Thursday, 26 September 2013

Ramen Ikkyu - 8 July 2013

Chef Haru Inukai at Ramen Ikkyu
Ramen Ikkyu is the new kid on the (ramen) block, having just opened last week in the food court of Sussex Centre, which is located next to Golden Century in Chinatown. Despite being open for just a short period of time, the word has clearly gotten out as many foodies and ramen lovers have been flocking the Ramen Ikkyu for their lunchtime ramen fix.    

Paitin broth
Lunchtime queue of hungry customers wanting their ramen
The man behind Ramen Ikkyu is chef Haru Inukai, who has worked in several hatted restaurants in Sydney, most recently Blancharu in Elizabeth Bay. Haru has also worked for the godfather of Sydney fine dining, Tony Bilson, and French culinary master, Joel Robuchon, so he has honed his skills and learnt from the best. By opening Ramen Ikkyu, Haru decided to ditch fine dining in favour of casual food. Haru had already been dishing out bowls of ramen at Blancharu during lunctime, so this move completes Haru’s transition to fulltime casual food. This is clearly a sign of tough economic times, when you see Sydney diners choosing burgers and/or ramen over fine dining.

Ikkyu (shoyu) ramen ($10.50)
I ordered the Ikkyu (shoyu) ramen today with an extra serving of cha-shu (pork). The broth in Ikkyu ramen is a paitan soup, which is a white broth made from chicken bones that have been boiled for several hours with pork, spices and vegetables. The broth is quite rich and is similar to tonkotsu broth found at Gumshara Ramen but not nearly as thick, which is a bit gravy-like at Gumshara. This broth is finished with soy sauce, which balances out the richness of the broth a bit. The flavours are really quite amazing! The porky flavour is really quite prominent and oh-so satisfying.

Oodles of noodles
The noodles, which are made in store by Haru, to me are the real winner. I love how the noodles are so bouncy and have a bite to them. Slurping up those noodle, which have soaked up that delicious broth, is so good!

Cha-shu (extra $3)
And the toppings… those are tops too! The cha-shu was really quite amazing! In my opinion the best cha-shu you will find at any ramen store in Sydney. The meat is so tasty, tender and just falls apart in the mouth. The fat is perfectly rendered down and just melts in the mouth with the meat. The sweet glaze used to roast the meat was also quite pleasant. I am very happy that I ordered the extra slices of pork.

The boiled egg, a ramen staple, had nice and soft egg white and a warm, gooey yolk. Yum! Black fungus and bamboo shoots round out the toppings of this awesome bowl of ramen.
Veggie ramen ($12.50)

My wife went for the veggie ramen, which has a salt based broth and is topped with vegetables (obviously). She LOVED this bowl of ramen. She could not stop raving about the noodles. She usually prefers soup broth to be thinner but she was so captured by the bounciness of the noodles that she happily overlooked the thickness of the broth. I hear that she was telling everyone at her office just how great she thinks Haru’s noodles are and has convinced everyone that they need to eat at Ikkyu.

Free Kaedama
Extra noodles (free!)
So if you didn’t get enough noodles, you can ask for ‘kaedama’, a free extra serve of noodles. This is really cool as I am not aware of any other ramen store that does this. No one can complain about being hungry after eating at Ikkyu! My wife decided that she would only take a quarter of the extra noodles so I was left to finish the rest, so it goes without saying that I was completely stuffed after this meal!
So how does Ramen Ikkyu rate against longtime favourite Gumshara, which is just down the road? Both serve awesome bowls of ramen so I will be visiting both. However, in my opinion, Ramen Ikkyu is better than Gumshara (just)! I know it’s a big call, but what has really converted me with Ikkyu are the quality of the cha-shu and the “bouncy” noodles. They are just that good! Plus Ikkyu is slightly cheaper and gives you an optional extra serve of noodles as well, so Ikkyu wins out on value. However, I have heard that Ramen Ikkyu has been closing shop early at around 6pm when they have sold out, so you will need to come to Ramen Ikkyu for lunch or early dinner otherwise you will need to head over to Gumshara for your ramen fix.

No place has made me this excited about their food in a while and I can be a difficult customer to please at times. I definitely had a pep in my step after I finished that bowl of ramen, it made me that happy. There is nothing more satisfying in winter than a delicious bowl of soup noodles. I will definitely be back soon to try the other flavours and toppings (the pork rib available as an extra for $14 did catch my attention).

Highlight: Slurping those bouncy noodles, which have been made in store by Haru.
Lowlight: Nothing really. Although the bowl of ramen was incredibly satisfying, it is quite filling. I was utterly defeated and in a coma afterwards as I had the extra noodles ‘kaedama’.
Overall: Ramen Ikkyu serves up big bowls of ramen, with excellent ‘bouncy’ noodles, tasty broth and delightful toppings, especially the cha-shu and soft boiled egg. I can see Ramen Ikkyu becoming a lunchtime regular and favourite for me. 8/10 (Excellent)

UPDATE 26 September 2013 

Ramen Ikkyu has recently released some special ramen on their menu. I believe they are also serving a wider range of rice dishes too, including Japanese curry. Here are some of the new ramen that I have tried recently from the special menu:

Salmon ramen ($14)
The salmon ramen is a good choice for anyone that is wanting a change from the usual pork-based ramen out there. There are about 4 pieces of salmon floating at the top of this bowl of ramen. Then salmon was quite tender and the meat just falls apart in the mouth. The broth in this ramen was a miso-based one. It was a flavoursome broth that was sweet, savoury and peppery. This was a satisfying bowl of ramen although it is quite rich and heavy going after a while. Still not stopping me from getting my kaedama (free extra serving of noodle)! The salmon ramen is one that I will be happy to order again.
Sweet and spicy dry noodle ($14)
For something even more different, one could ditch the broth and go for the sweet and spicy dry noodle. Here the egg noodles are mixed with a sweet and spicy sesame oil and soy sauce. The flavours are nice and there is a good balance of sweet and spicy, with neither overpowering the other. As is the case with Ramen Ikkyu, the toppings are great and varied. You get chashu, soft boiled egg, heaps of sweet corn, cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots and wood ear mushrooms.

However dry noodles are probably not my preferred way of having ramen as I didn’t find the texture of the noodles as enjoyable. The noodles were a bit clumpy due to the lack of broth and the noodles weren’t as smooth or bouncy as usual. The noodles also felt a bit oily due to the sesame oil. And there is no point in claiming your kaedama when having dry noodles unless you enjoy plain noodles.

I hope to make my way through the special menu and will continue to update this post as I try the new items. The pork rib ramen ($20) is definitely next on my hit list :D

Ramen Ikkyu
Shop F1A, 401 Sussex St, Sydney