No Ramen, No Life. It’s pretty much a mantra I live by, as I find myself getting insatiable cravings for ramen every couple of weeks. I was pretty excited to hear about yet another ramen place opening up in the CBD – and run by an ex-Gumshara chef as well! We found ourselves heading over to Yasaka Ramen a few weeks after it had opened to check out what the fuss was about, and to see if chef Takeshi Sekigawa had brought the infamously rich Gumshara tonkotsu broth with him.
The first thing you see when you walk into the restaurant are several takoyaki cast iron moulds where a chef is busily turning the octopus balls to make sure they get just the right amount of crispiness. It’s just as well that they have several of these moulds along one wall of the restaurant as there’s lots of different takoyaki to choose from including wasabi soy, teriyaki sauce with egg salad, and grilled cheese!
We have to order some takoyaki after seeing them being freshly made out the front. The takoyaki are nicely cooked and creamy on the inside, with a touch of ginger and lashings of takoyaki sauce, kewpie mayonnaise and bonito flakes.
But the focus here is, of course, on the ramen. A full page of the menu is dedicated to three variants of thick tonkotsu pork bone broth – tonkotsu shoyu, tonkotsu shio, and tonkotsu miso – with a variety of toppings. The ramen noodles are also made in house and sometimes you can see them being cut into thin strands out the front of the restaurant.
There are so many goodJapaneserestaurants on the north side of the Bridge and aroundtheCBD, that I rarely feel the need to venture further for Japanese food. So it takes a special restaurant to warrant a trip beyond my usual sphere of comfort and convenience, but it certainly pays off when you’re visiting a restaurant like Ume.
Ume is tucked away in a leafy section of Bourke St, Surry Hills, which makes it a quiet and peaceful location for dinner. The restaurant is simply decorated, with a plum blossom painting on one wall that references the restaurant’s name, “ume”, meaning “plum” in Japanese. Head Chef Kerby Craig, who trained under Tetsuya Wakuda before opening Koi in Woolwich and then Ume in Surry Hills, has created a menu that focuses on Japanese food with traditional and modern elements using local and sustainable ingredients. Every day except for Saturday, diners can choose from a 5-course ($67) or 7-course ($87) degustation menu, or opt to go a la carte. Saturday is limited to degustation only.
We decide to go a la carte mainly because of the ama ebi dish which is not on the degustation menu. I fell in love with ama ebi (deep sea prawns) when I was in Japan and I rarely see it on menus here in Sydney, so I had to order it. The sweetness of the raw prawns pair well with the crunchy walnuts, seaweed and the subtle tartness of the preserved lemon. After tasting this dish, I knew that the rest of the meal was going to be a treat.
Back in the day when I knew absolutely nothing about ramen and Sir D hated the stuff, Ichi-ban Boshi was one of the first ramen places I ever visited and blogged about. I remember thinking that the queues outside the restaurant must mean that they’re serving up some pretty good food, but to be honest after my first visit I was not particularly wowed.
Things have changed a lot since then – lots of ramen places have opened up in the last couple of years meaning that I’ve been able to try different types of ramen and just eat a lot more ramen in general! So when I visited Ichi-ban Boshi again armed with my new ramen knowledge, it was quite a different experience
A hot night meant that a cold drink was in order, and while Ichi-ban boshi has sake and Japanese beers on offer, I settled on an iced green tea cappuccino. The milky green tea is topped with an impressive amount of milk foam and raw sugar crystals. The drink also comes with a little jug of sugar syrup which you can add to your drink to adjust the sweetness of it.
We start with the gyoza which we’re told is one of the most popular items on the entree section of the menu. The gyoza are made in house and we can see why they’re so popular – the bottoms are nicely crisped up and the dumpling pastry is rolled out quite thin. The gyoza are served on a soy and vinegar dipping sauce.
I’m a sucker for ox tongue so when we spot this on the menu we have to order it. There’s six pieces of thinly sliced ox tongue which are grilled and served with salt and chilli powder, and a wedge of lemon which is squeezed over the meat. The tongue is a little chewy but the fact that it’s been sliced so thinly means that it’s not at all difficult to eat.
Japan is a country that is a little obsessed with the cute and cuddly. You’ll see kawaii mascots everywhere in Japan promoting TV channels, transport passes and even the cities and prefectures themselves! So when I see the logo of Harajuku Gyoza with its cutesy face, it’s almost like I’m back in Japan.
Inside, the kawaii theme continues with Japanese-patterned melamine plates and light fixtures saying ‘HAI!’. The menu is equally as cutesy, proclaiming “Welcome, Customer-san!”, before comparing your appetite to Godzilla and saying “We want your happy face”. As for the food items, naturally the menu is gyoza-heavy but there are also other Japanese side dishes and izakaya style dishes available.
There are 5 gyoza dishes at $8 each, and we manage to try 3 out of the 5. For the pork, chicken and duck gyoza, you can choose to have these either grilled or poached. We’re after the crispy burnished bottoms of the fried variety, so we choose to have our pork and duck gyoza fried.
It’s been a while since my last visit to Ippudo. While the queues are still there and the place is as busy as ever, the menu has expanded from comprising of mainly ramen with a small selection of sides and desserts, to a full blown a la carte menu to cater for everyone’s tastes.
Having such a large menu means that there were more decisions to be made. There was an overwhelming choice of different ramen soup bases, ramen toppings, entrees, salads, more substantial-sized dishes and rice dishes, so it took us a while to decide on what we wanted to eat.
The Ippudo pork buns are pretty much a must-order for me. The juicy grilled pork belly, crispy lettuce and pillowy-soft bun hit all the right notes. There was a nice balance of flavours though I could always do with some extra pork belly!