Back in 2010 when Menya Mappen first opened, the idea of a self-service udon and tempura bar was unheard of. But fast forward five years, and now there’s several Japanese self-service style noodle/rice bowl restaurants scattered around Sydney, but the original Mappen is still going strong with queues going out the door when we visit on a weeknight.
It’s literally been years since I last ate at Mappen, and while it’s still the same concept, there’s some nice additional options available. There’s a monthly special (this month is a beef yaki-udon style dish), and there’s also some new drinks including a non-alcoholic apple cider and a creamy green tea slushie.
Move along the cafeteria line and you’ll be asked for your order. There’s lots of options, including a choice of noodles or rice, udon or soba, hot or cold, soup or sauce. Thankfully there’s a decent picture menu to help you decide what you like the look of.
Keep moving along and you’ll get to the tempura bar. This is where it’s easy to go a bit crazy with all the deep fried foods, but I usually try to restrict myself to two extras otherwise I end up too full to finish it all.
I used to walk right past the cold section but that was before I realised what goodies lay inside the mini fridge! There’s chilled items to add to your noodles like wakame seaweed, kimchi, corn and bamboo shoots, as well as seaweed salad and daifuku desserts.
The ontama bukkake udon is usually my go-to order, with the slippery and chewy strands of udon coated by a concentrated sauce. This dish comes with a soft poached egg that you can mix into the noodles, and a slice of lemon or lime that can be squeezed into the noodles for a bit of extra zing. There’s corn from the cold bar, and a generous self-serve topping of spring onions and tempura flakes.
I’ve never tried the soba before, so I opt for a hot kake soba. It’s recommended that I slot a sheet of fried sweet tofu from the tempura bar into the soup to create my very own tanuki (racoon dog) soba!
My picks from the tempura bar include a pumpkin kakiage and a fishcake on a stick. The pumpkin kakiage has strips of pumpkin bundled into a loose ball and deep fried until each strand is coated with a light batter. The fishcake is bouncy and flavoursome, and studded with carrots and peas.
Sir D selects a classic prawn tempura, a piece of juicy fried karaage chicken and a chikuwa (fishcake) tempura. All the tempura, despite sitting under the heat lamps for a while, is still crisp and not oily at all. My favourite of the lot is the chikuwa tempura, which has a light, nubbly batter which stays amazingly crunchy.
If you want to end your meal on a sweet note, there are some packaged daifuku in the cold bar. These are mochi with a red bean filling and are nicely chewy and not overly sweet.
I’m glad to see that Mappen is doing well after five years of trading, and it still remains the perfect place to get a quick, cheap and delicious feed that will leave you feeling full. There’s so many options to try that you can get something a little different every time, and personally, I don’t think I could ever get sick of it!
Penguin says Feed Me dined at Menya Mappen courtesy of Washoku Lovers and SD Marketing Global.
537-551 George St
Sydney NSW 2000
Ph: +61 2 9283 5525
Open 7 days, 11.30am to 10pm
Other locations: Bondi, Brisbane