Food Vs Food- Burger Vs Burger

In Food Vs Food, we pitch similar foods/cuisines against each other, in an attempt to identify the restaurant who is best in category! In this Chapter of Food Vs Food, we have pitched the best Burger joints against each other – which trending Burger joint will be top of the stack?

Our approach: When eating at each Burger restaurant, we evaluated the Burger on a 10 point scale, and then evaluated the other restaurant elements on another 10 point scale, thus all scores are out of 20. Here are the criteria’s we evaluated them against:

The Burger criteria:

Bun- 2

Protein- 2

Sauce- 2

Other fillings- 2

Bite-a-bility- 2

Restaurant criteria:

Sides- 2

Burger selection- 2

Accompanying beverages- 2

Extras- 2

Concept/gimmick- 2

Bar Luca: 17.5/20

In a happening bar, serving up modern takes on the humble bread stack! Blame Canada! Or simply Blame Yourself if you don’t end up ordering their signature burger. But if you’ve tried the Beef patty and Maple glazed crispy bacon before, there are still many many other burger options to tantalise your tastebuds! There are many sides to share and extras which you can shove into your stack, but be restrained as the burger will already satisfy both your need for tastiness and the need to be filled. A real nice venue to bring a date or just with mates, and it’s a pub afterall so there is a full bar on offer! Happy Days!

Stax On Burgers: 17/20

The new entrant to the city burger seen, welcome aboard to the Stax On Burger truck! An unique concept, backed up with a good variety of burgers, tasty sides and they’re actually known for their desserts! So plenty more to try out after you’ve consumed your bun stack at Stax on!

Marys: 16/20

The perennial favourite to take out the Burger Vs Burger crown, however with a limited menu and a hole-in-the-wall shopfront, Marys’ overall score puts it behind its competitors. But when it comes to a straight-up burger-to-burger bout, Marys’ burgers hold their own! Bring it on!    

Z-Pickle: 16/20

A real thumping venue, with loads and loads of character. A vast selection of burgers, all with a twist on what you’re used to from a bun stack. Burgers tasted just as good as they read from the menu, and the large selection of beverages and sides will round-out any meal. Prices (if paying full price) were on the high side though.

DOWN N’ OUT: 15/20

Where the cool cats come n’ hang, the venue’s narrow staircase might already impede some diners. The menu is limiting, but the weekly special will bring the fans back time and time again. The burgers lacked a bit of creativity in its default guise, however throw a few more bucks at it and you can customise it into a towering bun monstrosity! Many craft beers to choose from (although they can cost as much as a burger), while sides are solid but essentially only 4 options. A meal was quite affordable, but if you start to option out your burger like a luxury Euro car, it will start to hurt the hip pocket.

Burger Project- World Square

A tired venture for the Rockpool Dining Group- the ‘gourmet’ burgers were ground-breaking in 2013, but pedestrian for ’19; burgers, chips, and shakes all missing the mark. And with most burgers around the $14 mark, priced too high for a burger joint targeted at families. Save your cash and feed the fam at the Golden arches.

8bit: 13.5/20

Soulless and hard to link the video game concept to the burgers. The burgers and hot dogs were alright, if you were at MacDonald’s or Hungry Jacks; but for a more premium place, it sadly missed the mark. 3 choices of milkshakes, but a little pricy. The only stand out was the packaging, a bit sad hey?

Burger Scorecard:

Bar Luca: 17.5/20

Bun: 1.5; Protein: 2; Sauce: 2; Other fillings: 2; Bite-a-bility: 2.

Sides: 2; Burger selection: 2; Beverages: 2; Extras: 2; Concept: 0.

Stax On Burgers: 17/20

Bun: 0.5; Protein: 2; Sauce: 2; Other fillings: 2; Bite-a-bility: 2.

Sides: 2; Burger selection: 2; Beverages: 1.5; Extras: 1.5; Concept: 1.5.

Marys: 16/20

Bun: 2; Protein: 2; Sauce: 2; Other fillings: 2; Bite-a-bility: 2.

Sides: 1.5; Burger selection: 1; Beverages: 1.5; Extras: 1; Concept: 1.

Z-Pickle: 16/20

Bun: 2; Protein: 1.5; Sauce: 2; Other fillings: 1.5; Bite-a-bility: 2.

Sides: 2; Burger selection: 2; Beverages: 2; Extras: 0; Concept: 1.

DOWN N’ OUT: 15/20

Bun: 1; Protein: 1; Sauce: 2; Other fillings: 1; Bite-a-bility: 2.

Sides: 2; Burger selection: 1; Beverages: 2; Extras: 2; Concept: 1.

Burger Project- World Square: 14/20

Bun: 2; Protein: 1.5; Sauce: 2; Other fillings: 1.5; Bite-a-bility: 2

Sides: 1.5; Burger selection: 1.5; Beverages: 1; Extras: 0; Concept: 1

8bit: 13.5/20

Bun: 1; Protein: 1; Sauce: 2; Other fillings: 2; Bite-a-bility: 2.

Sides: 1.5; Burger selection: 1.5; Beverages: 1.5; Extras: 1; Concept: 1.

Stax On Burgers- Sydney CBD

No crushed kidz here, just tasty burgers at Stax On!

Today we were approaching lunch and life a bit unstructured, the only plan we had was to check-out what’s on offer within the Regents Place mall to see if anything caught our eye. We ferreted around both upper and lower levels and went down each nook and dead end, and literally at the very last dining joint before exiting at the Kent street exit, we came across Stax On Burgers!

As we approached lunch with an open mind, we hadn’t planned on having burgers today (if anything I thought we’d probably end up having something Asian), but oddly the concept of burgers piqued our interest.

Fitted out to resemble a food truck, your orders are made outside on tablets fixed to the side of ‘the truck’. What starts off as a simple perusal of their menu, quickly becomes placing items onto your virtual dining tray.

The menu was categorised into Burgers, Sides/Snacks, Drinks and Desserts. Under the parent category of burgers, were further sub-categories of Cheese burgers, Beef burgers, Chicken burgers, and Other burgers. Poking around the Cheese burger sub menu, I elected the Cheese burger with wasabi mayo ($10.00), while my wife elected The Blue Bird (chicken burger with blue cheese sauce- $14.00).

Under Drinks, we ordered a Pine Pash Soda (Pineapple and Passionfruit fizzy drink- $4.00) and under Sides, we ordered Tater Tots with Parmesan and Truffle mayo, with Ghost pepper salt ($6.50). And to complete your orders, just enter your name, elect dine in or take-away and then just tap your credit card for payment. A receipt spews out of a slot and you’re done!

We elected to dine in and we just moseyed on in, took our seats under the music speakers, and in less than 2 minutes one of the staff came out calling my wife’s name and we had our drink while we waited for the rest of our meal to arrive.

The Pineapple and Passionfruit concoction was a house blend, methinks it was tinned pineapple and perhaps a scoop of fresh passionfruit blitzed together with carbonated water? But it was nice and sweet and refreshing, with pineapple pulp to prove its authenticity (be that tinned authenticity).  

The actual inside of the shop is pretty narrow, I’ve heard of restaurateurs spending months or even years trying to find the perfect location for their concept! And for Stax On to want their shop to look and feel like a dining truck? This store was perfect for their concept (it’s the former Miss Chu’s Vietnamese restaurant). The shop was only wide enough for tables of 2, pushed up against the wall with a narrow corridor down the middle.  Larger groups will need to settle for the bench seating on the other side of the corridor towards the front face of the restaurant….I mean truck.

Then the next time my wife’s name was called out, it was the Potato totties.

It was a large serving of potato gems, fried to a crisp, smothered with a thick layer of truffle mayo, shreds of parmesan cheese, fresh parsley and a generous dusting of Ghost pepper! Mmmmmm. These mini hash browns were so crunchy, the toppings all worked perfectly together, and the ghost pepper gave it a nice kick – a bit salty at times, but nothing a sip of fizzy drink couldn’t remedy.

And the third and final time my wife’s name was called (considering it was the same staffer, I’m surprised that he didn’t just bring it directly to us) he held in each hand plastic baskets with our burgers.

When wrapped in paper, they both looked similar. But just breathing in its aroma, you can tell which the Cheese burger was. The burger bun was a milk bun (which was a bit unforgettable), but the beef patty was nice and juicy (clear that real meat had been ground up to create these patties). The cheese was all melted, there were slices of pickles, and the Wasabi mayo wasn’t as strong flavoured as I’d like it to be, but the wasabi flavour was definitely there.

My wife’s Blue Bird, was a piece of chicken crumbed and fried (like a schnitzel) although she had to wonder ‘do you think it’s faux meat?’ and the blue cheese sauce flavour wasn’t strong enough either. But when I asked her at the end of the meal for her verdict, she happily gave it a 2.5 Stars from 3 for food!

Our end verdict, it was a pleasant surprise to luck upon Stax On Burgers (afterwards we found out that they had only recently opened this city store – still no reviews on Zomato), the first and original Stax On located in Canterbury. And on the whole, we were pleased with the burgers and on the big bite test it scored full marks! Super easy to wrap your top and bottom teeth around the bun stack, and with the paper wrapped firmly around it, there were no risk of it falling apart or the sauce getting all over the hands (although I had rolled up my sleeves in anticipation for the worst). Our scores? 4.5 Stars from 5! (2.5 from 3 for Food (there were a wide variety of things to choose  from, and you could customise or even make your own bun stack using the touch screens); 0.5 from 0.5 for Service (although the process was largely self-service, but from the minimal interaction with the staffer, he was polite and efficient); 0.5 from 0.5 for Atmosphere, it felt like a food truck i.e. it was simple and functional, but they had a good playlist and sitting right under the speakers, it felt like being in my own music video); and 1 from 1 for Value for Money (these days if you can have a main, some starters and a drink for 2 for under $35? That’s pretty good in my language!)).

I’ll have to put Stax On Burgers through the Burger scorecard to see how they stack-up? But at this moment, I think they’ll do pretty well. It’ll be interesting to see how they fare against the larger branded burger joints!

Before this day, the only association I had with the term ‘Stacks on!’ Was from my schooling days. The mental image which comes to mind is some kid hits the deck (usually on grass), then one of their mates cries out ‘Stacks on!’ And then a pile-on pursues, and it usually ends in tears, the kid at the bottom of the stack crying out for air. But today, no crushed kids here, just tasty food & drink!

Stax On Burgers- Saturday 13 July (4.5 Stars)

Level 9, Regent Place, 501 George Street, Sydney

Mon-Sun 12 noon – 10pm

**Requires sight and fingers to operate touch screens   

Mary’s- Sydney CBD

No mother of Jesus here!

Taking a city stay-cation, we leisurely strolled Hyde Park, dropping in on the winter playground out front of St Mary’s cathedral.

And when our tummies started to rumble, we headed across the park over to Mary’s – home of the best burgers in Sydney?

I’d been putting off trying Mary’s burgers for as long as I could, as I’d been hyping it and myself up, stating that it’s the best Sydney can offer! So the expectation was set so high, to tell you the truth I was semi-fearful that it might not live up to expectations.

Walking down Castlereagh St, it’s nearly impossible to miss it on a Sunday, as with the pumping metal  music blazing out from their hole-in-the-wall of a store (whilst everything else was shut), you’re almost physically made to look at the source of all the noise and if you’re looking for it, look no more as you’ve found it!

It’s dark, it’s small, it has graffiti and it has a menu which oozes attitude! If words could punch you in the face? This menu surely could!

“Can you use swear words in a menu?” my wife asked. My response, “I guess so”, inclining my head over to the menu. The actual burger selections were few (Mary’s burger, Cheeseburger, Chicken burger and a Veg burger), there were fries, a hash brown, fried cauliflower and soft drinks and that was basically the extent of the menu.

With very limited seating (6 or so wooden high stools set-up against benches which lined the walls), we decided to just grab burgers to go, with a last minute addition (a hash brown). And we perched on the stools while we waited for our number to be called.

“Hey do you just want to eat here?” I shouted into my wife’s ear over the Van Halen sounding metal, but my wife responded “I can’t stand this music!” And fair enough, it was a bit unsettling, considering to this point we were having a really chilled Sunday.

So after enduring 3.5 songs, our number was called and we took our takeaway bag and headed back to Hyde Park.

Spreading out our lunch on the bag in which it was served, we only had to dissuade a ‘Bin chicken’ (ID079) from coming too near (it seems that you can just reason with them). And after taking their glamour pics (the food, not the ibises) we tucked into our long awaited Mary’s burgers.

OMG! There’s something about Mary’s…….burgers! Jake Smyth has indeed designed a killer burger! I’ve listened to an interview with Jake, where he explains why the burger is the way that it is. Jake wanted to create a burger where dudes could fist the burger in one hand, while leaving the other hand free to knock down a tinny. And although I didn’t have a tinny close to hand, but my word, the burger was so easy to smash! The bread bun was thin, but just substantial enough to hold everything in within its bun-ny embrace! The meat patty was thick (at least a centimetre thick), and so soft (almost melting in the mouth). But the cheese was actually melty, the pickles gave it the sourness to cut through the saltiness, and the application of the tomato and mustard sauces……just at the perfect amounts! This is a critical point, as my pet hate with burgers is a soggy bun due to over-saucing, and my second hate is when a burger falls apart when you bite into it due to packing in too many fillings. And on that point, biting into it, there was never any risk of the filling being pushed out the back-side. Everything just held in place (5/5 on the big bite test), and everything was just so fresh and soft, that your teeth just cut through the burger like a hot knife through butter- I can see myself eating this long into my 80s when my dentures can no longer tear through meat.

No surprise, in a matter of minutes I had inhaled my burger, and the crunchy and perfectly seasoned hash brown which we had shared before our burgers was a distant memory.

My wife was also pleased with her Mary’s burger, where I had pickles in my Cheeseburger she instead had lettuce, instead of tomato and mustard sauce she had a creamy mayo/aioli (Mary’s special sauce), and instead of double slices of cheese she had one. But she was still eyeing off my burger in envy. Haaha.

Our end verdict? 4.5 Stars from 5! (3 from 3 for Food (although we only ordered a very limited selection from the Mary’s menu, everything was PERFECT!); 0.5 from 0.5 for Service (although the interaction with staff was very limited, they were all friendly and efficient); 0.5 from 0.5 for Atmosphere (although seating was limited, and we ended up taking away, the Mary’s city hole-in-the-wall had heaps of character); and 0.5 from 1.0 for Value for Money (although the food was perfect, the only deduction from the entire experience was the cost. Although $13 isn’t all that expensive, but their burgers were pretty small….. but $1.50 Hash browns? That’s a steal!)).

In conclusion, Mary’s burgers is an example of keeping things simple, and doing all the basic things well! The Cheeseburger was literally just a simple Cheeseburger, no gimmicks, no twists, but it might just be the best darn Cheeseburger I’ve ever had! I’ll have to crunch some numbers, and I’ll have to get back to you on an updated version of my Burger Vs Burger scorecard, but at this point in time we might have just found our best burger in Sydney! We have now narrowed down Sydney’s burger joints to the top 3 (Mary’s, Bar Luca, and Ze Pickle). You know what that means! One final loop of the three best joints, back-to-back, to see who has the best burger in Sydney! I’ll have to find a panel of judges, but it will be happening real soon! They’re no saints, but they do make a flaming good burger though!

Mary’s- Sunday 30 June (4.5 Stars)

154 Castlereagh Street, Sydney

Mon-Thurs 11am – 10pm

Fri-Sat 11am – 10.30pm

Sun 11am – 9pm

Ippudo- Sydney CBD

Never a slow moment at Ippudo Sydney!

Thinking that we’d avoid the crowds at Sydney Westfield’s Ippudo, we rocked up at 2.30pm to find that there was still a line-up to dine in! What the?

But it was a fast moving line, so by the time we had decided what we wanted to order (studying their online menu on the phone) it was our turn to be seated. When we headed into the dining area, we were a little taken aback by the seating arrangements- it was like going away with a bunch of friends- needing to share a bedroom with another couple? But on this occasion, we had to share a kidney shaped table with a party of 4. When taking our seats, I was tempted to ask the table “Hey? What are we all having?” But obviously I just internalised this, as I’m not that charismatic! Hehehe.

We ordered from the Ramen section of the menu; my wife ordered the Shiromaru Motoaji- Tonkutsu broth with thin noodles, and pork loin chashu ($16 +$2 for an extra boiled egg); I had the Tori Shoyu- Clear chicken broth, with medium wavy noodles and seasoned chicken breast chashu ($16 +$2 for an extra boiled egg); and a Grape Soda with tapioca to share ($7).

Taking in the store’s ambiance, it’s all pretty chic, with a wavy bamboo ceiling and black tiled floors. And in addition to the large share tables, there’s solo study-nook dining tables, and some comfy couch seating against the walls. Just to try another style of seating alone, I’m tempted to come back here! Also there were other segments of the menu we’d like to try at a future visit (sushi, rice bowls, and bao).

And soon our Grape soda arrived – not only was the soda grape-flavoured, but so were the tapioca pearls! It tasted a bit too bubble-gummy at first, but you get use to the flavour after a while.

And after the initial group of 4 left our table, our ramens arrived!

The bowls were modern (like a blossoming trumpet flower); my noodles were nice and thick, wavy like the ceiling; the toppings were all fresh (bamboo, shallots and seaweed); the chicken was thick-sliced and cooked just right; while the broth was a little salty, but nothing a bit of complementary water and grape juice couldn’t dilute. And the star of my dish was the $2 boiled egg! I think the egg was poached in a flavoured broth, so the entire egg right down to the yoke was flavourful! Yum!

My wife’s ramen was the thinner noodle but chewier than mine; instead of chicken she had thin slices of pork, but more substantial than your run-of-the-mill ramen pork slices; and her toppings included slithers of sliced black fungus which added texture. The highlight for her was the pork as it was meaty, without the usual rim of fat.

And when we were part way through our noodles (after 3pm by now), another party of 4 took up the vacated seats on our table and started to peruse the menu. After they made their orders I was tempted to ask them “Hey, do you want to split the bill 6 ways?” But seeing that they each ordered drinks, we would probably lose out on this divisible……So I kept my noodle-ly mouth shut.

In the end, the food was good, can’t fault it at all! But it was the unique seating arrangement which stood out for me.

End verdict, 4.5 Stars from 5! (3 from 3 for Food (Not the best ramen we’ve ever had (in Ramen Vs Ramen- Yasaka Ramen is still No. 1 in our books) but as stand-alone dishes, we couldn’t fault it); 0.5 from 0.5 for Service (we had an entire team of waitresses serve us, who were all polite and efficient); 0.5 from 0.5 for Atmosphere (sharing a table was actually novel, rather than a knock on the experience); and 0.5 from 1 for Value for Money ($43 for 2 is a little steep, but after our meal last week at Mr. Wong’s $43 seems like a bargain in comparison)).

And when we left at almost half past 3, the restaurant was still at 75% capacity and with the early dinner crowd only minutes away, it does look like Sydney’s branch of Ippudo never has a slow moment! We will be back, to try the other segments of their menu, and their other seating arrangements!  

Ippudo- Saturday 18 May (4.5 Stars)

PH: (02) 8078 7020

Shop 5021, Level 5 Sydney Westfield’s, 188 Pitt Street, Sydney

Mon-Wed 11am – 10pm

Thurs-Sat 11am – 11pm

Sun 11am – 9pm

Burger Project- World Square

Australia’s Best Burgers, Chips & Shakes?……. Hardly!

Wow! I can’t believe it! After our less-than-favourable experience at Grille’d, we had put our “Burger Vs Burger” project of eating at all the trending burger joints in Sydney on-hold for more than 2 months! I didn’t realise that I was that badly traumatised by the messy experience. Haaha. But this Sunday arvo, we put our Burger pants back on and headed out to Burger Project-World Square, to put another burger joint through their burger-paces.

Long gone are the days when there were lines out-the-door, at the first Burger Project – eager patrons waiting for their turn to hand Neil Perry cash to try his first venture into fast food. Today, it was pretty quiet except for a bunch of primary schoolers playing fussball, an attempt to get at parent’s wallets through the youthful desires of their kids. *Rolls eyes*.

At the fast-food style counter, you make your selections. The burger options were either beef (various takes on a cheese burger); chicken burgers (various configurations involving a crumbed chicken fillet); and veg burgers (various recipes using mushrooms).  We ordered a Chilli Cheese Burger for me ($13.50); a Peking Chicken Burger for my wife ($14.90) (this was a limited edition special); and a small chips & shake combo (fries with chipotle chilli salt and coffee milkshake) for an additional $10.50)- for a total of $38.90. Ouch! And if you paid with card, there was an additional surcharge. Hmmmmm……. Feels like the Rockpool Dining Group is trying to milk every last cent from their patrons?

Armed with a buzzer, we had the entire empty restaurant to elect our seating from. Probs 6 years ago the grey and white decor was chic, but a number of years on it was just drab.

The wait for our food was considerably long (perhaps 15 mins), considering the kitchen were literally cooking for the two of us and another dude. But when our food arrived, we were pretty ready to tuck in (wifey had skipped breakfast).

Burger Project claims “Fast Food, Slow Food Values”- hey, it’s slogans like this which makes me evaluate them more critically. Ahem, let us be the judge of that.

Yes, BP has values/aspirations to be sustainable, i.e. minimal packaging and everything is recyclable/compostable. But a nearly $15 burger in an oversized paper bag (needed to be folded in on itself as the burger is too small to fill it out) in my opinion that doesn’t spell out ‘slow food values’ though.

The big bite test……. At least it was very easy to wrap both top and bottom teeth around the buns, as the burger was pretty flat. As harsh as I’ve been thus far, I can admit that the burger was good! The milk bun had a really nice chewy texture to it, although it was quite thin. The burger lived up to its chilly namesake, the jalapeño gave it a nice chilli kick and the sauce was applied perfectly! Just enough, without being messy. The veg was fresh, the beef patty was cooked perfectly- although it lacked a beef taste. I could only feel the texture of the meat when chewing, but it lacked any flavour. And same again for the cheese, there wasn’t any cheesiness, but you just felt its melty chewy qualities on your teeth.

My wife’s limited edition Chinese New Year burger – Peking Chicken, consisted of the same milk bun as mine; fresh veg (lettuce, pickles, shallots); a thin crumbed chicken schnitzel; and two sauces, one was a sweet chilli paste, while the other was the hoisin sauce (hoisin + sprinkling of shallots= Peking burger?). Her conclusion was that it was good, but if anything it was too sweet, and she preferred the standard BP chicken burger if she had to ‘do-over’.

The $10 chips and milkshake? The chipotle salt was non-descript, I’d describe it as just being salty – the complementary self-service tomato sauce was probs the most memorable element to the chips. Oops. And the coffee flavour in the milkshake was weak.

Our end verdict? 3.0 Stars from 5.0. Burger Project’s claims of “Fast Food with Slow Food Values”? More like fast food quality food, at overpriced slow food prices! When compared head to head with the other burger joints we’ve eaten at, it’s probably better than 8bit but not as good as Down N’ Out, meaning that it’s below average. To tell you the truth, it’s not much better than McDonalds; being half-the-price of Burger Project, I’m thinking 99% of families would rather go to the Golden arches for their fast food burgers, than to the Rockpool Dining groups version of a value meal for every-day Australians. Can you believe it, if you were a family of 4, it could easily add up to $80!? Eighty bucks for fast food! Has this world gone MAD!?

Score break-down: 2 from 3 for Food (it was good, but not a stand-out); 0.5 from 0.5 for Service (the service staff were professional enough); 0 from 0 for atmosphere (the restaurant was empty, the interior was ‘blah’ and they were playing music off Mtv or something); and 0.5 from 1 for Value for money (we understand that the cost needs to cover staffing, rent, overheads etc etc, but $38.90 for 2 burgers, small fries and small milkshake- that’s not affordable for most families)).

Our end comments, are that we understand that you need to position yourself in the marketplace and the marketing team has a job to do – stir up interest in a product! But outright lies of being Australia’s “best” burgers, chips, and shakes is just too much! And stating that you’re fast food with slow food values, maybe social responsibility values, but definitely not value for money though. No look-in for Burger Project in our Burger Vs Burger competition, we can and have easily struck BP off our list of potential contenders for the title of ‘Sydney’s Best Burger Joint!’

Burger Project- World Square- Sunday 31 March

PH: (02) 9259 5600

Shop 6, Level 1, World Square Shopping Centre, 644 George Street, Sydney

Mon – Sun 11am – 9pm

**Surcharge for use of Credit cards   

Tontaro Ramen Honten- Sydney CBD

Can you ever have too much of a good thing?

Ok, guilty! I’m behaving exactly like the quintessential Sydney foodie i.e. only dining at a restaurant because it’s new! (Meanwhile giving up on an opportunity to dine at a proven winner.) I posed this question to my wife the other day: “Now that we’ve eaten at a few places over the past months, is there a restaurant deserving of our repeat patronage?” And her answer was “Yes, Yasaka Ramen”. And instead my blogger mind processed ‘something something ramen’ (cause each meal must be a bloggable opportunity’ so I instead took her (in reality she took me) to Tontaro Ramen Honten- the latest ramen joint to join the already crowded Sydney ramen scene.

Tontaro Ramen Honten (or Tontaro Ramen Headquarters for those who are curious about the English translation) – is the flag-ship store for Chef Jun Toyoda (his best known store being O-san in the Dixon Street food court). His latest venture is to introduce to Sydney a different style of tonkotsu (soup-base), moving away from the thicker soup bases which Sydney-siders are more accustomed to, to a thinner soup-base but with the same level of flavour- thanks to using the more premium (and expensive) marrow-laden pork shin bones to create the broth. Admittedly I’ve only learnt all of this after dining at Tontaro Ramen Honten this afternoon, only learning of these facts while fact-checking for this post. This explains a lot of things. Haaha.

But before diving deeper into the food, let’s back-track to the start of the experience….. Tontaro Ramen Honten is a canteen-style restaurant situated on Sussex Street, nearish to the Sussex-Liverpool Street intersection. As soon as you enter the store you’re greeted by staff behind a service counter; inevitably there will be first-time customers standing off to the side studying the menus (i.e. us), as the ramen choices are varied and plentiful, and unfamiliar to most (because of Toyoda San’s aims to introduce to us a whole new range of soups!). After knitting my eyebrows in confusion with the majority of the menu, I settled on the Seabura ramen due to the promise of extra pork fat in the soup ($16.50), while my wife ordered the Stamina ramen ($17).

After making payment, head to the left hand portion of the store and find yourself a table in the adjoining canteen style dining area. If you’re dining alone, you can elect to dine at one of the solitary dining booths (picture a polling booth with partitions to your left and right), designed for folks who just want to concentrate on their noodles (although you can fold the side partitions back, revealing your adjacent diner-  just like ‘Perfect match’….. “You’ve heard them slurp, now meet Contestant number 1!”). But for those who aren’t dining alone, you can elect seating from one of 3 rows of closely packed in tables.

Table water is a self-service station, and in less than 10 minutes the service staff bring-out your bowls of piping hot Ramen on serving trays, thanking you for your patience. Arigatou gozaimasu.

The soup is like super piping hot, so after blowing on it to cool it down, I took my first taste………Hmmmm ,at first taste the soup tasted just like any other tonkotsu I’ve had in the past and the ramen was the thin variety (our personal preference is for the thicker noodle). The protein which came with my dish was chicken, which had been diced into little cubes, so I guess you can say our first impressions were underwhelming. And I was really really hoping that I’d like it! The stand-out element to the dish was the texture of the bamboo shoots ….. Yeah, not a good sign.  But the one saving grace for the dish, was the fact that as the shavings of pork fat had a chance to melt into the soup, the tonkotsu flavour became richer and more complex (the pork fat at first were white flecks floating on-top of the soup). Eventually I did chase down pieces of the chicken, but unfortunately due to their size (you can almost describe them as morsels), they were overcooked and tough.

Seabura ramen

My wife’s Stamina ramen was slightly different from mine, her soup was a darker colour, the chicken was shredded instead of being cubed, and her egg was a 60/60 egg (unfortunately cold at first) rather than the half hardboiled egg which I got. But even with those slight variations between our dishes, her evaluation was much like mine, the chicken was overcooked and tough, and the soup-base wasn’t remarkable. 

Stamina ramen

As we were nearing the end of our meals (almost 1.30pm) the place was at full capacity and there were people who had already made their orders and were hanging around waiting for tables to free-up. Not wanting to hog a table longer than necessary, we tried to eat faster but tell you the truth, this ramen actually felt like a bit of a chore to finish (also not a good sign, as when you have something good, you want more? Right? Not less. And the portions weren’t particularly large either). My wife commented at this moment that she had worked out why her dish was called ‘Stamina ramen’, as it took some stamina to finish it- so it wasn’t just me feeling this way!

In the end, you really can have too much of a ‘good thing’! Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like the food was bad or anything but it was just unremarkable after the hype “A Deluxe Ramen Joint from a Chef with a Cult Following” was the title of the November 2018 Broadsheet article. When compared head-to-head with other Ramen stores, they just come off second, third, even fourth best! So for these reasons our end score is 3 from 5 stars (1.5 stars from 3 for Food (the soup was quite salty, so much so that we came home and downed a bottle of our home brew Kombucha, needing the acidity to break-down the salty taste in our mouths); 0.5 from 0.5 for Service (as all the staff were courteous); 0.5 from 0.5 for Atmosphere (as they were playing a Jamiroquai like album and the constant turnover of customers gave the otherwise plain restaurant life); and 0.5 from 1 for Value for money ($17 for Ramen is getting pretty exxy, considering it’s just chicken and not a premium type of meat)).

Would we be back again soon? Unfortunately I don’t think so. Because the next time we’re in the mood for Ramen, there are 3-4 other places on the top of our list before we’d circle back to Tontaro Ramen Honten.

Tontaro Ramen Honten- Sunday 17 February (3 Stars).

PH: (02) 8317 6375

10-11 339 Sussex Street, Sydney NSW

Mon-Sun 12noon – 3pm, 5.30pm – 9pm