RAMEN has finally caught on in Melbourne. Meld’s resident foodie Diane Leow gives her verdict on the city’s latest offering: Shop Ramen.
Noodles in a flavourful, comforting soup is my definition of comfort food. Thankfully, there are so many variations in Melbourne – from thin yellow noodles with prawn wontons, Vietnamese pho with wonderfully tender beef slices, Chinese lamian with dumplings… the list goes on.
Japanese ramen, on the other hand, has never managed to reach cult status. Unlike Sydney where ramen restaurants are aplenty, you used to only find ramen at the usual joints like the popular Japanese chain Ajisen Ramen or Ramen-Ya, which are both on Bourke Street.
But in the last two years, ramen restaurants have been popping up all over Melbourne. Perhaps chefs have wisened to the cries for a good bowl of ramen instead of the run-of-the-mill stuff.
What, then, makes a good bowl of ramen? This is my criteria: springy noodles cooked to al dente perfection, a wonderfully flavourful broth, marinated slices of pork that melt in your mouth, and a soy-flavoured egg with an oozing centre.
Shop Ramen started as Shophouse ramen earlier this year as a pop-up venture at tea cafe Storm in a Teacup. After its runaway success, owners Pat Breen and Lydia Wegner decided to scout for a more permanent location and they found it on Smith Street in Fitzroy.
The place was bustling on a weekday evening, but thanks to their efficient team we were seated in 10 minutes despite being told there was a 20-minute wait.
The handmade noodles left on a countertop looked promising and the menu was decidedly unique. The vegetarian ramen boasts a cashew-milk broth, topped with black wakame, raw zucchini, broccoli, pickled shiitake mushrooms and slivers of dried chilli.
Their version of the pork ramen sounds a little more familiar with a broth made from pork bones, a slice of free-range pork belly, black fungus, and an oozing soy-flavoured egg.
I tried the pork ramen. The soup was a little too gluggy and one-dimensional, while the noodles were a little too chewy. They also didn’t absorb much flavour from the broth. As a result, they were doughy and tasteless.
What I loved was the singular slice of free range pork. If only there was more! The soy-flavoured egg was perfection as well with a great balance of flavours and texture. It’s hard to get the texture just right, but the guys at Shop managed to.
When it was time for dessert, my friend and I were tossing up between the salted caramel milkshake or the apple and gingersnap pie with salted licorice cream. The prospect of paying $7 for a milkshake was daunting, so we decided to go for the pie.
While it was distinctly un-Japanese, the pie satisfied our sweet cravings. The salted licorice cream sounded worrying, but it actually went very well with the pie. Non-licorice fans should steer clear of this one though.
Overall, I loved that Shop Ramen was distinctly Melburnian. Fitted out with cool funky lights and with friendly, efficient service, it’s quite obvious that this isn’t your typical Asian joint. Alongside ramen, they also serve a range of side dishes, including a pork belly and pickle bun that promises to be sweet, tangy and crunchy all at once.
If you’re looking for an authentic bowl of Japanese ramen, you might be disappointed. I happened to sit opposite a diner from Japan who was hankering for a bowl of ramen that reminded him of home, but was left wanting.
Would I come back if I’m craving ramen? No. Would I recommend it to someone who’s looking for an interesting dining experience? Probably.
Just make sure you go early as queues can get quite long after 7pm and be open-minded about what you order.