Ippudo - Sydney CBD
|The promise of an enriching experience, preceded by reputation and expectation|
I was given a choice of three possibilities for lunch, but we were already on level 5 of Westfield at Sydney's Pitt Street Mall, so for convenience I proposed heading towards the Ippudo, or the One-Wind Hall. This business started in Fukuoka in southern Japan, from which once I boarded a flight to Seoul, after thoroughly enjoying a few days going around the small but lovely island of Kyushu. It's ramen, ramen, ramen from this chain which has established their evolving and continuing good name even before it reached Australia. So I did have a certain level of curiosity as we stepped in, got seats at a shared canteen styled table and was immediately attended by active staff.
The menu was simple enough to quickly realise they used the base portion for a start and then you as customer have the options to add the extra stuff, usually at AUD 2 for each layer added. More people flooded the relatively large hall of more than three shop fronts after we had been seated. Curiously, every so often, the staff would collectively give a vocal and coordinated roar, raising the spirits of everyone working and eating in the restaurant. The Ippudo has an open concept kitchen and also a viable bar. The atmosphere seemed authentic and the resulting noise inside the place was more than outside on the Level 5 Food Court. Noise that usually one associates with yum cha joints.
Shiromaru or Akamaru ramen? These Hakata stykled noodles are served with the tonkatsu (pork cutlet) broth spiced up with miso, garlic, seaweed and mushroom slices. It may not matter, for both has promise. Both of us thought the ramen served was like al dente, when compared to many of its competitors scattered across Sydney's Chinatown, World Square and lower Pitt Street. This is serious growing up comfort and soul food for the Japanese - and one of the highest order. The state of ramen in the home country was not always like today and many efforts had been made to lift the quality of an almost national living treasure. I recall watching the movie "Tampopo" on SBS TV here - that exemplified the cultural love for this iconic dish. As with any noodle dish across the Asia-Pacific, however, the crunch comes to the quality of the stock. The Ippudo experience first migrated to New York and now its dishes can be found eaten by the discerning many in Hong Kong, Singapore, Seoul and Taipei.
My first slurp of my chosen first time with Ippudo can be described as invigorating. With my Akamaru ( or Red Bowl), after swirling the condiment thoroughly into the soup and swishing the ramen around from bottoms up, the ensuing flavours rose up to even more potential. Then came the first swoosh for my palate - a thicker soup sensation than I anticipated, beautifully accompanied by the texture, relative hardness and flavour of the thin noodles themselves. With such sensations, I looked at the tender slices of the pork belly which I added as an option - and knew I had made the right choice. Taking ramen is a personal and stylish ritual in the heart of Japanese thinking and practice.
We recognised the term "chashu" as relating to "char siew" the Cantonese term for barbecued lean pork with a red border in Chinese outlets. There are choices of flavoured versus basic eggs to add as options. There are also lamb and salmon creations, pork buns, shrimp buns, pork mixed tofu bakuretsu, Camembert tempura, pan fried dumplings and pickled stuff. Some may find the asked for prices somewhat over the top, but I suggest viewing quality with corresponding pricing. You observe many white or red bowls, synchronising to shiro and aka. And then there's dessert which includes variations on the themes of lamingtons, panna cotta, chocolate, sorbet and ice cream.