In Short: Great value, relaxed environment, authentic Japanese tastes.
Walking through Sydney’s Chinatown on an exceptionally chilly winter’s evening, our thoughts soon turn to finding a cosy nook with warming comfort food. After many trips to the ramen streets of Tokyo, it’s clear that only one dish will do. Menya Noodle Bar is one of Sydney’s best cheap eats and promises some top notch ramen as it beckons from its sunken lair on Haymarket’s southern end.
With Sacha riding shotgun on this review, we peruse the range of delicious options on the big board and select two that are sure make us toasty warm. Sacha takes an each way bet on a value meal that features both katsu don and ramen. How can you lose?
Arriving as two large bowls that seem enough for two, Sacha tucks into the pipping hot chicken katsu don first. Traditionally, pork is the big draw in the world of katsu, but this chicken schnitzel-like version does the katsu name proud. Put simply, the bowl is crumbed chicken and rice all wrapped up in a tasty omelette. It’s kind of like a little present that you gradually unwrap to reveal the slices of crumbed chicken atop a bed of perfectly cooked rice. The chicken crumb is crispy and there’s an ideal combination of sweet and salty notes from the mirin and soy sauce. Rounding the flavours out, caramelised onions chime in to give a nice body to the sweetness. As far as katsus go, this is a winner.
Value is what is promised with Menya Noodle Bar’s value sets, and value is what is delivered. The bowl of shoyu style ramen ensures this promise as the chaser to the already generous chicken katsu. Filled with mushrooms and fried onions, the ramen’s base is a salty, savoury copper coloured broth that delicately binds the flavours of the dish and adds a pleasant earthiness to the experience.
It’s my turn to sample Menya’s wares, so I dive head first into a huge bowl of Tori kara-age ramen. I go for the miso base, which costs a little more, but I’m a miso fan! I think I made the right choice. The combination of a thick miso surrounding a mountain of my favourite karage chicken resting atop tender ramen noodles is sublime. The thickness of the soup base works well with the fried chicken coating. The coating soaks up the miso, but not in an unpleasantly soggy way. It somehow pulls the ingredients together into a mix of comforting flavours and textures. It immediately takes me back to a night in Yokohama where a bowl of ramen and a snowstorm still brings a smile to my face.
As far as cheap eats in Sydney go, there’s a reason why Menya Noodle Bar is top of the list with local students, who line up to eat like kings on a peasant’s budget. In a city where the next foodie novelty gets all the hype on Instagram and the exclusivity of high-concept dining leaves little room for simple, honest food, it’s comforting to know that places like Menya Noodle Bar are there when you just want to eat, and eat well!