After the hype has died down we finally make it to Ippudo. It's nice.
Although we love a good food court, we've never eaten inside the refurbished Westfield's food or dining area. They avoid referring to it as a food court, instead calling it 'Food on Five' or 'Lifestyle and Dining'. In the end though, there's something odd about the pretence of fine dining when you are really paying a lot of money to eat next to Priceline.
However, we do love ramen and Japanese chain stores. We are lured in to try Ippudo when we go out for dinner with our friend Eve. We've waited until the hype (and the queues) have died down a little too, just to see how they are doing now.
There's a difference between this ramen joint and many others. You can get beers, shochu, sake and cocktails and are encouraged to 'wait at the bar' (ie spend some money) when the queues are busy. We've had many a ramen after a night on the booze, but not usually at the same time.
Ippudo offers a number of Japanese craft beers (pricey at around $11) as well as a range of Asian beers.
For starters are mini pork buns, $4 each. Inside is a tasty square of pork, a small piece of iceberg lettuce and a smoosh of mayonnaise inside a slightly sweet wonder white bun. Tasty, but doesn't make us go wow.
We try two of the three main soups: the Karake Men Tamago ($19) with spicy miso and ground pork and the Akamura Tamago ($16), a miso and garlic style. Each soup is a tonkostsu broth base which had a good flavour, not too collagen heavy but light on any sort of specialness. We weren't asked how we would like our noodles which is a shame because we do like them on the harder chewy side and they came out a little soft. The noodles in the Karake Men were wavy compared to the thin straight ones in the Akamura.
The Karaka Men also came in a smaller sized bowl compared to the Akamura. While that can be good if you only want a small serve, if you like a big serve you'll be a little hungry afterwards.
Eve and Alison both laugh when they realise they are silently quoting 'Tampopo' in their heads when they first take a mouthful. "First, observe the whole bowl...".
The beauty of ramen is the marriage of all the elements in the bowl. In these soups the eggs are whole, so you don't get to admire the soft yolk (see, we've gone all Tampopo again) and the way the tea has soaked into the whites. I like little waves of soup to wash over a half egg and soft yolk so you can slurp it up together. The pork is good and tasty, a round cut rather than strips used elsewhere. We do find the use of peanuts a little bit strange in the Karake Men, we're no hard core purists but it was unusual. The large chunks of raw cabbage were also a little jarring - this ramen marriage could be on the rocks.
If you've never had ramen before, this would be an OK place to start your adventure. Just don't leave it there. There's better places in the CBD (and without queues) such as Ramen Zundo in World Square or for a fuller porky flavoured soup, Gumshara in Eating World. On the north side we dig Ryo's Noodles bigtime.
Ippudo is on Level Five in Westfield Sydney, Pitt St. Ride up the giant escalator to get there.