Why are so many people in love with ramen? Korean-American chef David Chang helped popularise ramen with his groundbreaking Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York and more recently, American expat Ivan Orkin has become a household name in Japan and recently opened a branch of Ivan Ramen in New York. Described as being a “soul food” of Japan and a staple for so many Japanese, its popularity has grown around the world, including in Sydney.
Ippudo, the popular ramen chain from Japan (where it now operates more than 80 restaurants) touched down in Sydney almost two years ago and brought with it crazy queues of hungry noodle enthusiasts. Perhaps the long queues have subsided since but the chain still does roaring trade, even on weeknights. Ippudo will be opening a new branch at the branding spanking Central Park development in October.
Something I enjoy about eating ramen is the relatively modest decor and ambience that many restaurants in Sydney do so well. Two of the “best” – Ramen Ikkyu and Gumshara – ladle hundreds of ramen bowls every day in grungy Chinatown food courts. Another favourite – Ryo’s in Crow’s Nest – is a tiny restaurant located near a petrol station and a high school (where yours truly received his fine education). Ippudo certainly ups the ante in the fancy stakes with its sleek decor and early 2000s dance music inside Westfield Sydney on Pitt St.
I remember when Ippudo first rolled in to town, diners were raving about their pork buns ($4 each), which was probably around the time when Momofuku Seibo also opened, bringing their cult-level pork buns with them. Ippudo’s are not on the same level, but they are still a reasonable substitute. The buns are pillowy and soft – as is the braised pork and you do get a bit of crunch with the lettuce sandwiched in between – but I would prefer some kind of pickle just to get the palate working.
The mains plates we order before our ramen arrives seem clumsy and rather forced. Lamb with hacho miso sauce ($20) consisted of two lamb cutlets intwined with two fried eggplants covered in the sweet miso sauce. Visually, the dark miso reminded me of an oil slick after a huge spill in the Pacific Ocean but the flavour profiles definitely shone through in the dish. The cutlets were cooked perfectly to medium rare, which was pleasing to see, but some blood on the plate was not. However the wagyu steak with sauce japonaise ($19) was disappointing. The wagyu was overcooked and criminally under-seasoned, which left the dish bland and uninspiring.
But ultimately, we were there for the ramen.
Usually I am a simple man when it comes to ramen. I always go for the tried-and-tested tonkotso broth, but I delve out of my comfort zone at Ippudo with the akamaru shinaji special ramen ($23) – tonkotsu broth with miso paste and garlic oil with extra toppings of pork belly, seaweed, egg, black mushroom and bamboo shoots. I choose the “hard” option for the thin noodles as suggested by the waitress and they are perfectly al dente when they arrive. The broth is fragrant, full-bodied and so soulful. The braised pork is meltingly soft and the extra condiments of egg, bamboo and black mushroom each add another dimension to the ramen. My only criticism? More broth and at a higher temperature please.
While the base price for an Ippudo ramen starts at $16, if you want extra toppings such as an egg, bamboo shoots or seaweed, the total price will creep up.
If you have never tried ramen before and like to dine in comfort, Ippudo is a reasonable option. Be mindful you pay for the soaring overheads of a restaurant in Westfield Sydney, but if you stick to the ramen on the menu, you will definitely have a pleasant experience.
– Ippudo paid for the entirety of my meal but I swear this is an unbiased opinion.