51 Bayswater Rd Rushcutters Bay, NSW 2011
|Opening hours||Lunch and dinner Wed-Sun|
|Features||Licensed, Vegetarian friendly, Outdoor seating|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
If you were looking to open a restaurant that was pandemic-proof, there are worse models than a neighbourhood ramen shop.
The Japanese noodle soup doesn't need an army of chefs to produce. Ramen's lush broths can be made on any stovetop able to hold cauldron-class pots, and compared to the larder it takes to run a full-service bistro, the overall cost of ingredients is cheap. It's a wonder there isn't a ramen shop on every street corner.
Except great ramen (life's too short for merely "good" ramen) requires patience and, quite often, more bones than most cooks will ever care to handle.
Anyone keen to simmer five kilograms of pig trotters over two days to make tonkotsu, the intensely porky style of ramen with its own gravitational pull? Yeah, me neither.
Even during COVID-19's heights, ramen was too exhausting for the most ambitious of home chefs.
When Michael Mu Sung began offering lockdown ramen specials at his Farmhouse restaurant in Kings Cross, the chef found the takeaway bowls would sell out every weekend. With fellow broth nerd Jacob Riwaka leading the kitchen, Mu Sung opened Bones Ramen opposite Farmhouse on Bayswater Road in January and those specials now have a permanent home.
Exposed brick walls and a sleek timber counter mean the 20-seater looks more like a date-night wine bar than a place that encourages highly audible slurping. Indeed, there are a few wines (all Australian, all natural). Consider steering towards the lively 2020 "Noodle Juice", made with McLaren Vale grillo and riesling, which gets along effortlessly with most of the dishes. (Although with only eight items on the menu, it doesn't have that much heavy lifting to do.)
Snacks hit the table at a lightning pace. Rice bran-fermented pickled vegetables are fine at best, but they're only $4, so you might as well. The acid also helps cut through curly nuggets of karaage fried chicken ($12) in a batter that needs more seasoning.
Prawn "toast" ($16), however, is a cracker, featuring a jumbo king smothered in shellfish mousse, covered in breadcrumbs and fried whole with the head attached. Equal parts meaty, silky and crunchy, consider ordering one per person.
Bones will serve a tonkotsu when the weather cools down. Mu Sung says it's still too hot to order a ramen with more collagen than a Bondi lip clinic.
The most similar thing to the milky broth is tori paitan ($20), where a jammy egg and roast tomatoes are swamped by the power of chicken feet and chook bones cooked for 16 hours. It's a soothing delight.
My pick of the ramens is a shoyu (soy) pork that's light enough for the last days of summer while still layered with flavour, thanks to house-aged tare, the semi-mysterious sauce added to hot broth for heightened seasoning. Vegemite is essentially Australia's tare, at least when the nation's dads dollop their "secret ingredient" into Monday night bolognese.
A nutty vegetarian ramen ($20) should thrill lovers of Jerusalem artichoke, but lacks the punch and clarity of its meatier mates. Pescatarians are better served by a refined seafood ramen ($20) crowded with noodles, a prawn dumpling and scallop silk. What's scallop silk, you ask? Terrific question. That would be a bivalve bashed and rolled to take on a form somewhere between hanky and sliced squid. It's a pleasing adventure in texture and makes me feel like I need more floppy scallop in my life.
I would also like more ramen shops in the suburbs. For decades the CBD has been Sydney's nerve centre of ramen activity, save for a few outliers in Willoughby and Crows Nest. More neighbourhood noodle shops like Bones have launched outside the city limits in the past five years, but sushi joints still outnumber them 10 to one.
Restaurateurs, unite! Now is the time to open a ramen store in every shopping village from Balmain to Blaxland. Taste the hard work of chefs who geek out over cartilage and soy! Smell the aroma of cult seaweeds and long simmers! See profits grow as locals discover the joy of aggressively creamy broths!
I won't guarantee ramen is a completely future-proof model, but the pitch does sound like a deliciously smart bet. Global pandemics may come and go, but chicken soup and noodles will outlast us all.
Vibe: Casual noodle shop with a dash of wine-bar cool
Go-to dish: Pork shoyu ramen ($22)
Drinks: Four natural wines by the glass and three Australian beers. A selection of sake is on the way.
Cost: $70 for two, excluding drinks
This review was originally published in Good Weekend magazine