17th March 2016
329 Smith St
Fitzroy, VIC 3065
I’m running out of ramen. I came to this awful realisation when I did a search of ‘best ramen in Melbourne’, only to realise that I’ve been to the great majority of the places listed. One place I’ve yet to visit however is Shop Ramen, which prides itself on its ramen, bun, and pie.
Shop Ramen is cramped and communal, even by Fitzroy standards. The majority of the restaurant is dedicated to a large shared table, with just a few single spots scattered along the walls, the largest seating a measly 4 people. Although simple and spare, the restaurant has a rustic elegance to it. The rough-hewn walls and green tile reminded me of a clay teacup, and the overall ambience was a soothing one, despite the bustle.
As you can probably guess, Shop Ramen is a little bit different from your usual ramen bar, being in hipsterville and all. There are a whole load of vegetarian/vegan options, and all food intolerances are happily catered for. I decided to give the Smoked Tofu Bun with Peanuts ($4.5) a crack because hey, when in Rome right? I was surprised to discover that this very untraditional combination to in fact be delicious. The blank canvas of the tofu was an ideal backdrop to show just how well the tangy sauerkraut mingled with the earthy yet fruity dressing, whilst the crushed peanuts gave it just that little bit of richness so as to make meat entirely unnecessary.
The most traditional item on the menu would be the Pork Belly Ramen ($16), but even that’s been reshaped into something a little more modern and gourmet. I could find no fault with the hand-made noodles, which were of medium thickness, toothsome, and carried that unique aroma of bicarbonate. The pork was equally as good, the thickly cut, tender slice of meat sandwiching a thin layer of fat that melted in the mouth with a hint of smokiness. On the flip side, I thought that the shoyu broth lacked the depth and umami to really give it substance, and the bitter watercress was just plain yucky.
A hop across the pond took us to the Cape Grim Beef Brisket ($16) – a Korean-inspired variation on the classic noodle. The mild and creamy soup was given character by the pungent addition of fermented soy bean paste, and topped with fresh pickled kimchi.
There were three large chunks of beef in the soup, but although soft and unctuous, they were all coated in an excessive layer of fat. In conjunction with the creamy soup, this bowl of noodles ended up tasting quite cloying, and I found myself fishing for the pieces of kimchi to cut through it all.
Ok, I get it, Shop Ramen isn’t trying to be the next mini-Japan. Except a mini-Japan is exactly what I wanted (and expected, despite knowing better), so I can only blame myself for being disappointed with what I got. So you know what? Don’t listen to me; listen to the hoards of diners loitering in the door, waiting for a seat to free up. If you want me, I’ll be at Hakata Gensuke.
Rating: 12/20 – notice me, senpai!
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.