Oh, ramen! That alone is an adequate introduction.
When a new ramen restaurant makes its Sydney entrance, there will be waves. Take Ippudo, for example. To cause a tsunami, how about throwing in the fact that chef Haru Inukai, of one-toqued Blancharu fame, is manning the helm? That’s where Ramen Ikkyu takes the stage, drawing queues before opening hours even though it’s only a small corner stall in Sussex Centre food court.
But it’s just noodle soup, right? The beauty is that that’s exactly what it is, pure and simple.
What’s the fuss? Read on to find out!
Date Last Visited: 14/8/13
Address: Sussex Centre Food Court, Sussex St Haymarket, NSW 2000
Recommended Dish(es): Ikkyu Shoyu, Tsuke-men
Much like pho, there is a magic about ramen that makes this simple-on-the-surface staple the subject of fierce debate. Few can come to an agreement on the best broth or even noodle hardness, let alone the best ramen. Proponents of ramen are passionate about this incredible dish, and rightly so. Marry the perfect broth with a well-made noodle and you will draw queues, especially given its “cheap eat” status.
My first visit to Ikkyu was about a month after it first opened. At that time, it was rumoured that chef Haru was only producing 150 bowls a day, after which shop is closed. This is not the case as of my latest visit, whether or not it was initially true or not. More likely, they have adapted to demand and can now make roughly the right amount of broth each day.
What exactly makes Ikkyu special? Well, there is the much vaunted-pedigree of the head chef himself. Haru controls a great deal of the cooking process, ensuring that quality is on par with his standards, i.e. quite high. Experience at French-Japanese blancharu has produced a ramen range where flavours are moer lighter than many other ramen restaurants, such as Gumshara or Menya.
The menu has had additions since I last visited, but today, you can still order anything discussed in this post.
Orders are taken on iPads, and you can order sides such as extra chashu or nitamago (lava egg).
A quick primer, ramen comes in four major forms:
* Shoyu (soy sauce-based)
* Shio (salt-based)
* Tonkotsu (thick, collagen-rich pork based; Gumshara’s principle ramen style)
* Miso (that would be…miso)
There are others, but these are the most common. Ikkyu offers them all, with a spin on Tonkotsu in that it’s a lighter broth but still richer than the other three. Paitan, it’s called, which is basically a white-ish broth made from pork bones cooked for oh so long the broth has all the goodness of the pork.
The Tokyo ramen is essentially a shoyu-based ramen, but different in that it uses chicken broth. The result is a rather gamey broth with a heavy soy note.
It’s definitely very good, though preference-wise, it doesn’t stand up to Ippudo’s Hakata-style broth. That is the most subjective thing I’ll say in this post.
The noodles? Well, that’s actually where Ikkyu shines for me. The broth was OK, but the noodles are delicious. It’s so well cooked I feel like I can still taste the wheat it was originally made from, while retaining a perfect level of hardness for me. This is why Ikkyu ramen sells, as far as I’m concerned.
As for sides, I’ve noticed that Ikkyu’s chashu is variable in quality. On one visit, it was deliciously succulent; another, overcooked and too dry. Lots of potential room for improvement here. As for the eggs, they come out colder than I’d have liked them to, so broth-warming is necessary. Otherwise, top notch chook.
The Ikkyu miso is surprisingly disappointing. The broth is too light-handed on the miso, and I felt I was drinking rather tepid broth. Presentation was also a downer, as I’ve seen Instagrams where the toppings were nicely laid out upon serving. The lunchtime rush imposes a heavy toll on any kind of presentation effort.
I think Ikkyu does its best work with the Ikkyu shoyu ramen. It’s different to the Tokyo shoyu in that it emphasises the shoyu a bit less and accentuates the chicken flavour and saltiness of the broth. It’s well done for sure, but once again, it’s for a certain palate. Noodles are top notch as always.
I’ll point out at this point that in terms of toppings, Ikkyu is roughly middle-of-the-pack in the context of major ramen offerings in Sydney. It’s not stingy with them, but they’re not particularly all that exciting. That said, the quality of the toppings are consistenly good, which is real important, as that could break an otherwise good bowl of ramen.
If you’re unimpressed, you can always order more – ramen isn’t expensive so the wallet can be stretched, I’m sure!
A lesser-known type of ramen is tsuke-men. It’s different because there’s no soup broth, but rather a dipping broth. The ramen and toppings are placed in a separate bowl, and you get to have at it to your preference.
In line with Ikkyu’s subtle but sophisticated flavour philosophy, this tsuke-men has the lightest dipping broth of any I’ve tried (Ichiban has the saltiest – not too great either). It’s soy-based, with strong sesame notes. I’d say this time it works very well, as the lack of any appreciable soup means that the light flavour works out well for the taste.
Besides, you can always control your portion – feel free to even drink the dipping broth if you like. It’s oily, but that may as well be a synonym of delicious.
A markedly terrific mechanism Ikkyu has is the free kaedama. This refers to a free serving of extra noodles, perfect if you’re feeling particularly hungry. Finish your noodles, then bring the receipt snipped and get another serving in a new bowl to use for your left-over broth. That alone is worth giving the place a try.
I have mixed feelings about Ikkyu – it enhances Sydney’s ramen scene merely by being different, and thus adding value. That different is appreciated by many ramen connoisseurs, as shown by the constant queues outside the place. For me personally, my preference still goes to Ippudo/Menya/Ramen Kan, but I can see myself one day in Sussex Centre one day, and I won’t be surprised at all if my feet shift me towards that delectable noodle they call ramen.
As usual, feel free to leave a comment or three 😀
- Possibly the best ramen noodles in Sydney
- Broth is perfect for those with lighter palates
Not so Awesome:
- The broth is too light at times
- Toppings are a hit and miss, especially the chashu & tepid eggs