Over the years we've eaten bucket loads of ramen here and in Japan yet consider ourselves mere beginners. So we find writing about ramen to be hard, always trying to compare one against the other and feeling like we are always learning more every time. All we really know is whether a ramen really has the flavours that won us over in Japan or not. And Ramen Ikkyu certainly does.
Ramen menus can be confusing but you can divide this one into two general styles of broth to make it easier to understand. The ones named 'Ikkyu' (numbers 2,3 & 4) have the thicker, heavier broths. Not Gumshara thick, but still nice and rich.
We find the lighter soups (1, 2, 5, 6 & 8) are more interesting, with more delicate and detailed flavours. The heavier soups, and the chili oil in #7, mask some of these joyous subtleties we reckon. The Tokyo ramen style (made with chicken broth) often runs out by the afternoon, get in quick.
Ikkyu uses a mix of chicken, pork and fish in the soups which gives it a unique flavour. Sometimes you will see the lovely front counter girl dissecting dried anchovies one by one for the soup, she told us the heads make the soup bitter (we recently learnt this the hard way at home). There's nothing we love more than a subtle touch of fish in our ramen (we love the fish flavoured shoyu ramen at Gumshara too, they do a fishy special an Ramen Zundo sometimes too).
We've tried all the soups at Ramen Ikkyu. Which is our favourite? For Miss Chicken it depends on her mood and hunger levels. Sometimes lighter ones work best, the heavy ones are particularly good after a few beers. Mr Shawn would call the Tokyo Shoyu (soy blended) ramen his favourite, the veggie ramen is a surprise second.
Don't get caught up in that macho poo that is pervading the Sydney ramen scene. A ramen doesn't have to be a super thick, rich artery clogger. Ramen doesn't have to come from a fancy chain with stores in New York. There's a million styles of ramen out there, light and heavy, traditional and fusion. New styles are being invented all the time. Try them all. They're all different. Some you will like and others you won't. Check out blogs like ramenadventures for inspiration. Go to Japan and try it there, you'll find a world of difference.
Hmmm, was that a rant?
Touch pad ordering system, a first for Chinatown food courts. Somehow it might be faster just to take your order, but there's a novelty value here.
So, from the top of the menu:
Plain Ramen (salt) $6.50. A small bowl, the broth is almost Chinese in it's broth flavour base. You can order more bits on the side and make your own ramen special.
Ikkyu (shio or salt) ramen - $10.50. Tastey and badly photographed...
Ikkyu (shoyu or soy) Ramen $10.50. The soy adds a saltier depth to the pork broth.
Ikkyu (miso) Ramen $10.50. Red miso is mixed in with the pork stock to make it super rich. It has thick slices of pork and corn. We loved it at the start of the bowl, but somehow it lacked the magic in the end game. Mr Shawn tried it twice just to make sure.
Tokyo shio (salt) ramen - $10.50. This is clear broth, made with a chicken stock base. Even though it's called Tokyo ramen, its quite different to other Tokyo styles (like Ichi Ban Boshi). We love the ramen face the eggs make. It's also nice to not have to order egg as an extra.
Tokyo shoyu (soy) ramen - $10.50. This is Mr Shawn's favourite, lighter than the others but the soy gives it a rounded flavour.
Chilli oil ramen - $11.50. The chili oil has a nice spice kick though it overpowers the broth. Good if you have tried all the other varieties and need a change.
The vegetable ramen ($12.50) was a surprise favourite for Mr Shawn. You have to be a fan of the humble veggie to get the best out of this. There's broccoli, carrot and corn and they don't overpower the soup, they meld in, the broth is wonderful when you get to the bottom of the bowl. Note this is not vegetarian. Far from it.
Extras are served in side dishes, which makes them easy to share. Egg $1.50, shallots 50 cents. The Cha Sui rice is a bargain at $2.00 a dish, it's also often sold out by the evening.
Free extra noodles! Usually one bowl is enough for us.
BACK AGAIN MARCH 2014
Ramen Ikkyu was updated their menu some time ago, click to enlarge.
Mr Shawn returns to retry Tokyo Soy ($11.50) and it's just has good as he remembers. The pork seems extra thick and perky today. We all need perky pork.
The salmon ramen ($14.50) may rhyme but the flavours don't work for us: we're guessing the salmon is cooked in a sweet teriyaki sauce that leeches into the lovely broth like a sugary biohazard. We reckon the salmon on rice might be better, it's only $7 too.
The tsukemen ($14) was ok, the noodles, which are served dry with the soup on the side, seemed tired and clumpy rather fresh and slippery. The rich, salty black garlic broth made for good dunkage and the egg was a killer.
We reckon maybe it's best to stick to the original classics, menu items 1-8 (the left column) are all beaut, the right side of the menu is risky territory, like Gilligan going to the other side of the island.
There are extra flavorings available, a pot each of minced garlic and finely grated ginger are located on the side near the cutlery. No pickles though, it's the one big difference we have noticed between Japanese ramen bars in Japan and in Sydney. (They are freely available at Hakata Maru in Market City, joy!)
Ramen Ikkyu is in the Sussex Centre Food Court at 401 Sussex Street, Chinatown. Head up the escalator and make monkey noises.