Ippudo, what took you so long?
"Timing," says Alvin Gani, manager of the Japanese ramen chain’s latest Australian outpost and Melbourne’s first. "We've just been too busy with Sydney before expanding to other states," he adds, keeping an eye on a queue that’s started to form at the entrance to the new Ippudo restaurant on Artemis Lane in the CBD.
The Japanese brand is synonymous with Hakata ramen, which is rich, creamy, pork-bone broth with thin, chewy noodles. Ippudo first arrived in Australia in 2012 in Sydney and has since opened three other Sydney branches and one in Perth. Melbourne makes six.
Ippudo opened its first restaurant in 1985 in Japan’s Fukuoka prefecture, the birth place of tonkotsu ramen. It now has more than 80 stores in Japan and almost as many in America, Europe and elsewhere in Asia.
In Japan, ramen was historically associated with so-called “salarymen” – office workers looking for a quick fix at lunch or after work before catching the last train home. Ippudo is authentically Japanese but espouses a more family-friendly, contemporary ramen experience.
"Our concept is 'ramen dining'. Ramen isn't just being rushed in and out anymore. We want customers to sit down, relax and have an enjoyable meal, " says Gani.
In addition to its cushioned chairs, that conceit is obvious as you flip through the menu, which is lengthy for a ramen joint, and includes courses you might not see at most. Starters include wasabi prawn guacamole, tofu with strands of crunchy noodles, and Ippudo’s signature fried chicken wings glazed with a tangy sweet sauce. There are also salads, a number of rice dishes and three desserts.
Three quarters into the menu you’ll find Ippudo's raison d'être: its famous ramen, in three styles.
The Shiromaru Motoaji is Ippudo’s classic; it’s the original creamy tonkotsu broth cooked over 18 hours and topped with pork loin, bean sprouts, spring onion and black fungus.
The Akamaru Shinaji is the original broth combined with a special blended miso paste infused with garlic oil, then topped with the same ingredients as the Shiromaru Motoaji.
Karaka-men is the original broth topped with a scoop of spicy-miso ground pork and roasted cashew, and served with thin, wavy noodles. An insider tip: if you ask nicely, the staff will serve you a side of minced garlic and ginger to go with your ramen, the proper Hakata way.
The drinks menu includes sake served in a Japanese wooden masu square cup, and wine and beer on tap. You won’t taste everything in one sitting, and that's the point – this is a ramen joint as well as a family restaurant, an izakaya, and a supper inn.
The space fits 100 and features plenty of light oak, exposed concrete walls and lanterns.
All Ippudo’s ramen bowls are made in Arita, a town in Saga prefecture. The porcelain bowls are fired for 16 hours, reaching temperatures of 1300 degrees. This not only makes them extremely durable, it also means they retain the heat of the ramen better.
"We want customers to experience more than the greetings of ‘irrashaimase’(‘welcome’) and 'arigatou'(‘thank you’),” Gani says. “Being Japanese isn't just about the language – it is the service, the attitude.”
Shop 18, Artemis Lane, QV, Lonsdale Street, Melbourne
(03) 9654 9057
Sun to Thu 11am–10pm
Fri & Sat 11am–11pm