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21° & SUNNY ON FRIDAY 15 NOVEMBER IN SYDNEY
By Samantha Teague
June 27, 2018
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Gaku Robata Grill

A ramen joint by day, an innovative izakaya by night.
By Samantha Teague
June 27, 2018
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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

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