I recently headed from my Brisbane home to Sydney for a weekend with a friend, and was lucky enough to come across the ramen charms of Ippudo Japanese Restaurant in Westfield shopping centre on Pitt Street.
We were on the hunt for lunch, and were intrigued to notice the queue forming outside Ippudo's stylish entry. After checking out the menu, we joined the line ourselves, keen to sample what looked like fresh and authentic Japanese food.
I later learned that Ippudo Sydney is the first Australian store in a chain that operates worldwide, and has been open only since December 2012. It's been going gangbusters, and doesn't take bookings, hence the queue.
Despite the line, though, we were seated almost immediately at a large, shared table, and provided with menus by our very efficient and pleasant waitress.
The lunch menu is relatively small -- just nine noodle soups (most featuring pork in some form) and seven other main options (a couple of gyoza dishes, pork bun, shrimp bun, edamame, spicy cucumber, and tofu hotpot). Choices are rounded out a little by two salads and a few rice dishes. The soups range from $15 to $21, while the other dishes are $4 to $10.
Personally, I liked the menu's minimalist style and would rather have fewer choices done well, which seems to be Ippudo's daytime approach (the dinner menu is more extensive). There's also a short bar menu if you want a snack with your drink, and a few dessert dishes.
My friend and I both chose the Shiromaru Motoaji ($15), a tonkotsu (pork bone) broth served with thin noodles, pork loin, cabbage, black mushroom and shallots. Our waitress asked us how we would prefer our noodles -- soft, medium or firm? We asked how they would traditionally be served, and she quickly responded 'firm', so we went with that.
While we waited for our food to come, we admired Ippudo's very groovy wood and stone decor, and checked out the drinks menu. At nine pages, it dwarfed the food menu, and offered everything from wine and beer to Ippudo 'original' cocktails, classic cocktails, and sake. Prices were reasonable, but not cheap ($8 and up for beer and wine, $10-$16 for cocktails).
The sake menu included a favourite of mine, umeshu ($9/glass), a sweet/sour liqueur made by steeping green plums. I've had it served with soda in other Japanese restaurants and asked if I could have it that way at Ippudo, although it didn't feature on the menu. Our waitress obligingly fetched a bartender to our table to make sure that he understood my request, and my drink was delivered just as I liked it a few minutes later.
Our soups arrived soon after and they were very good -- flavoursome broth, firm noodles, quality pork, and a delicious blend and balance of flavours. They were also very large and extremely filling. While we didn't have room to try any other dishes, patrons all around us (including many Japanese customers) were tucking into a wide variety of meals with gusto.