our friends living in the ‘burbs can’t get their fix. Why should the city-dwellers get all the fun?
Evidently, the folks at Kuroneko Ramen Bar thought so as well, setting up shop in the rather unlikely Sutherland Shire. As it’s sometimes brought up in ramen discussion circles, I felt it was my duty to push my superstitions aside, and have a meeting with this black cat.
Kurneko Ramen Bar is located in one of Sutherland’s newer apartment districts, as opposed to its commercial side. As such, parking on the weekends is usually plentiful, carries no charge, and the area is quiet. There’s plenty of seating inside, as well as outside.
Their menu offers four types of ramen – tonkotsu, spicy tonkotsu, miso and prawn & chicken. Thus, three types of fundamental broths, of which naturally, tokotsu is their signature. At this point, you and I are both thinking Sydneysiders have an almost unnatural obsession with this humble pork bone soup.
In visiting with my parents, I managed to taste all but the spicy ramen. Nevertheless, it’s tonkotsu that the subject of evaluation, so let’get our pig faces on.
Broth: this broth is so light, it makes the already milky-light paitan broth gruel-like in comparison. I can’t honestly call this tonkotsu – there’s no depth of flavour, incredibly watery, and yet managers to be quite oily at the same time. I feel that because there’s that lack of thickness, any residual oil will stand out like tall poppies even more. Upon every slurp, there’s a little bit of saltiness, which dissipated almost as quickly as I drank it. I’ll be honest, this is broth that required the most improvement out of all seventeen I tried.
Noodles: Kuroneko’s noodles are quite slippery and springy. They’re slightly thicker and chewier, with a feeling that they’re cooked excessively soft on the outside, while leaving the noodle cores harder than usual. There is almost an instant noodle-like taste to them, which I can’t quite decide if a good thing or not. These are okay noodles, but given how lacking the broth was, the noodles almost didn’t feel like it belonged with the soup.
Toppings: for a $12 bowl, I wasn’t too happy with the toppings – one piece of chashu which, while large, was overwhelmingly porky, while lacking in much other flavour. It was also very chewy, and also tough from unsoftened pork rind. The half nitamago/lava egg that was provided is almost fully cooked as it came to the table. There’s nothing lava about this.
You also get a small spoonful of scallions which really isn’t enough, but a good amount of woodear fungi.
Miscellany: service is friendly, but the food took more than 15min to come to us, which is surprising because we were one of only 6 customers in the restaurant at the time. We also didn’t get condiments brought to us, though I’ve forgotten if any were provided inside the restaurant.
I really, really wanted to like Kuroneko Ramen. Had it been good, it could have become the south-side ramen recommendation. As it stands, the city is still the best bet by a long shot.
I do have to mention – the miso ramen mum ordered was marginally better (mainly in the broth area). It may be good enough to visit if you live in the area, and cannot be bothered to travel further.
Serious ramen fanatics can look elsewhere.
Total score: 12/30
Menya Noodle Bar
With stores in Haymarket and Wynyard, Menya Noodle Bar knows coverage. A church of ramen in its own right, it’s been around as the oldest of them, and many call to mind the word ‘Menya’ as the name that represents quality ramen.
I certainly agree, but the last time I visited was so long ago, it felt almost criminal. Menya is one of the first bowls of ramen I’ve ever had, and I must pay my respects.
Their most popular bowl of ramen is the tonkotsu, which is also their specialty. Though strictly out of scope of this post, I’ll just mention this: don’t order their shoyu. It’s one of the saltiest broths I’ve ever had – an incredibly sodium-rich broth. Not great, you’ve been warned. HOWEVER, what about their core competency?
Broth: awesome. Menya’s still got the chops. Despite the sub-$10 price tag, the broth at Menya blows most of them out of the water. My notes for Menya actually say “stunningly good”, and indeed, this is exactly how I remembered it when I had their signature tonkotsu, each and every time. It’s rich and thick, but never too oily (you can see that there’s minimal oil slick in the picture), while maintaining a collagen-rich experience that only slow-simmered pork bones can provide.
The downside? You guessed it – it is a fair bit salty, which seems to be a recurring trend in tonkotsu broth. Prepare to guzzle the water, but it’ll be worth it.
Noodles: noodles are firm and springy, a little bit thick for the broth that it supports. It’s well-balanced in terms of chewiness and is hard enough to handle the broth. A good amount of wheaty flavour says ‘yep, this is ramen’. Amongst the better of the pack.
Toppings: my bowl of ramen contained about 3-4 pieces of chashu. This is more than the average, but they were inconsistent in size, with some parts soft and buttery, while other parts are much leaner, tough. It’s good when it’s good, but the consistency means it’s not leading the pack.
Two naruto are also provided, enhancing the look of the bowl. Chewy bits of bamboo provide an extra musk . They’re cut a bit thinner than most bamboo I get in ramen, which is not so good – I prefer flatter pieces as they have extra softness to them, without compromising on crunchiness.
Miscellany: Menya is rare in that they provide for those with lesser appetites in offering mini ramen sizes. It’s not much cheaper, but waste not, want not. The default tonkotsu’s base $9.9 price is one of the best value ramen you can get. That’s saying something for a meal option that’s already regarded as value for money. You also get condiments at your table, though water is self service.
Pretty much the best bowl of ramen you can get for a tenner, Menya’s all about the spirit of ramen – great food at a justifiable price point. More visits are on the cards, for sure.
Total score: 22/30
Ramen Kan hands down takes out the award for dodgiest ramen shop storefront, by a long shot. If people judged a book by its cover, these guys wouldn’t receive business.
Ok, it doesn’t look that bad out front, apart from some off-white, dirty walls, but then…
Would you even dare to continue on?
There’s also an elevator on the right of the staircase, as an alternate method of entry, but it appears to be perpetually broken, so climbing these incredibly suspicious steps is the only way to go.
Don’t turn back, because you will be rewarded.
That doesn’t look so bad, does it? It’s a well-decorated ramen-ya, and the only one I came across that utilises iPad ordering. Nifty!
I’m very familiar with Ramen Kan, having visited multiple times while during my high school days. It was our regular ramen haunt; I even recall my favourite order – chicken karaage & cheese ramen. Fried chicken & cheese ramen? Good thing “forever on the hips” wasn’t a saying back then. Life’s too short to abstain from such goodness, though admittedly my life expectancy did take a hit, heh.
This time, I arrive for their signature tonkotsu. I honestly can’t even be surprised any more that tonkotsu is their signature. I also can’t complain – sometimes, being a conformist is just fine and dandy 😀
Broth: while Ramen Kan doesn’t explicitly advertise it, its tonkotsu broth is based on a paitan formulation – a thinner but milkier interpretation of normal tonkotsu (though paitan can be chicken broth as well). As such, it is milkier in texture, without the same collagen-induced heaviness of a traditional tonkotsu. There’s a little bit of porky flavour in the soup that cuts through the saltiness, to be commended. One particularly nice aspect about the broth? It’s not very oily. Good for those that avoid tonkotsu due to oil. Drink up!
The one downside is that there’s not enough punchiness with the overall flavour of the broth. Not enough umami, not enough of an x-factor that makes it stand above other broths. However, it does rub shoulders with them.
Noodles: noodles are relatively soft compared to other ramen-ya, but thankfully not soggy. There’s an eggier taste to these noodles, while not quite at Hokkien noodle-level, but definitely eggier than a traditional, wheatier ramen. They carry a wavy structure which is appropriate for a lighter paitan broth. Overall, satisfactory and functional.
Toppings: you could probably tell from the top-down picture that the chashu is very lean, far too lean. There’s not enough fat or slow-braising to make it buttery and enjoyable to chew. I had to masticate far too much to break the chashu up, an unwelcome result.
The inclusion of a half lava egg/nitamago is in line with expectations, consisting of a well-cooked, semi-gooey yolk which earns a tick. Scallions top it off with a nice crunch. As for that fried onion? That’s provided by a dispenser given to you along with your bowl. That is awesome and I made liberal use of it.
Miscellany: it’s unfortunate that chilli peppers and sauces aren’t provided by default, but the mini tub of fried onion that’s provided is something no other ramen-ya does. We all love fried onion, so don’t feel guilty about emptying the container. That onion-y crunch is one of the best textures we are able to enjoy.
Also provided (but DIY) is barley tea. Kudos for going one step above tap water.
I said you would be rewarded if you can get past the dodgy method of getting into the store, right? Seems like my high school self already had an instinct on picking out strong performers. I’m loving this!
Total score: 21/30
Did you think the North, famous for its Japanese yakiniku restaurants would have a ramen presence? I didn’t think so, until I came across Ramen Sun-Sun in researching for this post. If even the Sutherland Shire has ramen representation, why not the north? Nestled in a Crow’s Nest shopping centre, Sun-Sun has been dishing out ramen for nearly the better part of a decade, and yet has remained relatively below the radar.
Upon enquiry, Sun-Sun’s staff could not tell me what their signature bowl of ramen is. When the question was rephrased to “what do customers order the most?”, it became apparent that it is the tonkotsu shoyu (labelled on the menu as very thick). You totally saw that coming, didn’t you?
Initial impressions are promising – inclusion of corn as a topping (thanks Hokkaido!), evenly-sized pieces of chashu, a reasonably aromatic broth, this could be good!
Broth: oddly enough, despite how ‘tonkotsu’-ish the soup looks and smells, it was far more watery than expected. This is despite the menu calling it out as “very thick”. It’s flavour was predominantly salty, with only the faintest traces of porkiness or soy, despite shoyu supposedly being part of it.
It’s an average soup, but it delivered something very distanced from what I was expecting based on the menu description.
Noodles: I wouldn’t call the noodles hard, but they are quite firm. A little bit wavy to soak up extra broth and not too thick to boot, I quite liked these. They just need a bit more of a wheaty presence. At this point, I’ve had to concede that most ramen-ya don’t make noodles in the Hakata-style, which is my preference. As far as wavy Tokyo-style noodles go, Sun-Sun’s got it down pretty well.
Toppings: I am not a fan of the toppings. The chashu was a particularly severe offender. It was far too chewy, with random pockets of fat that were more rubbery than buttery. The lean portions were too tough. The bamboo had a similar issue – instead of a soft, chewy exterior that covers the inner crunch, Sun-Sun’s bamboo is all hard, rough crunchiness. It didn’t soak up any broth, which means it almost felt like eating dry bamboo, despite immersion in all that soup.
There’s also scallions and a handful of Chinese cabbage. It would be better if the cabbage were leaves instead of stems – the former can soak up broth while the latter cannot.
Oh yeah, no lava egg. A big miss for a $13, above-average price bowl of ramen.
Miscellany: various oils and condiments are all provided, with DIY water service located in a convenient location. Service is friendly and cordial, with a no-nonsense feel to it. I also like how the restaurant feels particularly clean, due to the white colour scheme, though it can come off as slightly clinical.
Sun-Sun is a decent choice for those living in the Crows Nest area, for now. Ippudo will soon be opening in nearby Chatswood, which would make Sun-Sun a much tougher proposition to recommend. Time will tell.
Total score: 16/30
Chaco Bar has yet to reach its first birthday, but this little yakitori joint has already jumped on the ramen bandwagon. I totally understand – if you cook ramen, you are totally hip, and you will get customers – such as me – that visit specifically for that fact.
Until only a week ago, their stockpot was only able to churn out enough broth for 30 bowls of ramen a day. If you got here too late, you miss out big time! However, they have since upgraded their equipment, allowing at least double the capacity. I would still recommend getting in as early as you can in order to avoid disappointment! They serve ramen Wednesdays-Saturdays, 12pm-sold out.
I find it somewhat droll that I’ve never really given chaco bar any thought until they started doing ramen, despite collecting mostly positive reviews about their regular yakitori/small eats menu. That’s when you know ramen is one of your top foods, for sure.
I have to say I really dig the interior. It’s unfortunate that it looks like the space can only seat 20 or so people, but it is a cosy venue, for what it’s worth.
As for their ramen, they have two types – the Fat Soy, and the Fish Salt. The default is the Fat Soy, a shoyu-based ramen that has gives you the interesting choice of being able to customise the amount of shaved pork back fat to be put into your broth.
The choices are no fat, less fat, normal, and more fat. As tempting as I am to get “more fat” just to show off my (fat-covered) chops, I know what kind of ramen broth works for me, so I order a normal amount of fat.
And it is freaking delicious.
Broth: the fat soy has, by far and away, the best shoyu ramen broth I’ve tried. Ryo’s comes close, but Chaco Bar has Ryo’s beat. In fact, this broth surpasses most tonkotsu, and I’m a tonkotsu person! It has the most depth of flavour I’ve ever tasted in a shoyu – the pungency of the soy is evident, and it’s got a nice thickness thanks to the amount of added fat. I believe that fat is the secret to Chaco Bar’s superior broth. Fat is flavour, as they say, and I have a feeling that had I opted for no fat, there would be less flavour and less of that delectable mouthfeel I get with each mouthful. I believe it is an essential part of the experience.
More flavour or a cleaner broth? The choice is yours. I wonder what I would get if I opted for even more fat…
Noodles: noodles are chewy and carry a little bit of waviness. Perfect for lapping up the broth and the fat that goes with it. They’re not too wheaty, but the broth is so good it’s an easy issue to forgive.
Toppings: I got “1.3” pieces of chashu which is a bit odd (one big piece and one very small piece). Where size lacks consistency is not so for taste – chashu is soft and chewy, with a nice butteriness to them that’s very gratifying. The lava egg/nitamago is also one of the best I’ve had in this ramen roundup, which is a mean feat to have accomplished.
There’s also a fair portion of scallions and bean sprouts, the latter which could be dialed down a bit, but overall no major problems.
Miscellany: extra toppings are available at a price, with the option of John Dory wontons as a rather unique addition (I did not try). You can also get self-service sauces and condiments up the front, as well as water. Service is quite friendly. The ramen does take a long time to come out, as far as ramen goes. We waited a good 20 minutes, which is uncomfortably long.
I always down the broth when I eat ramen, I think I’m one of the few people that actually do this. With Chaco Bar’s ramen, it was the first time I finished the entire bowl, but still wished there was more. The broth just kills it.
Total score: 23/30
A cornershop ramen joint near the Haymarket area, On Ramen made a claim to fame when they introduce the Ramen Burger into the Sydney dining scene. Coincidentally enough, the previous restaurant that occupied the On Ramen site also happened to be a ramen restaurant. It’s as if the spot is always destined to be a ramen-ya.
I’m not sure what’s happened to the ramen burger recently, as I don’t see it being candidly advertised any more. While the burger was a bit of a gimmick, it was quite delicious, thanks to a ‘patty’ of braised pork rib.
In fact, that pork rib is so good, it’s a key ingredient of their signature ramen, and that’s what I tried on my visit for this post.
What this means is that in a rare occurrence, chashu does not feature as a key topping. If you’re a chashu fan, I advise you to look elsewhere – even our waitress mentioned to us that people “don’t order the chashu ramen very much”.
Whoa, ok – thanks for the candidness!
Broth: On Ramen doesn’t actually identify the broth used in its pork rib tonkotsu, but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s a tonkotsu shoyu-based broth. There’s a conspicuous hint of soy in the broth, as well as a slight porky flavour which is a bit understated. Texturally, it’s not as thin as watery shoyu, but it doesn’t approach the thickness of classic tonkotsu. Given the pork rib as the topping, this is an appropriate level of thickness, as that rib adds its own richness to the dish. It does lack depth – pretty much just a porky soy.
Not terribly exciting in terms of flavour – you wouldn’t be writing home about it, but makes for a serviceable broth.
Noodles: the noodles were like the broth in that they are functional, but not overly impressive. They’re a little on the soft side, which gives them a chewiness that’s very eagar to soak up the broth. There is a good amount of wheaty flavour,
Toppings: now the pork rib is worth writing home about. Juicy, fatty and tender for the most part. There’s a sweet, almost candied taste to it that’s irresistibly enticing. I would not have minded a double serving. Make no mistake, they’re not skimping – I just want more. I particularly like how the rib is included off the bone, unlike rib from most other ramen-ya (should you ever opt for the topping).
It does get incredibly fatty at times, and I did have to leave some pieces as it was just pure fat. Consistency is not perfect, but pretty much everything else is.
Miscellany: shichimi spice is the only condiment provided, though others can be asked on request. I have to note that it’s unfortunate that so many ramen-ya don’t provide everything by default, as most people would just assume what you get is all you can get.
We also received celery-infused water, which is a nice touch beyond regular tap water. Service was very friendly and convivial.
On Ramen’s best proposition for ramen punters is as a casual alternative to Harry’s de Wheels which is right opposite the road. It can also be considered an extension of the Capitol Square lineup of restaurants, as it is the only ramen-ya in the immediate vicinity. On Ramen doesn’t quite reach a level that makes it worth talking about very much, but its pork rib is a delicious, delicious exception.
Total score: 19/30
The Best Ramen In Sydney
Did you really think there was going to be a clear-cut winner? The truth is, Sydney’s ramen scene is so full of quality, picking a favourite would almost seem disrespectful towards another ramen-ya that may have slipped under by just a point or two. The idea of this post isn’t really to pick the best, but to highlight just how many great places we have to enjoy a good bowl of ramen.
In the end, I tend to frequent Ippudo, and O-San the most for ramen, but I feel Chaco Bar and Ichiban Boshi are up for being regular revisits of mine as well. They’re all so close that often it’s geography that decides where I go.
And that’s it folks! Now to sleep off the 15000 calories of ramen I ate. It’s going to be a long nap.
All visits in this post are independently paid for
Got a suggestion? A ramen place to visit? An improvement? Let me know in the comments below!
The quality of ramen can be roughly boiled down into four categories, in order of importance:
- Broth quality
A delectable broth is everything. They don’t call it a soup base for nothing – it is the foundation of the entire dish. A good broth will hold up even mediocre noodles. The best noodles and toppings cannot make up for a substandard broth. The most common ramen broths are tonkotsu (pork bone), shio (salt), shoyu (soy) and miso. Combinations naturally exist.
Notable broth attributes include thickness/richness, level of umami, depth of flavour, and does the broth actually taste like what it purports to be? For example, shoyu should not taste as heavy as tonkotsu, while a tonkotsu should not taste as light as miso.
- Noodle quality
The other half the equation, it’s the noodles that we’re eating, so their importance can hardly be overstated. A great noodle paired with an equally qualified broth is already 95% of the battle. Ramen noodles are special in that they are made in an alkaline water called kansui (and yes, it varies between stores). That gives them a certain toughness and “wheatiness”.
What I will look for in noodles include hardness, size (diameter), how “wheaty” it tastes.
- Quality of toppings
I could honestly eat a bowl of ramen without any toppings, as long as I get quality broth and noodles. However, great toppings are like the icing on a cake, or the pocket square in a suit jacket pocket – a great way to stand out. Toppings vary far too much for me to objectively qualify them all, but common types include chashu pork, scallions, nitamago (or ajitsuke tamago AKA lava egg), bamboo and woodear mushrooms.
Generally, I will give the most weight is given to the chashu and the eggs – they are also the most ubiquitous toppings. I’ll be paying particular attention to them.
Of course, while one can try to keep the focus on bowls of ramen, the reality is we do not eat ramen in a vacuum. Some consideration will be given to the restaurant itself, for example, if they offer toppings for free, or condiments such as chilli pepper or sesame seeds. This will not make or break a place, but I will provide the information whenever I can. My scoring will not include miscellaneous aspects.
Keep in mind that this system is not perfect, being based on my subjective opinion on what a good bowl of ramen should taste like.