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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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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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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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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