Born out of the desire for solace amid global and personal devastation, Ramen O opened last November and quickly became Canberra’s most pored-over bowl of food.
Ramen O is located in the nondescript Belconnen Churches Centre. Long queues form twice daily to enter the tiny eatery, which is only open during the week for a few hours each at lunch and dinner.
A husband-and-wife team owns the small family business. Chef Shun Ota is the award-winning master behind the steaming hot bowls of comfort leaving the kitchen at a rapid rate. He has worked in fine Japanese dining for over 20 years. His most recent stints were at Lilotang in Barton and Nobu in Melbourne.
Ensuring no detail is overlooked out front, Yuki Ota—with a previous career as a costume designer for Japanese traditional theatrical art, Kabuki —oversees the artistic side of Ramen O. She hopes to inject not only food but Japanese tradition into the minimalist space through displays of Ikebana (the Japanese art of flower arrangement) and Nihonga (Japanese traditional painting).
The pair decided to work together and open their own business after a tumultuous start to 2020.
“My cancer was found 3 months after I gave birth in 2019. I had surgery at the beginning of 2020 and then the Coronavirus pandemic hit the food industry very hard while I was recovering,” said Yuki.
“It made my husband and I think that we want to be together as much as possible and we wanted to create a place everyone can work happily. That is why we started our own business.”
After the seed of launching their own restaurant was planted, it became instantly obvious to the couple the type of food they wanted to create and serve.
“Ramen has always been our comfort and soul food as both of us are from Kyushu where Tonkotsu Ramen (pork bone-based soup ramen) was born. We wanted to comfort Canberra with the ramen we love and make our customers feel as if they were in Japan.” Shared Yuki.
“My husband decided to put all his knowledge and finest technique into one bowl of ramen. It is condensed with the finest ingredients using traditional and fine dining techniques.
As with the Otas, soup for me also represents love and comfort. I grew up eating fresh, hearty stockpots full of chicken broth almost daily and I regularly yearn for that magic amalgamation of fat, carbs and salt that one slurp of the hot liquid delivers.
The lure of satisfying my soup desires and trying the contender for Canberra’s best ramen was high and had me crisscrossing the city for my weekly Friday lunch out.
From the street, as I approach the Belconnen Churches building, I can already see a queue of people waiting alongside the first-floor balcony walkway outside Ramen O. I join the queue among the lanyard-wearing office workers at noon and have a fifteen-minute wait before I am seated.
The premise and setup of the restaurant is queue, order, eat, go. There is a fast-paced elegance to the comings and goings, even though the space is small and there are obviously people waiting in line for my table, I do not feel cramped or rushed.
On the menu are nine types of ramen in Kyushu style Tonkatsu pork and soy soup. I opt for the most popular item on the menu – the Ramen Wow – which comes topped with extra slices of Japanese Char Ciu pork and an additional egg.
Each serving is delivered on an individual wooden tray and from the first tentative sip the complicated layering of flavours of the pork stock rich broth starts to come through. It is earthy, thick and salty with a generous amount of chewy noodles to slurp. The Char Ciu pork is extremely tender and melts away in my mouth and the egg is always a welcome addition to a bowl of ramen.
For now, Ramen O is only available to eat in but as the dust settles on the experience of opening a new business Yuki says they will start to contemplate expanding their offering.
“Since we are such a small family business, we are overwhelmed by this unexpected popularity. We will gradually start takeaway and delivery and think about a new location once we are settled.
“In the future, we would love to expand into Japan or other states in Australia. Wouldn’t it be cool for a Canberra-born ramen place to open in Japan or other big cities?”
Ramen O is located at 1F 54 Benjamin Way in Belconnen. It’s open for lunch between 11:30 am and 3:30 pm Monday to Friday, and dinner from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm Monday to Thursday, and from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm on Friday. Ramen O is closed on weekends.