Hakata Ippudo – Welcome, Ramen Giant
For a second visit to Ippudo, click here.
One restaurant that’s sure to be making the buzz around Sydney is Ippudo (aka Hakata Ippudo) – a ramen chain that started in Japan (who knew!) that expanded out to multiple countries around the world. Sydney, Australia is the latest place to be graced by the presence of this chain, and I am very thankful for that. For you see, while many other chains are invasive and degrade the quality (perceived or not) of the cuisine they bring (hello [and bye bye] Starbucks!), Ippudo is definitely a contributor to this scene.
Well, in the end, it’s just ramen of course. Noodles in various types of broth. Big deal, but if you love your noodles and your ramen, and many of you do, Ippudo’s opening in Sydney is a big deal for us Sydneysiders. Let’s begin.
Name: Ippudo (Sydney)
Date Visited: 07/12/2012
Address: Level 5 Westfield Sydney 188 Pitt St Sydney, NSW 2000
Go-to dish: any ramen dish
The first thing I actually notice about Ippudo, and which is only emphasized by its location, is its looks. Ippudo looks like a proper restaurant all by itself, rather than a food court installation. The traditional decorations combined with the modern spectator’s kitchen add a lot of flair to the place.
I didn’t have any drinks at the bar myself (since I don’t normally drink), but I’m sure their stock is sufficient – especially for a food court haunt.
Overall, I’m really impressed by Ippudo’s decor – it would look awesome as a standalone restaurant, but the effort put into it even as a food court joint is just awesome.
With every entry, all the wait staff and the chefs cheer いっらしゃいませ! (“Irrashaimase!” – welcome!) so your entrance feels almost celebrated. Get used to this in the more Japanese haunts, if you aren’t already. Don’t expect to hear them call for you anytime soon though – if you come to Ippudo during peak hours, expect the queue to be LONG. I arrived at around 12:05pm and it was around 12:40 before we finally got seated. You’ve been warned!
We had already decided on what to get before we even got a seat (35min is a long time to peruse the entire menu) and immediately made to give our orders when we sat down. Let the salivation begin.
Immediately these buns are going to be compared to those of Momofuku Seiobo, but I’ll just straight out say that they’re not fully comparable. Ippudo’s pork is cooked in a way that gives a crispier and fuller taste, even burnt, if you will. Momofuku’s on the other hand is cooked gentler and for longer, giving pork that has a closer consistency to the soft flesh that is reminiscent of great pork belly - it’s creamier.
Anyways, let’s not do the comparisons – because both pork buns are GREAT. I personally actually prefer Ippudo’s style of cooking their pork – I always do like a bit of crispiness when pork is served to me in a bun, it gives a texture counterbalance to the otherwise feathery-soft bun. Oh did I mention the bun is feathery-soft? It’s absolutely delicious – it could be a placebo, but I could swear the bun is slightly sweet, almost like brioche! You know about my love affair with brioche!
The ‘original sauce’ that Ippudo claims it uses with the pork is most likely a variation of XO with hints of teriyaki. Not really sure here, but I ain’t complaining – original is best.
The only real issue I found with these pork buns is that I don’t feel the lettuce really suits the overall texture balance of the whole mix. The lettuce’s cold temperature and excess crunchiness throw the bun off a bit, and due to the fact that lettuce has no flavour, it felt like the pork had to try really hard to compensate for that. The fact that it had to do a bit of this for the bun in the first place…really pushed it. Still, a minor complaint – I’m still going to order plenty of these next time I visit.
Another odd thing to note – of the two buns we ordered, one had seemingly a lot less pork and a lot more lettuce than the other. Not sure if the chefs are still ironing out their consistency, but it’s worth noting. Order a few and see!
I’ve seen a few people who’ve been putting up diner and blog reviews about how these gyoza are really, really small. This is very true, but what’s more obscure is that this is the definition of Hakata-style. The idea is that these are bite-sized, with a crunchy outer skin and then a softer inner skin which contains the meat and juices within and keeps it at very delicious temperature and texture. By eating these in one bite, the juices tease every part of your taste buds, truly living up to the ‘tasty little parcel’ name.
The gyoza served at Ippudo definitely does fit this bill. Sure, the gyoza looks bit because of the angle at which I took the pic. But, if you look at the background – those are bottles of sauce and they look HUGE. Yes, the gyoza is really quite small and bite-sized, but it’s packed with flavour. The pork is tender and juicy, and wrapping it all up is that delicious crispy skin. Good stuff.
So we move onto the main course. I got myself this yummy yummy ramen. I gotta say, it does rank up there with the likes of Ramen Kan, Gumshara etc. The ramen is Hakata-style, in this context meaning that it’s got Fukuoka-signature wavy noodles, high-heat tonkotsu broth, and plenty of spicy miso. It’s delicious – the soup isn’t astoundingly thick like in Gumshara, but it isn’t too light either. The saltiness is almost just right – you could drink the entire bowl without feeling too parched (but you still will be). It’s got a low amount of spiciness (which translates to mild for most of the rest of you – trust me on this one). The inclusion of cashews is a nice touch.
I did wish there was more ground pork though, but I could always wish for more.
Good egg though, good egg.
Le friend got this – it’s far less spicy than the Karaka Men ramen, but this does allow the tonkotsu broth to speak out more for itself. It’s kind of like a more flavoursome, scaled-down version of gumshara’s broth. Frankly, I prefer this style, especially in summer. Gumshara is just too rich most of the time.
Three pieces of chashu complete the ramen, and they are cooked well enough that I cannot find a complaint if I tried. Wonderful! I think I’d have added some chilli to this ramen if I had ordered it, but it was perfect for le friend, so everybody’s happy.
A comment that applies to both bowls of ramen – the noodles were not too hard, not too soft. Goldilocks for me. What’s awesome though is that apparently you can get the ramen cooked to a certain hardness level just for you. That is amazing. I’m going to try that next time. More options? Winning!
I’m very impressed with the quality that’s been put to us from this ramen food court joint. It must be mentioned however, that the prices here are definitely well above average for ramen you can get elsewhere – around $4-5 more per bowl. You sure do pay for a nice decor.
Actually, that’s a problem with Ippudo – the ramen is good yes, but it’s not superior to the likes of Ramen Kan, Menya etc. If prices were competitive, then that would be awesome. Unfortunately they’re not. Whether this will be worth it or not is up to you. For me, I reckon the inclusion of delicious sides makes this above-and-beyond ramen joint a winner. Time will tell. One thing’s for sure – I’ll be going here again and again.
The Good: awesome ramen, great side dishes, great decor
The Bad: prepare to queue until the hype dies down, pricing is above average, refinement to side dishes is warranted
I give Hakata Ippudo (Sydney) a grand total of eight Caesars out of ten – 8/10