238 Crown St
Darlinghurst, NSW 2010
In the two-odd years I’ve lived in Sydney, I’ve pretty much blitzed my way across all the well-regarded ramen restaurants in Sydney… without crossing the bridge that is. One of the very few ramen-ya on the right side of the river (fight me) I’ve left to try is Chaco Bar, but because they only served noodles for lunch a couple days of the week – the rest of the time is reserved for yakitori – I’ve never gotten around to visiting. So I was doubly delighted when I heard the news that Chaco Bar had gotten popular enough to split into two; the new Chaco Bar now does yakitori full time, whilst the original site has been converted to Chaco Ramen.
Even in pre-Covid times, seating at Chaco Ramen (née Bar) was hard to come by. At just 25 seats, you’d be lucky to get a spot even on a weeknight. Now with social distancing however, we’re talking no more than 10 people inside at a time. Fearing the dreaded situation of missing out on the first seating, I showed up a whopping 20 minutes before opening and voila, I was the first one in – success!
I fell in love with Chaco Ramen from the moment I stuck my head inside to investigate the heady aroma of garlic and pork fat, which was wafting out long before the restaurant was open. The interior of Chaco Ramen was the spitting image of an old-fashioned family-run restaurant in Japan, the kind you’d find in a quiet tree-lined street, maybe nestled between a family home and a convenience store, with nothing to mark it out except a red lantern or two hanging from the awning. But despite the traditional interior, you won’t find shoyu and tonkotsu on the menu. Instead, there’s the likes of Yuzu Scallop and Chilli Coriander. And even despite the phenomenal reputation behind Chaco Ramen, I couldn’t help but wonder if they could really pull these concoctions off.
The closest thing on the menu to a classic ramen would have to be the Fat Soy ($17), which comes with your choice of the level of back fat in your soup. However, it felt a bit wrong to be tinkering with the OG recipe, so I decided to have it as is. And hoooooo BOY was this good. The soup was rich and umami – but that’s every good ramen out there. What really set this apart was the deep, charred smokiness reminiscent of chilis scalded in hot oil. Except bizarrely, there wasn’t even a hint of spice anywhere.
The soup may be the star of this bowl, but the supporting acts were in no way lacking. The noodles are slightly thicker than the razor-straight Hakata-styled noodles you see in tonkotsu, but with the heaviness of the soup, this felt just right. The yolk of the marinated egg was indulgently gooey, and the charshu is sliced satisfyingly thick, with just the right balance between meat and fat. Add in a handful of shredded black fungus for crunch, and I think this may genuinely be a perfect bowl of noodles.
Not feeling overly adventurous that night, I forewent the intriguing Tomato Truffle ramen for the Fish Salt ($17). This may look like a creamy bowl of pork broth, but one whiff gives the game away. Yet despite the heavy notes of seafood, the soup was actually smooth and velvety, with a fattiness reminiscent of tonkotsu. Floating just beneath the surface were two silky John Dory and prawn wontons, and another slice of that delectable charshu, the porkiness of which really stood out against the briny backdrop.
But whereas the soup was the highlight of the fat soy ramen, here it’s the noodles that really shone. I was surprised by how chunky these were, but what really blew me away was the elastic chewiness that almost cuts the teeth. As you work your way through the bowl, they start to soak up all the umami goodness of the soup, until each bite is so full of flavour it feels like you’re eating the noodles and drinking the soup all at the same time.
Despite not having tried the more unique offerings at Chaco Ramen, what I did have was more than enough to convince me that any item on the menu would be worth my while. Although their recipes may be far from traditional, there was an unmistakable respect for, and understanding of the ingredients that was clearly evident, resulting in bowls of ramen that were not only delicious, but also tasted right. As big of a call as this may sound, but Chaco Bar may be tied for first with RaRa as my favourite ramen-ya.
Rating: 15/20 – quirky classics.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.