Being Christmas Eve, I wasn't sure if Ippudo was going to be insanely full, or have a quieter than usual trade. Thankfully, it was clear upon my arrival that getting a table was not going to be difficult.
Being by myself, the bar seating section suited me just fine and gave me a good view of the room and the kitchen.
As I perused the menu, the waitress brought out a salt and pepper mill, plus an extra mill just for sesame seeds!
Though ramen was my main reason for being here, there was another dish that had caught my eye - the pork buns, made in a similar manner to those of David Chang's Momofuku Noodle Bar. If you've read some of my other posts you'll know I love a good pork bun, so I just had to try Ippudo's version as an entree.
The Ippudo version differs from the David Chang version as instead of the pickled cucumber, spring onions, hoisin and chilli sauce the pork belly is accompanied by lettuce and Japanese mayonnaise. The bread was softer than I was expecting, and the pork belly was flavoursome and unctuous.The photo may make it look like its a bit light on the lettuce, but in actual fact its quite a balanced affair - you'll get none of that lettuce falling everywhere problem that plagues burgers. They were a lot bigger than I was expecting, and though one would probably have sufficed my greed was happy that I had ordered two. I've never had the Momofuku pork buns, but these definitely satisfied my pork bun cravings for the time being.
Ippudo do a few different tonkotsu-based ramens, and I decided to go with their Akamaru Shin-Aji. Described as a 'refined, modern-style ramen', the broth was based on their original tonkotsu broth with the addition of 'special blended miso paste and fragrant garlic oil', and came presented in a striking half white/half black presentation.
Stirring it up to get the garlic oil mixed in, I quickly regretted going with the Akamaru Shin-Aji. It was overpoweringly garlicky which distracted from how good the noodles and the pork were. I usually love a good over-the-top quantity of garlic in my food, but this was just too much; it lead to a less than balanced dish. It might not be fair to compare this to Ichiran as the Ichiran broth is probably closer to Ippudo's original broth, but the fact its advertised as 'refined' made me think about how truly refined Ichiran's is. By that measure this definitely pales in comparison - a more accurate descriptor would be 'strong', 'powerful' or 'knockout'.
The Verdict: Very Good
I really want to give Ippudo another try, as I have a feeling that the original tonkotsu broth will be a lot more balanced, and the pork buns were very delicious. The ramen I ate wasn't bad per se, but at current I have to say that the Akamaru Shin-Aji was simply not to my taste as it was a very unbalanced dish. I can see such great potential here - excellent Hakata-style noodles and very nice chashu -but for me its just not as good as the incredible, refined style served at Ichiran.