Never eat at chain restaurants. Avoid food courts. Give new restaurants a few weeks to settle in and find their feet before trying them, much less writing about them. Sensible rules the lot of them, and each and every one of them broken by the Prick today. You should do likewise by visiting the brand-new Ippudo on Level 5 of the Sydney CBD Westfield. Because hey, who wants to colour inside the lines their whole life?
Yes, it is a chain: But Ippudo comes to us from Tokyo via a chain of outlets everywhere from downtown Manhattan to the Mandarin Oriental in Singapore, so the pedigree is good. It is also in the Westfield, but it has its own restaurant space (avoid the tables they are setting up outside; that would defeat the point). And yes, it is brand new. But these people seem to know what they are doing.
Because this is the real deal. To be honest I have never seen tonkatsu – the wonderful, traditional pork broth that accompanies, or should accompany, ramen noodles – like this outside the home islands. This broth is thick, opaque, redolent with melted cartilage and sinew, the opposite of what Westerners who put such a premium on clarity think of as great stock (and an excellent discussion of the difference between the two, including recipes, can be found here). But what flavour we gaijin cooks risk losing with our obsessive straining and sieving!
The first thing that hits you is the texture: unctuous and creamy, and then the porkiness. You nick a bit of red miso into the soup with the end of your chopstick and catch some in the well of your spoon. Suddenly these deep, velvety notes of umami roll in, like the basso profundo in a Bach organ fugue. You don’t even notice the noodles at first, but they are there, and perfectly al dente. So is the pork: shaved thin, not like the thick grey slabs of inferior take-aways, and it melts on your tongue. Other stuff is there too. What is that? Cabbage? Black fungi? Who cares, it’s all good. Hey, is that the garlic oil coming in over the top? Oh yes it is. You realise that even though you are normally your own worst company it is actually a good thing you have been parked in a little nook with nothing to look at and where smartphone reception is at its worst. You are barely aware of the presence of those performing their own similar rituals adjacent, not quite at prayer, but not far from it either. All you really need is water to clear the palate, and happily it is regularly and unobtrusively topped up. This is transcendent stuff.
There’s more than ramen on the menu – I had the number four, but naughty Prick that I am I forgot to write down its proper name. I will try them all, as well as the various dumplings and bar snacks, though given that the noodles are so amazing it will be hard to be tempted to go off-piste. That said, Mademoiselle Mange in Sydney has had a look at some of the other offerings. Those pork buns, perhaps a bit of a nod to Momofuku’s signature dish, look great, and might be just the thing for a happy hour snack (one also wonders if the facial hair and extra kilos on many of the Asian chefs at Ippudo have also been inspired by David Chang). The cocktails look good, and there are a few sakes, though not as many as one might like or expect and all in ambitiously large formats.
The Prick has it on good authority that there are readers of this blog who are lucky enough to work in office towers whose lifts open up practically on Ippudo’s doorstep. Even for those not so fortunate, this is worth a trip. It’s so good the Prick would even queue for this one. Damn, there’s four rules broken.