Gaku Robata Grill
A ramen joint by day, an innovative izakaya by night.
June 27, 2018
By day, Gaku serves up steaming bowls of ramen. By night, it's an innovative izakaya with ingredients and techniques borrowed from across Europe and Asia.
But first: the ramen. Gaku serves up four different types: a yuzu-spiked duck broth with smoked duck and duck meatballs ($19), a seafood bowl with salty clam consommé and poached clams ($17) and a chicken tonkotsu with pork char siu served standard ($15) or spicy ($16).
Sydney has no shortage of ramen, but Gaku makes it unlike anywhere else in the city. Chefs Haru Inukai (owner of the now-closed Sussex Centre Ramen Ikkyu and Elizabeth Bay's BlancHaru) and Shimon Hanakura (ex-Aria) add modern twists to the dishes without sacrificing technique — they successfully combine their experience making traditional ramen and working at fine dining establishments.
The only problem you'll have with the ramen is getting your hands on a bowl. Only 40 portions are made each day, and they're not sold takeaway. Meaning, you'll have to head into the restaurant — a compact, but not overcrowded space on Darlinghurst Road with exposed bricks and wooden details — between midday and 2pm, any day of the week.
If you can, grab a seat at the long wooden bar overlooking the kitchen and watch Inukai and Hanakura at work. Try and get a seat at the bar at night, too. You'll want to come back to check out the equally innovative dinner menu.
At first glance, it's what you'd expect from a Japanese grill: karaage, wagyu, sashimi and pork belly. But look closer and you'll find ingredients and techniques borrowed from France, Italy and China. The wagyu is bresaola ($9), cured and thinly sliced and served with Padrón peppers and a shichimi buttermilk. There's a burrata salad ($16), too, with chunks of tomato and salty bonito flakes.
Inukai's signature, a riff on Hakka salt-baked chicken, is a whole spatchcock ($28) cooked and served in a shiso and koji salt bake. It's both impressive to look at and to eat — the salt crust sealing in the flavours and the juice.
It's not all innovation and experimenting, either — some dishes are refreshingly simple. Often sourced that morning (you can keep an eye on the daily catches via Instagram), the sashimi ($16–22) is served with wasabi and pickled kohlrabi. The grilled Angus ($18 per 100g) or wagyu ($24 per 100g) steaks are sliced and presented with a plate of sauces: black pepper, wasabi and soy.
Gaku may seem like a typical izakaya but Inukai and Hanakura's use of fine dining techniques — at both lunch and dinner — and its eclectic and interesting ingredient list make it anything but. As word of Gaku spreads, it's only getting busier (and harder to snag a midday bowl of ramen) so we recommend booking a visit, tout de suite.
Images: Trent van der Jagt