Menya Noodle Bar, Haymarket: Tonkotsu shoyu ramen

Rating: 3 out of 5

Menya Noodle Bar
Shop TG8, 8 Quay Street, Haymarket 2000

menya ramen

Menya Noodle Bar is tucked in a little corner of the Prince Centre eateries. I’ve walked past this place plenty of times without noticing it, since my eyes are always taken by the seemingly identical Chinese Noodle Restaurant and Chinese Noodle House, where you always seem to be accosted by friendly waitstaff trying to entice you into their restaurant, and not that of their rival.

As with most ramen restaurants, there are a fair number of choices on the Menya menu. Enough to make your mind boggle. I opt for the Tonkotsu shoyu ramen in the Menya mini size ($9.30 for a large serving, $7.30 for the Menya Mini size), which is still a substantial serving for me. In the bowl is a nori sheet, half an egg, slices of chashu, bamboo shoots and slices of fish cake. The soup is slightly lighter than a normal tonkotsu, with the addition of shoyu broth, meaning it is still full flavoured but not as heavy as a typical tonkotsu. This is perfect if you want a richer style soup without the tonkotsu regret!

The straight yellow noodles are soft yet have a good bite. The chashu is a delicious mix of meatiness and meltingly soft fat. The egg has a soft, deep orange yolk. I really enjoyed the lighter soup at the beginning of the meal, but towards the end of the bowl, I was finding the flavour a bit one-dimensional and tiring.

The service here is quick and the staff are lovely and friendly. Menya is a decent choice for a Chinatown ramen fix, even if it’s not one of the best.

menya ramen

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Sedap, Sydney: Penang char kway teow

Rating: 3 out of 5

Sedap
Regent Place, 501 George Street, Sydney 2000

sedap malaysian

The cinema strip end of George Street has long been dingy and unappealing, but the addition of some great eateries over the last few years has really made the area much more attractive option for a night out. Regent Place is an example of turning a little alley way into a hub of cool.

Sedap has a very clever fit out that makes you feel like you’re sitting at a street hawker stall in Malaysia at night. Fairy lights are strung up on the ceiling, and rustic-style boards hang from the counter listing some of the specialties, like assam laksa and teh tarik. With a small space and loads of diners crammed in, the atmosphere is buzzing. We are lucky enough to snare the very last table available, thereby avoiding a hungry wait.

We are disappointed to see that the dinner menu lacks some of our favourites, which are on the lunch menu, such as nasi lemak and all the laksa variations. So we opt for the char kway teow ($12), which I think is always a good barometer for a Malaysian or Singaporean restaurant’s quality. It’s a famous dish, and one that every restaurant should get right.

The noodles arrive piled on a colourful plate with a generous dollop of sambal on the side. Bouncy flat rice noodles are wok-fried with lap cheong (Chinese sausage), slices of fish cake, bean sprouts, egg and three big king prawns. The noodles are sadly too soft and break up easily, but the flavour is smokey with a warm chilli heat, even without the extra sambal mixed through.

sedap char kway teow

By the time we finish our meal, the restaurant has a queue of people waiting for tables, so we bustle out to free up our table. As we linger by the front of the restaurant, I look over the lunch menu and decide that the next time I come here will definitely be a daytime visit.

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Twisted Noodle Bar, Haymarket: Yunnan noodle soup

Rating: 3 out of 5

Twisted Noodle Bar
Shop 44, 1 Dixon Street, Haymarket 2000

yunnan noodle soup

It wasn’t so long ago that the northern end of Dixon Street was a dingy strip with no life or atmosphere. Nowadays, it’s buzzing with diners, with lots of new eateries, and crowds lining up for the crazy and creative flavours at N2 Extreme Gelato.

Twisted Noodle Bar is right next door to N2, and we weren’t really quite sure what made this noodle joint so twisted, but we were happy to go along with it. We were seated outside, overlooking the Dixon Street buzz. The guy who took our order struggled to understand our questions about the different levels of chilli and sour indicated on the menu. Last time I came here, even the medium chilli blew my socks off, so in the end, I decided to go for the the “safe” small sour and chilli levels — the chilli level goes up beyond large to super and extreme!

twisted noodle bar chilli table

The Yunnan Noodle ($11.80) is one of the menu recommendations, and comes with a little side plate of slices of pan-fried frankfurter and a crisp-skinned chicken wing. The sausage was nothing particularly special, but the chicken wing was deliciously savoury (despite its oily appearance) and juicy inside.

The main event is a generous serving of noodles in a light-coloured broth. The soup is also light in flavour, but complements the chilli pork mince well without overpowering it. The white, round rice noodles are soft and slippery, but are firm enough to give a decent slurp. The fresh chives lend a light onion flavour and the slice of pork is tender and moist.

The small chilli and sour will give you some decent heat on your tongue if that’s your thing. If you’re feeling brave, go for a medium or large — I definitely wouldn’t recommend the super or extreme for first time twisters. But don’t worry if you’ve overextended yourself on the chilli. Just pop next door to N2 for some cooling gelato relief!

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Ramen Zundo, Sydney: Tantanmen

Rating: 4 out of 5

Ramen Zundo
Shop 10.30 World Square, 644 George St, Sydney 2000

ramen zundo lanternsWorld Square’s little alleyways, crammed with side by side eateries, reminds me a bit of Asia. The buzz and brightly lit doorways transport me the streets of Sapporo or Hong Kong or Singapore.

In the midst of action is Ramen Zundo, and I’m immediately drawn to the front window, which is filled floor to ceiling with red and white lanterns. Very striking. The menu is a dazzling array of choices, with curries and donburi, and enough ramen options to render this hapless noodler torn between tonkotsu or chicken broth, small or large, standalone ramen or a set, mild or spicy. As tempted as I was by the tsukemen, the Zundo black (particularly after I loved the black ramen at Hakata-Maru), and the Double Soup – can’t decide between tonkotsu or chicken broth? Have both! – I opted for the tantanmen.

ramen zundo tantanmen

The tantanmen ($12.80) came after a much shorter time than it took to place the order, and was delivered with a  sweet and polite nod and smile from our server. The menu indicated that this would be a spicy affair, and the anticipation was heightened when I saw the liberal sprinkling of dried chilli flakes on the noodles. First things first, I had a taste of the soup and it certainly had a lovely, rounded flavour with a fiery kick to finish, and didn’t feel very heavy.

The yellow, straight noodles were soft with still a bit of bite. The pork mince was flecked with more chilli, but it was delicious and moist, and particularly tasty when spooning it out of the bowl after it had absorbed the soup flavours. Some freshness and texture was added with the baby bok choy and sweet bean sprouts.

This was a very enjoyable noodle experience, with something on the menu to suit everyone, and polite and quick service. Next time I might work up an appetite and get a ramen set so that I can sample the curry or donburi without missing out on my noodle fix!

ramen zundo restaurant

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Ichi-ban Boshi, Sydney: Wonton-men

Rating: 4 out of 5

Ichi-ban Boshi
Level 2, The Galeries, 500 George Street, Sydney 2000

ichi ban boshi wonton men ramen

If a ramen could be judged by the size of the queue, Ichi-ban Boshi undoubtedly has a good thing going.  On each of my visits, there has been a throng of hungry diners waiting for a table.  Thankfully, the queue seems to move fairly quickly, especially if you’re willing to share a table with other ramen fans.

It’s a slightly odd experience coming to Ichi-ban Boshi for dinner.  The restaurant is situated right at the top of the Galeries, next to Kinokuniya bookshop.  In the evening, when the centre is closed, dark and quiet, it’s as though the restaurant is an oasis of light, food, and chatter.  Claiming a table is a matter of jotting down how many diners are in your group on the grid provided, specify whether you are happy to share (presumably this increases your chances of getting a table sooner), then take a number and wait.

On this visit, I decided to try the wonton ramen ($13).  Wontons are more familiar in Chinese cuisine, so this dish is a clever fusion of Chinese and Japanese styles.  The thin, straight noodles are served in a light, shio soup, along with choy sum, seaweed, and a dollop of miso paste.

The noodles were spot on in their springiness and bite, but the absolute highlight were the triangular-shaped wontons.  Each wonton was generously proportioned, with a huge hit of juicy prawns in each one.  However, if seafood isn’t your thing (gotta say though, your loss!) there is a huge range of different ramen dishes to appeal to your taste buds.

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BBQ King, Haymarket: Roast duck with dry noodles

Rating: 3 out of 5

BBQ King
18 Goulburn St, Haymarket 2000

bbq king roast duck and noodlesBBQ King has long been a stalwart of Sydney’s late night dining scene.  Open until 2am, it brings in all those revellers that are looking for an alternative to a late night lamb sandwich.  However, this place is open all day, so whenever your hunger strikes, you can get your fill of roasted meats.  Hanging in the window of the take-away kiosk side are glistening samples of whole roasted ducks with deep, red skin, chunks of char siu, and slabs of crisp-skinned suckling pig.

I’ve been to BBQ King many times over the years for their roast duck lo mein.  I love lo mein, or stirred, Cantonese-style, wonton noodles.  They have a slightly firmer resistance when you bite through, with quite a distinctive taste and texture, and when they are served dry, lo mein style, it soaks up all the lovely flavours of the sauce.  I’m a sucker for duck when there is a choice.  Yes, even if there is pork on the menu, and in particular, suckling pig with crunchy crackling.

On this occasion, the roast duck was succulent and tender, although the skin was soft and not as crisp as I’ve had previously.  The noodles were firm with nice bite, and the duck juices at the bottom were a sweet and salty combination of soy and honey, with hints of Chinese five spice and star anise.

Unfortunately, the noodles and the choy sum underneath were not served hot.  In fact, it was barely warm.  I’m not sure whether my plate had been sitting around on a bench for a while before it reached me, but it was disappointingly colder than it should have been.  Otherwise, it’s still a worthwhile visit for the duck, and if I was stuck for a late night meal option, BBQ King would still be a strong contender.

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Hakata-Maru Ramen, Haymarket: Black tonkotsu ramen

Rating: 5 out 5

Hakata-Maru Ramen
Level 3, Market City, 9-13 Hay Street, Haymarket 2000

hakata maru ramen

If you thought that the Sydney ramen scene was already pretty crowded, we have welcomed some new joints in recent months. There has been a flurry of openings that raise the bar for a cheap and cheerful Japanese noodle, with Ramen Ikkyu‘s rich broth and thin noodles sending Sydney’s ramen fans into a drooling mess, followed by this new outlet, Hakata-Maru Ramen.

Hakata-Maru has opened in the food court of Chinatown shopping outlet hub, Market City.  It proudly serves Hakata-style ramen, which is known for its milky, white broth made from pork bones, and thin, straight, firm noodles.  The new outlet has been fitted out to look a bit like a traditional Japanese ramen shop, and from the counter, you can peer into the open kitchen.  Huge pots of tonkotsu broth sit on enormous burners, a ramen assistant cooks each batch of noodle and flings the baskets up and down to get rid of excess water, and the ramen master carefully assembles each bowl of delicious noodle.

The menu board shouts out the three main ramen offerings – a white, red or black tonkotsu ramen.  The white tonkotsu ramen is the base for each variety, with the red tonkotsu enhanced by a dollop of red miso paste, and the black tonkotsu by a slick of black garlic oil and garlic flakes.  Being a garlic enthusiast, it was impossible for me to go past the black option.  Hakata-Maru also offers extras for your order, as well as typical Hakata-style toppings for free, such as sesame seeds, benishoga or pickled red ginger strips, and karashi takana or spicy pickled mustard greens.

On my tray, alongside my glistening bowl of noodles, is a colourful cheat sheet, What is Hakata Ramen?, imparting some interesting information on what makes the Hakata-style noodle unique, as well as a guide for maximum noodle enjoyment.

Initially, I thought ramen serving was small, but I was thankful for this after discovering the richness of the tonkotsu broth.  The broth itself had a smooth, creaminess that didn’t leave that collagenic feel on the lips, and had a deep, flavoursome porkiness.  Stirring the garlic oil through white tonkotsu broth turned it into an almost squid ink black liquid, and added a further delicious, garlicky flavour dimension.  The crunch of fried garlic flakes, silkiness of the seasoned egg with wobbly yolk, and tender pork complemented the firmer, “al dente” style of straight ramen noodle, which have a nice bite and good level of springiness.

This place is going to be another Sydney ramen institution.  At a mere $7.80 for the basic, but still more than satisfying, white tonkotsu ramen, and $8.80 for the red or black tonkotsu (and $1 kaedama), Hakata-Maru delivers everything that you could ask for in a food court meal, and more.

hakata maru black tonkotsu ramen

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Kiroran Silk Road Uygur, Haymarket: Dapanji

Rating: 4 out of 5

Kiroran Silk Road Uygur
Shop 3, 6 Dixon Street, Haymarket 2000

chicken big plate dapanji uyghur food

For a long time, Chinese cuisine has been best known in the West for its Cantonese-style dishes. Fans would flock to their local Chinese restaurant for the sugary and cloying sweet and sour pork, lemon chicken, and beef in black bean sauce.  I’m not one to judge though, since the occasional honey king prawns is a guilty pleasure!

Only in the last decade have we really seen people branching out into the cuisines of other regions in China. Punters are embracing the spicy and mouth-numbing dishes of Szechuan province, and flocking to the Taiwanese-style dessert restaurants. One of the lesser known regions, the Xinjiang Uyghur region, has a cuisine that reflects its Central Asian history. It’s big on meats, particularly lamb and mutton, tomatoes, eggplant, and la mian, which brings the Noisy Noodler to Kiroran Silk Road Uyghur.

The restaurant is a mere stone’s throw from the heart of Chinatown, and is situated up a flight of stairs above another Uyghur establishment.  On my visit, it is a brightly lit and cheerful atmosphere inside, with a few large groups sharing laughs and drinks over their communal hot pot.

One of my dining companions hails from the Xinjiang Uyghur region and recommends the dapanji.  It literally translates to big chicken plate, and he assures me that it’s not only the best known dish from the region, but it also has Uyghur-style hand pulled noodles.  My friend also tells me that this dish is famous for its tender chicken, which is due to the addition of beer during cooking.  A clear no-brainer!

The dapanji is a large sharing dish of tomato-based Uyghur-style soup with big chunks of tender, slow-cooked chicken, potato, whole dried red chillies, capsicum, celery, and coriander.  Buried beneath the soup and chicken are glimpses of the white, flat noodle.  They are almost rustic with their uneven length and thickness, but are beautifully chewy without feeling like hard work.  The noodles go down such a treat that we order another serving of fresh noodle, kaedama-style.  The soup has a lovely aroma from the coriander and chillies, sweet with a hint of vinegary sourness, and the chicken pieces are soft and readily absorb the flavours of the soup.

If you’ve not had the chance to try Uyghur cuisine, the dapanji is a good place to start.  Sharing a large dish between a few people is a fun, communal way of eating, so bring a few friends too!

big plate chicken uighur

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Ramen Ikkyu, Haymarket: Ikkyu miso ramen

Rating: 5 out of 5

Ramen Ikkyu
Shop F1A, Sussex Centre Food Court, 401 Sussex Street, Haymarket 2000

ramen ikkyu

Sydney’s ramen fans undoubtedly squealed like teen One Direction fans at the news that Haru Inukai, formerly head chef of Blancharu in the city’s east, finally opened his own little ramen bar.  Hidden amongst the bright and shiny outlets of the Sussex Centre food court, Ramen Ikkyu is a sleek looking outlet with a photo board of only eight noodle dishes.

Ordering your meal is done via the two tablet screens, with the helpful assistance of the friendly lady behind the counter, although whether this system is faster than the manual method is debatable.  Although I had decided on the Ikkyu miso ramen before approaching the tablet, once I started tapping away, I was tempted to change my mind after getting a close-up look at all the other options.  In addition to choosing from the Ikkyu or Tokyo ramens in shio, shoyu or miso flavours, you can also opt for extra ramen toppings, including half a soft-boiled egg, bamboo shoots, and sweet corn, or if you feeling like spoiling yourself, a hefty side of pork rib.

After only a short wait, my Ikkyu miso ramen came out with thinly sliced carrot, caramelised onion, half a boiled egg, sweet kernels of corn, shredded cabbage, bean sprouts, and tender pieces of roasted pork.  The broth was a thick and full-flavoured, porky affair, which struck me at first with its saltiness.  Submerged under the broth and colourful toppings was the fresh, thin style ramen noodle, which was soft and held onto the flavoursome broth as I picked it up in my chopsticks and put it hungrily in my mouth.  The shredded roast pork actually outshone the broth with its sweet, smokey flavour, and I regretted not ordering more of this soft and tender meat as a side.

Ramen Ikkyu is already attracting the eager noodle crowds to the Sussex Centre, which is definitely one of the nicest Chinatown food courts.  Haru Inukai has created an elegant and simple ramen bar that is sure to be a hit with the ramen fans of Sydney.    I’m already making plans to come back here to try the Ikkyu shio ramen.  Anybody want to be my noodle companion?

ikkyu miso ramen

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Ippudo, Sydney: Tonkotsu ramen

Rating: 5 out of 5

Ippudo
Westfield Sydney, Pitt St, Sydney 2000

tonkotsu ramen Ippudo

I’m sure that ramen fans rejoiced when they heard that Ippudo was finally arriving on our shores.  The excitement levels were probably the food equivalent to Zara and Topshop opening their doors in Sydney. And for good reason, as I found out.

The Ippudo chain has branched out its roots from Japan to famous cities such as New York, Seoul and Taipei, and finally arrived in Sydney in December 2012.  Their signature is their tonkotsu broth, made by simmering pork bones for many, many hours, so it would have been rude of me not to try their famous tonkotsu-based ramen.  The restaurant here is known to be quite busy during peak lunch and dinner services, however we arrived here at around 3:00pm for a late lunch and there were quite a few tables available.  The tables are arranged in a communal setting, so you will more often than not be sharing a table with other ramen fans (maybe not ideal for a first date then!). The lighting is dim, but pleasant and a little atmospheric and theatrical, especially as you can get a glimpse of the ramen chefs on one side of the dining room preparing your meal.

A big bowl of steaming ramen is one of my favourite comfort foods, and the tonkotsu broth here does not disappoint.  It is deliciously creamy and wonderfully porky, yet light in colour and mouthfeel, which doesn’t coat it with fattiness.  The noodles aren’t your instant noodle curly type noodle, but a thin style, elastic noodle that is manufactured with Australian flour.  The Akamaru ramen that I ordered also came with a dollop of miso paste and a flavoured egg, and together with the lovely broth, I was in pork heaven.  If I hadn’t already slurped all the tasty soup, I could have ordered a second helping of noodles, but I wanted to leave with the satisfied and contented feeling the tonkotsu ramen had given me without completely overdoing it.

Ippudo has set a new benchmark for me for Sydney ramen, slightly nudging out the old favourite Ryo’s.  Ippudo’s website mentions an expansion from its signature tonkotsu broth to other flavoured broths, which only gives me more reasons to go back!

ippudo

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