Thursday, 4 April 2013
Ippudo - The Weight of Expectations
To those of you who aren't noodle geeks, Ippudo (一風堂) is a Japanese restaurant group famed for its ramen, in particular its tonkotsu ramen. In recent years it has expanded from its original Fukuoka base to other parts of Japan and beyond. In fact I first heard about Ippudo from rave reviews of its New York outlet. So when I found out there was a branch in Singapore plans were made to go there during my recent trip to the island state. But the thing with renowned restaurants is the weight of expectations. Would Ippudo come up to scratch?
I went for the Shiromaru Special (S$23) – a classic Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen featuring cha shu pork, braised pork belly (kakuni), cabbage, spring onions, egg (tamago), and bamboo shoots (menma). First impressions were good; I was asked how I wanted my noodles done (medium) and they did have a nice bite to them. And as is customary, they were the thin noodles that should be served with tonkotsu. The toppings were by and large of decent quality – in particular the pork belly. However, there wasn't much of the cha shu and the egg (oddly served whole) was decidedly weird with the white not entirely cooked through in some places despite the yolk not being runny.
I could forgive all of the above shortcomings if the tonkotsu broth was top class. It wasn't. Being in Asia, I expected the proper primeval, slightly disturbing whiff of molten collagen in a milky white broth. So I was disappointed when that wasn't the case. It was far from being a bad broth; it just wasn't as good as I thought it should be.
Onto the sides and I went for a pork bun and a shrimp bun. The actual steamed buns were of the finest quality, but the bun-to-filling ratio was all wrong. The respective fillings consisted of a tiny slice of pork belly and a solo breaded shrimp reminiscent of something found in a supermarket freezer cabinet. My overriding memory was just how much bloody lettuce there was in each bun. I guess I can't grumble too much, as the buns cost a mere S$3 each, but I will.
To be fair to Ipuddo, perhaps I was all-noodled out following the noodle crawl I had embarked on earlier that day. Or maybe I ordered the wrong things. Some mentioned on twitter that I should have ordered the Akamaru, which comes with a miso paste-bomb and black sesame oil. That's all well and good, but the underlying tonkotsu soup base would have been the same as the Shiromaru I ordered.
I had hoped Ippudo would be to ramen what Din Tai Fung is to xiao long bao (I wished I had gone to Din Tai Fung, as there were a couple of branches nearby). It wasn't. There wasn't that much wrong with my food, it's just that Ippudo promised so much more. That's the problem with expectations.
Ippudo, Mandarin Gallery, 333A Orchard Rd, Singapore 238897
(Tel: +65-6235-2797) Nearest MRT: Somerset