MY quest for the best ramen in Perth continues.
This week I decided to check out NAO Japanese Ramen on Hay Street, which in restaurant terms is a wily veteran, operating in the city for the past 18 years.
NAO claims to have the most authentic ramen in Perth with the core of its dish – broth, noodles and roasted chashu pork – all “home-made”.
The restaurant is situated opposite the gorgeous-looking town hall and as I passed by, summer was in full bloom with men wearing trendy, light coloured suits and women in chic designer dresses.
It was a refreshing change from our head office in Fremantle, where most folk dress like camel herders or like they are on an endless gap year in Goa.
Although there were some fashion casualties in Perth, including a man wearing a beige suit, beige shirt, beige tie and beige shoes – the kind of person who thought the clothes at Rodd & Gunn were experimental.
In a quirky touch at NAO Ramen, you order and pay at the entrance before even taking your seat.
Thankfully I had looked at the menu beforehand and knew what I wanted, because you could get a bit flustered with hungry office workers in the queue behind.
In saying that, the three-stage ordering process is very simple.
You choose from four types of broth (shoyu, miso, shio or spicy) and four types of noodles (plain egg, spinach, red chilli or squid ink) and select extra ingredients you want like fresh seaweed, boiled egg, pork spare-rib and seafood.
For the ramen connoisseur, there were some cold versions (zaru, sesame) as well as a ‘dipping’ tsukemen ramen with hot soup and cold noodles.
There was also a small selection of donmeshi, kombu and side dishes like homemade gyoza, takoyaki, chicken karaage and okonomiyaki stick.
The restaurant was heaving on a Tuesday lunchtime, so I was lucky to get one of the last remaining bench seats. Unfortunately I was staring straight at a concrete wall.
It wasn’t a big deal as I was on a tight schedule and eating on my own, but some may have found it claustrophobic and utilitarian.
The restaurant was one of those dimly-lit, classy numbers with burnished wood mingling with polished concrete, inky blacks and the odd flash of gold.
A pleasant and dark escape from Perth’s scorching heat.
It wasn’t long before the waitress arrived with my shio (clear soup) ramen with additional mixed veggies, chicken and crab stick ($23).
Let’s get one thing out the way – the broth wasn’t super warm.
I don’t know if this was deliberate because of the quick lunch turnaround, but I was on the verge of sending it back.
But I went ahead and enjoyed the subtle mix of bean sprouts, spring onion, bamboo shoots and seaweed. The clear broth was perfectly seasoned – some ramens are salty catastrophes – and it wasn’t super oily either (I’ve had plenty of them).
The star of the dish was the spinach-infused noodles, which were clearly freshly made and had a lovely soft and light texture.
The crab stick added an enjoyable sweet refrain to the dish, while the tender chicken helped bulk things out.
I would file this ramen under classy and refined – as opposed to Ramen Keisuke’s which are more in-your-face with flavour pyrotechnics – and I wasn’t guzzling water one hour later because it was too salty and overloaded.
NAO Japanese Ramen is a good option for an authentic and classy ramen.
NAO Japanese Ramen
191/580 Hay Street
By STEPHEN POLLOCK