Fukuoka, the Japanese city closest to mainland Asia, is famous for a food culture that blends Chinese and Korean influences. It’s also known for an experimental spirit, symbolised by some of its defining dishes: motsunabe, pork giblets cooked in a hot pot; mentaiko, made from marinated pollock roe; and of course, tonkotsu ramen, the velvety pork-bone soup doled out by yatai (mobile food carts).
Unsurprisingly then, it’s also the birthplace of Gogyo, the Japanese neighbourhood restaurant that pioneered kogashi miso, or burnt miso ramen, courtesy of the enterprising ramen master, Shigemi Kawahara.
In late December, Gogyo, which has offshoots in Hakata, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Kyoto, opened its first Australian branch in Sydney’s Surry Hills.
“At Gogyo, we always wanted to explore all the possibilities of what we could do with ramen,” operator-manager Sho Yoshimura tells SBS. “We wanted to offer a laidback atmosphere but also a full Japanese dining experience with good ramen to finish your meal off with. The reason we brought it to Sydney and Surry Hills in particular, is that we feel that people here are open to new ideas.”
Gogyo – a moody, low-lit space designed by interior architect Paul Kelly – isn’t limited to ramen. You can order salmon sashimi crowned with yuzu avocado puree and flash-fried saltbush, wagyu tataki, and school prawn isobe-agea la carte. But it’s hard to top the complex, smoky flavours and sense of theatre — bowls arrive shrouded in steam — promised by kogashi miso. Yoshimura says that kogashi-style ramen, which is available in both miso and shoyu (soy) varieties, is the result of an arduous process that involves pin-sharp preparation.
“We heat the lard in a wok and we use a thermometer to measure the temperature so it’s about 300 degrees Celsius,” he explains.
Gogyo also favours a robata, a type of ancient Japanese cooking implement that incorporates white, binchotan charcoal, to slow-grill meat, sashimi and fish. “Once the oil hits that temperature, we precede to toss in the miso and soy sauce for the shoyu ramen. When the miso comes into contact with the lard, it goes up in smoke. We let it char in the oil for a few seconds at the correct timing, we pour in chicken broth. But the timing is crucial. Do it too quick and it won’t char enough. Do it too late and it’s instantly burnt. After that, the noodles go in and we dish it out.”
Yoshimura, who claims he might experiment with new types of ramen, says the Sydney branch of Gogyo represents an exciting opportunity to give local diners a taste of regional Japanese food culture without getting on a plane.
“Fukuoka is known as the ramen capital of Japan and the first kogashi-style ramen was created in Hakata back in 2000 — that’s where the charred ramen really took off.
“It’s special that it’s something that you can only try at Gogyo. We’re really happy Sydney can experience these flavours without the need to travel.”
Daily, 12pm–2.30pm, 5.30pm–9pm
52–54 Albion Street, Surry Hills, NSW