Chase Kojima is one of Australia's foremost Japanese chefs. Last year, the Sokyo and Kiyomi executive chef applied that expertise to a more casual project: Simulation Senpai, a sashimi stand in Sydney's Darling Square precinct, inspired by his lockdown takeaway efforts. Now he's branching out of the city-centre and tackling ramen with his latest: Senpai Ramen.
It's a 20-seat neon-lit diner where dishes are served omakase-style – selected by the chef. So rather than choosing from a menu, each dish is curated based on what the chef's feeling and what's in season. The $65 set menu starts with a range of small bites before moving on to the main event: the ramen of your choosing.
"The concept is trying to make a delicious ramen – with the play of omakase, and having a bunch of snacks before your actual ramen," says Kojima.
"Ramen is pretty substantial," Kojima says. "So designing a menu around ramen is tricky: the sizing and flavour needs to be right."
Traditionally, the broth for tonkotsu ramen (made from simmering pork bones) is gruelingly hand-stirred for over eight hours. Senpai Ramen's tonkotsu broth, meanwhile, is done in many stages and cooked for 12 hours at a hard boil while being self-stirred by a beast of a kettle in Kojima's centralised kitchen in neighbouring Artarmon.
Flavours might include that classic tonkotsu – with its umami-heavy broth, yielding pieces of pork belly, shallots and a perfect medium boiled egg; or six-hour simmered abalone with abalone liver sauce. Inventive ramens demand inventive drinks, so Kojima enlisted Michael Chiem, the owner of cocktail bar PS40, to design the creative cocktail list.
Much like the ever-changing ramen toppings, there's a playfulness with the interiors – the entire space is lit up by neon lights, with a similar aesthetic to Simulation Senpai in the CBD.
If you're after a more conventional way to enjoy Kojima's ramen, head to Senpai Ramen at lunchtime from April 14: you can order regular, full-sized ramens by the bowl.