Level 5, 188 Pitt Street
Sydney NSW 2000
+61 2 8078 7020
I’m wrapping up this Sydney series with a write-up of one of the highlights of our Sydney trip: our two visits to Ippudo, arguably Sydney’s most famous ramen restaurant.
In 1985, Shigemi Kawahara launched his first Ippudo restaurant in Japan to showcase what he can do with ramen, a Japanese staple – and from what I’ve tasted, those results are phenomenal. His first overseas franchise opened in New York in 2008, with the first Australian restaurant opening up late last year.
Although Kawahara tries to be all traditional when it comes to cooking ramen – using tried and true techniques to sculpt that perfect bowl of ramen, that is – I like how he also tries to cater to local tastes. For example, the Sydney restaurant serves green tea lamingtons and camembert tempura. While I love camembert, the thought of eating it in tempura form just makes me ill. Props for the idea, though… I guess.
My first visit began with a steamed bun filled with deep-fried shrimp. The bun went down a treat, with the white fluffy bao-like vessel holding a
shrimp prawn drizzled with what tasted a bit like a Thousand Island dressing. Quick and delicious.
For some reason, Marty went for the weener-y vegetarian noodles that could equally pass as a salad dish in most cafés in the inner suburbs. Marty normally goes for the heartier dishes but he decided that he wanted something light for dinner. He enjoyed the medley of cold sesame-coated noodles, avocadoes, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, mandarin, nuts and greens with a blob of yoghurt on the side.
Tied together with a ribbon of balsamic vinegar, the salad was refreshing and made for a nice change from the normally heavier meat dishes he ordered. That said, he got a major case of food envy when he saw my ramen…
The miso tontotsu was advertised as a ‘seasonal special’ so I was lucky I rocked up when it was being offered. The menu promised all sorts of lovely things in my bowl: pork belly chashu, menma (bamboo shoots), shallots, corn kernels, bean sprouts, half nitamago (soy egg) and naruto (fish cake). Oh, and a giant’s handful of chewy ramen noodles, of course.
This was hands-down one of the best ramen dishes I’ve ever had. I still think Taro’s in Brisbane makes the best ramen I’ve ever tasted in Australia but Ippudo’s miso tonkotsu is definitely a strong contender. At present, I don’t think there is any combination in the world that can beat nutty and salty miso and creamy and sweet tonkotsu… except for Gong Cha green tea and milk foam.
And if that bowl of ramen wasn’t awesome enough on its own, there is a small rice ball and a dab of ginger that you can dunk into your soup once all the noodles have gone. Man, these people think of everything!
I’m not normally one to order dessert at Japanese restaurants but we were so impressed with our meals that we couldn’t bypass the dessert selection. Marty had the black sesame panna cotta which was amazing. I especially loved the beautiful contrast between the dessert’s silky texture and the nutty, bold taste of the black sesame.
I’d have to say, though, my green tea lamington was far better. A steady layer of green tea icing covered two sponge cake pieces sandwiching a red bean filling. This was a lot nicer than your ordinary Woolworths lamingtons. I had no idea what the ‘J’ in front of lamington meant though…
So impressed was Marty that we decided to return for lunch the following day (I sensed that he was upset about not ordering a bowl of ramen the first time, thus he wanted to rectify this situation).
We began by ordering the two types of gyoza dumplings available at Ippudo. First up, we have the Ippudo gyoza, which is pan-fried in the Hakata way – in other words, the style most commonly found in Japanese restaurants around Australia. Although I loved the very delicate skins, I thought that a bit more crispness would not have gone astray.
In contrast, the second lot of gyoza dumplings were deep-fried all over. While I love anything that’s deep-fried (except for camembert, I guess), I much preferred the Hakata-style gyozas.
Marty loves anything that’s spicy and contains pork so his choice of the karaka men chashu ramen was a no-brainer.
This ramen was essentially a bowl packed with plenty of bold flavours, the bulk of which came from that handful of spicy miso and ground pork-y goodness. While I personally don’t like mince in my ramen (too busy, imo), Marty thought it was fantastic.
After the flavour explosion that was the miso tonkotsu ramen the previous night, I toned it down this time by ordering the relatively tame shiromaru tamago, a classic Hakata-style ramen dish.
Although the broth was decent, there wasn’t as much going on for it as the miso tonkotsu. I also don’t like cabbage in my ramen and naturally didn’t read the menu description properly so I was surprised to see cabbage in my broth – and hated myself (and to an extent, the dish) for it. I also found the broth a tad too salty; I’m not sure if it was supposed to be like that or whether someone in the kitchen accidentally bumped a motherload of salt into the broth. Either way, I’m going to try the other ramen dishes on the menu the next time I’m here before going back to the shiromaru.
Overall, our Ippudo experience was a very positive one. I know that Sydney has a bit of a thriving ramen scene happening and subsequently, I would like to know if there are any restaurants that churn out ramen that’s on par, if not better than the ones we enjoyed at Ippudo. On both occasions, the service had been nothing short of fantastic even though we rocked up during peak periods. Highly recommended.