I’m not sure why, but there’s a part of my personality where I enjoy being the black sheep of the crowd. If everyone is raving about a particular movie, book or restaurant, I generally will steer clear of it. While I know that I will eventually see/read/eat it, a part of me wants to shut out the hype, which will only build my expectations. With these high expectations, you’re more likely to be disappointed when you finally experience it later on – better to have no expectations at all and prepare to be surprised.
For this reason I had avoided visiting Ippudō ever since it opened late last year in Westfield Sydney and I heard about the throngs of people that were lining up at this international ramen giant. The amount of food blogs pingbacked on Urbanspoon skyrocketed, with food bloggers raving about how they had a pork bun to rival Momofuku’s, and how while the ramen was a tad on the expensive side for (an essentially quite basic) noodle soup, it was one of the most delicious they had ever had.
Well, time to test it for myself. It was a cool night and I was heading into the city to visit a friend and needed to grab a bite. Sushi train? With the weather being cold, I was more inclined to something like a Nabeyaki Udon, but then I thought of Ippudō. I quickly Whatsapped a friend of mine who’s a bit of a ramen connoisseur and got the lowdown on pricing and what to get, before I traipsed over from the train station to Pitt Street Mall.
Ippudō is located on the food court level five of Westfield and open from 11.00 am to 11.00 pm seven days a week. I strolled into the restaurant and managed to attract the attention of the whole restaurant at the very loud cry of ‘Irrashaimase’ from the Ippudō team. It was interesting to hear the Caucasian waitstaff mimicing the cry, as they haven’t quite managed to catch the right accent yet.
As I was dining alone, it was no trouble at all for one of the waiters to find me a bar seat looking into the open kitchen. The noise level of the dinner service was very loud, and seated next to the kitchen where they would all cry out a greeting to every guest who entered made it even more so. However, I answered a call from The Sister during my meal and she could hear me clearly enough.
The interior design is ultra-modern yet comfortable at the same time, with lots of smooth wood paneling and soft yellow lighting. All of the seats have very comfortable and spongy cushioning, and the bar seats had a little bar near the base of the chair on which you could rest your feet: an absolute Godsend for those with short legs like myself. There’s nothing more uncomfortable than having your legs dangling in mid-air like a toddler in a high chair for the duration of your meal.
I had my own lacquered black chopsticks, to which I was a little surprised. I was expecting to have to break my own wooden chopsticks apart as per usual food-court style.
I was presented the menu and I flipped through it briefly just to double check the name of the ramen I wanted and had a cursory glance at the other varieties. But still best to start with the classic, no? It’s the best point of comparison. After I had made my order the waitress brought my requested glass of water (iced), and also the condiments. I was curious to see that there was a sesame seed grinder as well – something I’ve never seen before, and I have to say it was simply amazing adding it to my ramen later on!
My Pork Bun ($4) arrived first, still warm and very soft and pillowy to hold. I squeezed it lightly a couple of times in glee.
This baby was so worth every rave review by every food blogger that has passed through these premises. The slice of pork belly was braised to pure perfection – the soy not overly salty, the belly simply smooth and oh-so-melt-in-your-mouth-orgasmically-good. Encased in its pillowy bun pocket and with the small piece of iceberg lettuce, where as small as it was, made the bun taste somewhat lighter and add an element of crunch, it was to-die-for. I could have eaten three of these just for dinner.
But too late, I had ordered ramen. While reviewers have pointed out how expensive the food is here, I do think that the service is included in the cost. The service was extraordinarily refined, polite and charming – I’ve never been called “ma’am” until now. And so there was an “Excuse me, here is your ramen, ma’am” from beside my elbow just as I had a mouthful of pork bun and with my eyes half-closed in bliss. Ahem.
I had ordered the Shiromaru Tomago ($17), which was the original tonkotsu broth served with thin noodles, pork loin, cabbage, black mushroom and shallots.
Okay, so before tonight I had thought Ryo’s was the best ramen I’ve ever had.
While I’m not a tonkotsu connoisseur, I’ve had a few ramens in Japan, and a couple around Sydney. This tonkotsu broth was flavoursome, not too heavy on the salt, and just that perfect thickness to the soup. Nowhere near as thick as the artery-stopping broth of Gumshara, but an easy-to-sip, flavour-filled soup full of rich roast pork flavour. Divine.
The pork loin was a little leaner than I’ve had at Ryo’s, leaning more towards the style of roast pork I’ve had in Osaka, but it was a generous serving and after the glorious pork belly it felt a little more virtuous having a leaner cut.
With the noodles, you had the option of having them cooked soft, normal, hard, or extra hard. I went for the option of normal and it was just the right level of cooked – a little like having your pasta al dente, and with a bit of extra time sitting in the broth, the hardness of the noodles was just right.
I had gone for the Tomago particularly as it was $2 extra from the original for the soy egg. And come on, you can’t have ramen without a soy egg. And a WHOLE soy egg, not just half of one!
Soft-boiled perfection. That is all.
It’s not too hard to finish your broth, as it’s not too salty and the bowls are conical shaped – so don’t think you’re getting a whole lot of noodle soup when you first see the top of your bowl!
Polishing off my iced water, I paid for my meal, received a small bow and an “Arigato” before I made my departure. I most definitely will be back – that pork bun has earned my ultimate tick of approval.
Level 5, Westfield Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2000
(02) 8078 7020