52-54 Albion St Surry Hills, NSW 2010
|Opening hours||Daily 11.30am-2.30pm, 5.30pm-10.30pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9212 0003|
Waiter, there is a mythical piscine amphibious humanoid in my soup! And a pink-and-white eyeball floating on top! Oh, hang on, it is just chashu pork belly and naruto fish cake in a dark and grungy bowl of blackened broth flecked with ash.
Yes, the charred miso ramen at Gogyo is scary. Especially if you have just been to see The Shape of Water, inspired by the 1954 film Creature from the Black Lagoon, which was not necessarily a sensible thing to do.
Created by Ippudo founder and ramen master Shigemi Kawahara for the first Gogyo in western Japan's Hakata in 2000, it is a noodle soup that dabbles in the dark side.
To make it, lard is heated in a wok to a zillion degrees, so when the base sauce of miso or shoyu is added, it actually catches fire before being doused with ladlefuls of chicken broth.
This is then combined with medium-thin wheat noodles, cabbage, soft-yolked egg, tender chashu pork and naruto, all of which soon look as though they have been through Dante's third circle of hell. Those noodles, though. They are magnificently al dente, so resilient that on my share table, a baby is given one to play with, like a piece of string.
It is one hell of a trick to pull off, to burn something so deliberately, yet end up with something that tastes so clean, rich, smoky and deep. My fellow diners are torn. One wants to know how and why you would burn soup; another says the soft ash residue reminds him of his mother's cooking.
So, Gogyo. It is a brand new ramen restaurant in Surry Hills, with an interior by Sydney designer Paul Kelly that is all long, open kitchen and exposed brick, wood and slate. We have been here before, you and I, when it was the highly enjoyable Salaryman, also designed by Kelly. Now it is the first Gogyo outside Asia, funky young sister to global ramen chain Ippudo.
It is good to see a design team – and client – who are happy to reuse and recycle rather than toss out and start again. Kelly has toned down the original Tokyo-cool, neon-lit interior, keeping the monochromes and ditching the neon. The result is surprisingly restful, unless you are at one of the eat-and-run high-top tables by the door.
There is more to eat than kogashi ramen, of course. There is a velvety, creamy tonkotsu ramen ($17) that is pleasant enough, and a fat spring roll ($5) chockers with wagyu sukiyaki, complete with the odd lovely thread of shirataki noodle.
Gyoza dumplings ($13) are well-engineered – thin-skinned, scorch-bottomed and pork-filled – and sashimi gohan ($12) makes a great little lunch dish, combining diced raw salmon, kingfish, cucumber and nori tumbled over a bowl of warm steamed rice.
Don't bother with codfish saikyo miso ($28), which is overwhelmed by a sweet, pasty miso coating, and be aware that certain dishes, like the "crackling piggy roll", can sell out fast.
Salaryman's left-over taiyaki kitchen is put to good use at dessert time, the little bream-shaped batter cake ($10) tasting just like a red bean paste waffle, flanked by a sweet-savoury, smooth snowball of buckwheat tea ice-cream.
Most ramen joints are gulp-and-go, but this one stands out. It is that black-lagoon broth that does it. Dark, burnt and smoky, it lurks in the deeply murky recesses of the memory like a submerged nightmare.
Vegetarian Mushroom-based soba noodle soup, and a few salads and sides.
Drinks Asahi on tap, good sake, Japanese whiskey and a funky, entertaining wine list by Mauve Wines' Ryoji Ohgushi, from Liquid Rock 'n' Roll riesling to Big Easy Radio grenache.
Go-to dish Kogashi (charred) miso ramen, $18.
Pro tip Leave the white T-shirt at home, for obvious reasons.
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.