Ramen Ikkyu

Jill Dupleix
Chef Harunobu Inukai  plans to produce 150 bowls of ramen every day.
Chef Harunobu Inukai plans to produce 150 bowls of ramen every day. Photo: Brianne Makin

Shop F1A, Sussex Centre food court, 401 Sussex Street Haymarket, NSW 2000

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02 9281 0998
Opening hours Seven days, noon-8pm until sold out
Features Cheap Eats
Chef Harunobu Inukai

Forget about fine-dining chefs going off to flip burgers; the real news is fine-dining chefs going off to cook ramen. Harunobu Inukai, formerly of French-Japanese fusion restaurant Blancharu in Elizabeth Bay, has just opened a ramen noodle shop in the heart of Chinatown.

If you think that's a step down in life, then you don't know about ramen love. This deceptively simple Japanese noodle soup attracts a mystic level of noodle fanaticism, whose nerdy followers can debate the finer points of 15-hour broths, flour-water noodle ratios, and shoyu (soy sauce), shio (salt) and miso versions for hours on end.

The wipe-clean tables near Ramen Ikkyu at the Dixon Street end of this clean, bright, first-floor food court are already at a premium as local ramenites gather. Ordering via the personal touchscreen pad is both easy (it's ramen, ramen or ramen) and difficult (shoya, shio, or miso?). You can value-add with more spicy black fungus, an extra boiled egg, cha shu (roast pork) or corn, and an extra serve of noodles (kaedama) is free. Once your bowl comes, you help yourself to sauce, minced ginger and garlic, chopsticks, spoons and chilli, and settle in.

Ramen Ikkyu's Tokyo shoya ramen.
Ramen Ikkyu's Tokyo shoya ramen. Photo: Brianne Makin

Chef Haru's business plan is to produce 150 bowls of ramen every day, and shut up shop when they have been sold. He makes the broth in vast 160-litre pots from pork and chicken bones, and ages his handmade noodles for two days. The Ikkyu ramen ($10.50) with special salts (shio) is delicate and almost creamy in the tonkotsu style, but my inner nerdy noodle geek falls heavily for the Tokyo ramen with soy (shoyu), with its denser, deeper broth, the oils forming a sticky skin on top that coats the mouth with richness. Marinated, soft-cooked egg, cooked bean shoots, seaweed and distinctively stinky bamboo shoots add extra layers of flavour. The noodles are springy, slippery and firm, and special mention must go to the wondrous, thickly cut pork cha shu with its 50-50 ratio of tender pork to melting fat. Together, the individual components form a balanced whole that one ramen master has described as a ''harmonious contradiction''.

This juxtaposition of complexity and simplicity, the clean lilt to the broth, and the almost religious zeal involved make Ramen Ikkyu the kung fu of ramens, for this nerdy noodle lover at least. May the debate begin.

Do ... get there early before plates are sold out.

Don't … expect any frills or fancy stuff.

Dish … Tokyo (shoyu) ramen, $10.50.

Vibe … Buzzy, fight-for-a-table food court.