Located on Level 5 of Westfield Sydney, this sleek modern Japanese restaurant is not hard to miss. The entrance with its wooden wave-like ceiling and black and red hues are pleasing to the eye, and often, a long queue can be seen outside the restaurant. Ippudo does not take bookings and despite the line, it hardly deters the continuous flow of customers happily waiting for a table. Since I was often eating on my own, I would bypass the queue to get in and instead, head over to the takeaway area to get my ramen and dine in the food court; on days when I have companions and more time, I too would get in line just for the experience of dining in.
Ippudo on Level 5 of Westfield Sydney
Bar at the entrance
Upon entering the restaurant, you would be greeted by the chorus of "Irasshaimase!" (meaning 'welcome' in Japanese) called out by all the staff to incoming patrons. At 6pm, the place was already near full capacity, hungry customers seen eagerly slurping up their bowls of ramen. Su Wei and I were seated just behind the bar and was served by the wonderful Jeremy - he was warm and super-friendly, and got us into giggles throughout the evening with his silly antics and playful winks whenever he was at our table :)
Hungry patrons fill the seats inside the restaurant
Once you're in the restaurant and seated, everything happens pretty fast. Various waitstaff would turn up at our table - one handing out the menu and explaining today's specials, another topping up our glasses with water, a third setting up our table with chopsticks, cutlery and napkins, and before you know it, the first dish arrives at the table.
The popular Ippudo Pork Bun is a definite must-order for me whenever I dine at Ippudo. It has been awhile since I was last here so was pleasantly surprised to see that the price for the bun has stayed at $4 (the same price since launch) and still tasted as good as I remembered - soft, fluffy bun with tender braised pork belly, crispy lettuce and Japanese mayo wedged in the middle. They are so good I could happily have several of these as a main on its own.
Ippudo Pork Bun ($4) - steamed bun with braised pork and Ippudo original sauce
Mmm, soft fluffy bun and oh-so-tender meat - heavenly!
If you have any questions about the menu or need some help deciding what to order, the friendly and attentive staff at hand would be more than happy to assist. We were having trouble deciding which a la carte dishes to get (there were 13 dishes to choose from and they all look equally good) and our waiter Jeremy came to our aid, narrowing down the list to just two: the Samurai Ribs and Lamb Hacho Miso Sauce. "Definitely go for the ribs," said Jeremy, highly recommending them. We were concerned of the serving size since we still had a bowl of ramen each to come but were told that the a la carte dishes were small as they were nibbles, usually to accompany drinks prior to the main course. I guess we'll be having them both then!
It didn't take very long for our dishes to arrive at the table, both presented artfully on pristine white plates. I like how the staff serving our food would give us a quick refresher of what we ordered, telling us the name and a brief description of each dish served. The Samurai Ribs was a clear winner for me - two pieces of pork spare ribs flavoured with a dark (koikuchi) soy sauce reduction, served with orange puree and seven-spice chili pepper (shichimi). The cut of meat was more similar to a short rib, slightly meatier than the usual spare rib you would expect and has a layer of fat which is crisp on the outside, its juices oozing into the mouth with each bite. The meat was cooked till tender and falls off the bone easily with the prod of my knife and fork. The rich saltiness of the sauce is beautifully balanced out by the tangy sweetness of the orange puree, and a sprinkling of chili pepper gives it a bit of a kick. Did you know that the sauce underneath the ribs is actually a written Japanese character 侍 meaning 'samurai'? How cool is that!
Samurai Ribs ($18) - pork spare ribs flavoured with reduction of koikuchi soy sauce served with orange puree and seven-spice chili pepper
Seasoning my pork rib with some chili and a drizzle of orange puree
Su Wei, on the other hand, preferred the Lamb Hacho Miso Sauce - two lamb cutlets grilled medium rare (they are cooked to your liking) drenched in a thick sweet and smoky sauce, served with fried eggplant. The darkness of the miso sauce may not seem appealing to the eye but goes very well with the juicy lamb and plainer eggplant. I was struggling to get the last bits of meat off the bone towards the end, eventually giving up on the cutlery and using my hands.
Lamb Hacho Miso Sauce ($20) - grilled lamb in a slightly sweet Hacho miso accompanied with fried eggplant
Ippudo is famed for its ramen and my all-time favourite is their Akamaru Shinaji made with Ippudo original tonkotsu broth that is enhanced with a special blended miso paste and fragrant garlic oil. The gleaming black garlic oil distinctly stands out on one side of the cloudy pork-based soup and is accompanied with thin ramen noodle served firm to the bite, chasu pork belly, black mushroom and shallots. A small red ball of miso paste and minced pork sat perfectly in the middle. The first mouthful of the soup is often a slight shock to the tastebud due to the mild bitterness from the garlic oil but after a few more mouthfuls, the flavour really grows on me. Su Wei went for the Akamaru Special which was the Akamaru Shinaji served with a side of Special Toppings which included more pork belly, black mushroom and shallots, as well as roasted seaweed and flavoured bamboo shoots. There is also the option to choose your own ramen toppings from the menu - the flavoured egg is my personal favourite.
Akamaru Special ($23) - Akamaru Shinaji with a side of Special Toppings
Akamaru Shinaji ($16) - Ippudo original tonkatsu broth enhanced with special blended miso paste and fragrant garlic oil. Served with thin noodles, pork belly, black mushroom and shallots.
Special Toppings ($7) - assortment of pork belly, roasted seaweed, black mushroom, shallots and flavoured bamboo shoots
I love how Ippudo always has specials giving return customers like me plenty of opportunity to try out their new creations. As part of their winter season special, Ippudo has brought back two brushed up versions of last year's most popular ramen - the Miso Tonkotsu (available from lunch) and the Spicy Black (available from 3pm). Daily servings for these specials are limited so you need to get in early before they sell out. I was fortunate they still had both this evening and opted for the Spicy Black Special, a spiced up version of the standard Tan Tan Men with an added kick of extra black garlic oil, topped with special miso paste, chashu pork belly, bean sprouts and coriander. Like the Akamaru Special, my ramen too came with an extra serving of assorted toppings.
The spiciness of the broth is said to be balanced off with the sweet fragrance of the special sesame paste mixed in. Rich and intense in flavour, I could feel the edges of my mouth tingling from all the peppery spice with each slurp of the soup. Jeremy provided us with pepper and sesame seed grinders to spice up our ramen to our liking - I think mine is pretty spiced up, no need for more! The soup was a lot more gelatinous than the lighter Akamaru, and perhaps I was beginning to feel full from all the nibbles prior so didn't feel I enjoyed the ramen as much as I would like. Probably skip the entrees and go straight for the Spicy Black next time.
Spicy Black Special ($24) - spiced up version of the standard Tan Tan Men with an added kick of extra black garlic oil. Topped with special miso paste, pork belly chashu, coriander and bean sprouts. The Special Toppings is served on the side.
All mixed in and ready to eat!
"More pork bun?" teased Jeremy when he came back to check in on us after our table was cleared. Oh I wish - I was totally bursting at the seams, there was no way I could fit more! But rest assured, I will be back very soon. With the cold winter days looming, nothing beats a wholesome hot bowl of delicious ramen to warm me up!
Su Wei and I dined as guests at Ippudo Sydney with thanks to Sana from SD Marketing.
For all you Ippudo lovers out there, you would be pleased to know that a new store will open in Chippendale around mid-September this year. I can't wait to check it out!
New store address:
IPPUDO SYDNEY Central Park
Level 1, RB07, 28 Broadway, Chippendale, NSW 2008
Level 1, RB07, 28 Broadway, Chippendale, NSW 2008
And here's a little video teaser the marketing folks have put together to whet your appetite :)