For Scott Gault, there's something inherently inventive about making ramen. The co-founder of RaRa Ramen, the cult Redfern eatery known for its tonkotsu has long been experimenting with a rollcall of vegan and vegetarian dishes.
These creations will be the focus of RaRa's new outpost, Lonely Mouth.
"In Japan [ramen] is about the attention to detail, the ingenuity, the use of fresh ingredients," says Gault, who regularly trains with ramen masters and, alongside his partner Katie Shortland, first fell in love with Japanese ramen culture on a 2010 trip.
"From day one, people have been really supportive of RaRa, voicing their appreciation on social media and bringing friends in. We were working on new recipes, but we couldn't really roll them out because of the size of the Redfern store.
Australia Street is one of my favourite streets in Sydney so [Lonely Mouth was a chance] to be a part of Sydney's vegan community in Newtown when the site next to Black Star [Pastry] came up."
"There's a lot of excitement to get these new recipes out there – it's all about pushing boundaries."
Lonely Mouth is named after kuchisabishii, a Japanese term for the desire to put food in your mouth to address boredom. But the restaurant's approach to vegan ramen is anything but banal. You can start by ordering the vegan miso ramen, a soy-based concoction topped with pickled bamboo shoots, charred sweet corn, grilled tofu and bean sprouts.
"The miso ramen is Kyoto-style," says Gault. "It's made from soy milk but I'm currently working on other soy alternatives."
There's also the vegan tantanmen, a fiery broth crowned with plant-based mince, shredded black fungus and a sesame tare, the seasoning that gives each bowl of ramen its distinctive flavour.
Tantanmen noodles, which were conceived in the Sichuan Province in the 1840s, are a nod to ramen's own origins in Chinese culinary culture. The dish owes its name to the tantan or pole that Chinese vendors used to carry pots of soup and noodles.
"The vegan tantanmen has a number of elements – we use our secret shio vege tare along with a tantan sesame tare and our house-made chilli oil," he says.
"[The recipe] for ramen tares are guarded but the tantan sauce has six ingredients and is made with a base of tahini and ground sesame seeds."
There's also ramen made with a hempseed and vegetable broth that Gault is especially proud of.
"It has a really good mouthfeel – the introduction of the sunflower seed and hemp also has health benefits," says Gault.
"We also have a small amount of sides such as karaage cauliflower, house-made pickles and corn.
"It's a small space so we can only focus on smaller dishes, and it won't be a fixed menu – we will rotate new dishes now and then."
It's easy to assume that mock animal products, vegan staples that have been unfairly branded as 'food trends', are a recent phenomenon. But as writer and cook Fuchsia Dunlop points out in a September 2018 The Economist article, they've played a part in plant-based diets for centuries. At Lonely Mouth, Gault is perfecting his version of a plant-based egg.
"The basic ingredients are soy milk and tofu for the white and agar agar for the yolk itself," he grins. "We are also using beta carotene to get that eggy taste.
"There's a lot of excitement to get these new recipes out there – it's all about pushing boundaries and growing the vegan ramen community in Sydney.
"The response has been really positive already."
275 Australia St, Newtown NSW 2042
Wed-Fri midday - 2:30pm and 5:30pm - 10 pm | Sat-Sun midday - 10pm