Juan Bowl and Tea has been on my hype-radar ever since I moved to Sydney last year and found almost everyone raving about their amazing rice bowl – don – and tea pairings. I waited a bit for the hype to die down (and to have a little more money in my pocket) and then BAM, I was there. Juan embodies the Japanese spirit of doing one thing, and doing it really, really right. The whole focus of the restaurant is in the name – bowls of stuff on rice, and carefully curated teas to match. And despite the rather humble concept, the careful craftsmanship extends to beyond the food into the décor as well. With its dramatic down-lights, minimalist furniture, and bar-styled seating taking up the majority of the tiny space, Juan has more than a whiff of a high-end sushi bar.
One great thing about Japan is that over there, Restaurant Chain is not a dirty term. With their dedication to quality, even the most pedestrian chains serve up food that would be right at home in a casual restaurant in Australia. Take Ippudo for example; despite having 69 branches in 12 countries, it is still very much known for serving up an excellent bowl of noodles that’s comparable to any ramen-ya. Ippudo may be located in a Westfield shopping complex, but the fit-out is rather swank. The dim interior with dramatic down-lighting, and eye-catching bar, makes it feel more like a high-end hotel restaurant than a casual eatery.
How gross has the weather been recently?? Having always lived in dry-as-a-bone Melbourne, the humidity in Sydney was a complete shock, and it still throws me how much worse a 30-degree day feels when the humidity is constantly at 80%. Mind you, I’m hoping that by the time this post comes out, the weather will have calmed down – this visit to Ken’s Sushi Bar actually happened in mid-January; I’m trying to get a really good backlog going before med school starts again and inevitably gets the best of me.
And so the search for the local cheap and cheerful Japanese restaurant continues. Kura turned out to be something of a disappointment, so my search led me to Hikaru Japanese Restaurant, located conveniently within walking distance from Sydney Uni for an after-class feed. Hikaru has been around for a solid 30 years, so it’s definitely a little bit worse for wear. But with that said, I actually quite liked the ambience. Instead of being fully indoors, its located within a semi-enclosed courtyard that extends further into the building. And despite its age, it gave off a well-loved atmosphere, rather than an unkempt one.
I’m currently on the hunt for a casual Japanese go-to in Sydney, except it’s proving to be harder than I had expected. With so many options available, I’ve ended up feeling more paralysed by indecision, rather than liberated by choice. No sooner have I decided on a place to try will I find another that seems maybe just a smidge better, and the whole cycle will begin again. But of course, I do have to eat at some point, and the restaurant at the top of my list when dinnertime came around was Kura, so Kura it was.
Old habits die hard, and although I now live in Sydney with its bounty of amazing ramen options, I still find myself jumping at the news of a new ramen restaurant as if I were living in the ramen wasteland that was Melbourne circa 2014. But then again, RaRa isn’t just any old ramen place. Apparently, the chef and co-owner, Scott Gault, travelled to Japan to learn and perfect this tonkotsu recipe, which is kept so strictly under lock and key that ‘if we go on holidays, that tonkotsu will come off the menu if we don’t make it in advance.’ All we’re told is that the broth is made from just water, garlic, and pork bones, and as for the tare – the concentrated paste that seasons the ramen soup – we know nothing about it at all. Call me intrigued. Anyway, this whole hush-hush business is seriously working out, because on the night I went, they were full within 30 minutes of opening, despite seriously blustery and unseasonal weather.