Early in July, the weather in Sydney became so unbearably cold that I started wearing my down jacket, ugg boots and gloves around the house. Granted, our apartment has no heating whatsoever other than a little space heater that barely heats within a metre radius, but it was still unreasonably cold for Australia. I don’t even know what I’ll do when we get to Europe and spend two weeks in Russia during winter!
Naturally, the cold weather was the perfect excuse to go out and have some delicious hot bowls of ramen. I’d walked past Hakata-Maru Ramen in Chatswood before, and it only caught my eye by chance. It’s located opposite the Chatswood RSL on the ‘wrong side’ of the tracks, on the ground floor of an office building. I think it must be a relatively new branch of Hakata-Maru, joining its sister restaurant in Haymarket in the city.
We went one evening with a few of K’s friends. Crazily enough, they decided to go mini-golfing after dinner…I declined the opportunity to stand around outside playing golf for two hours (!!) and just stayed for dinner instead. Hakata-Maru is a very informal restaurant, so our group of six ended up sitting at one of the high bar-style tables near the entrance. There are proper low tables towards the back of the restaurant for family groups if that suits you better though.
While waiting for the group to arrive, we ordered a few entrees. First was the Agedashi Tofu, battered so deftly to be nearly light as air. The light sprinkling of nori on top really helped to add an extra punch of flavour.
The crispy-bottomed Gyoza was popular with its thin dumpling skin and savoury juicy pork mix. It had just the right amount of charring and smokiness on the base to give it a little body.
The Crumbed Pork Loin unfortunately wasn’t as nice as the previous two entrees. While the batter was well herbed and spiced for an extra kick, the pork loin itself was a bit overdone and dry as a result.
I (and a few others) ordered the house special of the Hakata-Maru Tonkotsu. It’s that one item on every menu that’s a bit of a mishmash of everything – and so this bowl of ramen has miso, garlic oil, egg, slices of fatty braised pork, scallions, crunchy fungi…it’s got a bit of everything.
Surprisingly though, I would have thought that this overload of toppings would have made the bowl of ramen too rich and overwhelming, but it still worked really well. The broth was rich and full of flavour, but it didn’t leave that gluggy aftertaste that so many other thick tonkotsu broths do (I’m looking at you Gumshara Ramen).
K (and a few others) ordered the Kakuni Tonkotsu, a much simpler tonkotsu ramen that skips the spicy miso flavouring and instead concentrates the flavour in the braised tender pork belly chunks that top the bowl. The pork belly pretty much falls apart with a single touch, and dissolves on your tongue with a richness and depth of flavour that’s simply out of this world.
Hakata-Maru Ramen is a great addition to the Japanese noodle offerings in Chatswood, joining the likes of Marukame Udon (read review). It’ll be interesting to see if they continue to thrive in their little hidden corner of Chatswood when Ippudo opens up in The District, as that will probably become their stiffest competition.