52 Albion Street Surry Hills, New South Wales 2010
|Opening hours||Mon-Sat 11.30am-10pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Bar, Licensed, Romance-first date|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 9188 2985|
Holy pork broth! The new Michelin Guide to Tokyo, released on December 1, did something it has never done before. It awarded a Michelin star to a humble local ramen bar. Really? Ramen? Isn't that just cheap, slippery, working man's food?
Well, no. The master chef of the tiny Tsuta restaurant in the Sugamo district has long been revered for his elegant shio ramen, and the Michelin Guide is not the only one determined to raise the status of these Japanese soup noodles.
Latest to do so is Stephen Seckold, head chef of Flying Fish in Pyrmont. In a departure from fine dining, Seckold has partnered with restaurateur Con Dedes and hit the ground running with Salaryman, named for the toiling office workers of Tokyo.
It's a ramen bar in the way Neil Perry's Spice Temple is a noodle bar. Designer Paul Kelly has assembled an electric, rustic, semi-industrial space in a nod to Tokyo's Memory Lane (Piss Alley) in Shinjuku. There, it's a ramshackle collection of food stalls, robata grills and izakaya bars huddled under Tokyo's railway bridges. This is more your Instagram version, with steamy kitchens and neon signs, exposed copper pipes, and long stool-lined counters.
Inspired by Ivan Orkin of Ivan Ramen in Tokyo, Seckold makes his own noodles in-house, using wheat and rye flours from a single producer in Gunnedah. And they're excellent, with good wheatiness, elasticity and bite.
The Tokyo-style shio (salt) ramen ($12/$16) is based on a light, clean chicken broth, with a slab of marinated pork belly, menma (braised bamboo shoots), nori, shallots and shoyu egg. I ramp it up into a Tantanmen ramen ($14/$17) that channels China's spicy dan dan noodles with gravelly minced pork, slashes of bok choy cabbage and an underlying buzz of chilli.
It's good, but the lunch menu's tonkotsu-style pork ramen with pippies ($17) is lustier and gutsier; the rich pork broth is fresh-tasting and creamy with emulsified fat, rather than with the collagen of long-cooked bones. The lunch menu's Berkshire tonkatsu crumbed pork roll ($12) in a super-soft Breadtop bun is also a winner.
Seckold's bowls are smaller and fancier than those of your usual cheap-and-cheerful ramen joint, which means you can build a meal with snacks or tricked-up robata. Some of these lose me a bit. Not the two sensationally sweet, white-tailed "honey bugs" from Western Australia ($15), lightly scorched, perched on sushi rice and covered with their own shells like sea-going armadillos.
Nor the long pencil shavings of spiralised marinated cucumber spiked with powdered umeboshi plum ($6). Deep-fried chicken wings, stuffed with lobster and sea-plant butter ($18 for 2), feel powdery and a bit dry; and robata broccoli ($15) comes cheffily plated with an overly bitter mustard seed dressing that disrupts the delicacy and grace of the accompanying carid prawns, similar to Japan's ama ebi.
Staff are bright and breezy, cocktails are well handled, the sake is chilled, and wines include a beautifully balanced 2015 Nick O'Leary White Rocks Canberra Riesling ($13/$58) that's exceptional value.
Soon, the street-front kitchen will be cooking up taiyaki, fish-shaped cakes, for dessert, but for now, the Smoove ($11), devised by chef Sanjiv Rao, is a clever and delicious Magnum-ish ice-cream log that does the job with style.
Salaryman is something new for Sydney, an inner-urban white boy's dream of ramen realised with top produce and surprisingly serious and elegant skill. It's also likeable, theatrical, and fun – and gunning for the local equivalent of a star from the Michelin Guide.
Best bit: Ramen gets classy.
Worst bit: Some non-ramen dishes lack balance.
Go-to dish: Pork ramen with pippies, $17.
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.