We've had our eye on Shop Ramen and its vegan bowl a long time, but only recently made our first visit after 9pm on a Wednesday. Although we didn't get to witness their noodle-making in action it was the right time to comfortably snag a seat - two years after opening there's still often a queue out front.
The menu is reasonably simple, living up to the neon sign out front advertising RAMEN, BUN & PIE. While dietary requirements aren't clearly coded, key ingredients are listed after each dish and the staff are on hand to help.
We started by sharing a bun ($4) stuffed with special sauce-smothered tofu, sauerkraut, peanuts and coriander, and almost too steaming-hot to handle.
Michael dipped into the widely lauded vegan tofu ramen ($14), piled with broccoli, pickled shitake mushrooms, edamame, cress and sesame (the standard version includes egg, but they're happy to exclude it). The excellent cashew milk broth is the novelty of this dish, but the fresh, slippery noodles were probably actually the star.
I took on the other vege main - a chilled rice bowl ($14) containing uncooked tofu squares in a sesame salsa verde topped with shredded fresh and pickled vegetables. Edamame, almonds and currants kept the brown rice interesting, and a salty soy sauce pooled in the bottom of the bowl.
The salted caramel milkshake is more widely recommended than the pie, but I didn't find myself to be much in the mood for either dessert after a meal of rice and pickles.
Blog accounts from ramen aficionados note that the broths and ingredient combinations at Shop Ramen are far from traditional - that might be one reason why us vegos get a look-in. They served us well when we needed some late-night veges and we might call on them for this kind of post-show nourishment again. Yet I probably won't be devotedly queuing on the regular.
Fellow vegetarian bloggers are split on Shop Ramen - I Spy Plum Pie enjoyed her visit, while Ebezilla's Food Blog was disappointed with her food.
In the omnivorous blogosphere, there's praise for Shop Ramen on MEL: HOT OR NOT, Temasek, Foodie Fridays, Melbourne Patron, Emoji Food Review, Boy Meets Girl Meets Food, Eat. Play. Shop., Banana & Rum, It's an expensive but delicious habit, and Snow Crab Nebula; ambivalence on Gluttony Fair, Ministry of Gluttony and Barley Restaurant Reviews, then disappointment on Skinny Glutton.
329 Smith St, Fitzroy
Accessibility: There is a small lip at the door. Inside the low tables and stools are quite densely packed, although there is a clear path through the middle. We ordered at the table and paid at a low counter. We didn't visit the toilets.