There's some new neon on Smith Street, Collingwood, and it's all ramen, bun and pie. Shop Ramen is the new space by founders Lydia Wegner and Pat Breen, the same guys that brought the Shophouse Ramen pop-up to Smith Street last summer and who caused lines of hungry travellers to snake outside the door regardless of the searing heat. Now they're back for a permanent stay further down the street, with just a little bit more experience under their belts.
After a very helpful study tour to Japan, Shop Ramen has hit the height of flavour-intensity, with delicate noodles that you'll want to slurp without any regard for decorum. The menu is a concise, thoughtful exercise featuring just the right amount of tradition — the Tonkotsu (pork belly and ground pork, egg, black fungus, leek and nori; $13) and Dan Dan (chicken and dashi soup, beef brisket, pickles, celery, egg, greens and peanuts; $13) giving way to the more interesting combinations found in the Vegetarian Cashew Milk Ramen (nori tofu, broccoli, raw zucchini, egg, pickled shitake, nuts and seeds; $13). Whatever you decide on, you can't go wrong. All noodles are freshly handmade daily, and you can tell — they're silky and with just the right amount of hold.
The fit out is clean and refined, emulating that perfect amount of gentleness that our Japanese counterparts always manage to get right. It favours functionality and minimalism over unnecessary embellishments. Space is at a limit with a long communal bench stretching down the centre of the narrow shop front and a few smaller tables by their side. Service is quick, friendly and accommodating, particularly at peak times, and — just how ramen is supposed to be eaten — it is designed to have you eating and out the door. Just like last summer, be warned: Shop Ramen quickly reaches capacity, so best you arrive to snag a space at the beginning of meal times.
While the ramen shines, it's the selection of sides that really seals the deal at Shop Ramen. A choice of smoked buns including pork belly and tofu (both $3.80) feature a lovely delicacy and mix between the sweet and sour. The starry finish is the salted caramel and coconut shake ($7) that is definitely not for the faint of heart or the already sugar high.
With Sydney embracing ramen long ago, it's a wonder Melbourne is yet to jump on the bandwagon. Luckily, Shop Ramen is delivering some of the city's best. Bask in the glow of the neon and leave with a very warm belly.