Since earning its reputation in Japan in 1985 for delicious ramen, HAKATA IPPUDO, under the helm of “Ramen King” Shigemi Kawahara, has begun a rapid international expansion, including no less than nine outlets in Singapore. In fact, it was through Shigemi Kawahara’s opening of a ramen shop in the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum in ’94 that tonkotsu (pork broth) ramen gained popularity throughout all of Japan. Since opening its first outlet in Singapore, Ippudo has earned Epicure’s “Top 10” and Hungry Go Where’s “Most Popular Japanese Restaurant” Awards.
The Tanjong Pagar outlet I visited is one of Ippudo’s newest restaurants in Singapore and they benefit from an entire stand-alone space in the busy Tanjong Pagar Centre courtyard. Given I work nearby and they don’t take reservations, I visited to see the lunchtime crowd first and they had a queue out the door.
The restaurant isn’t that large but, as they say in Singapore, follow the queue to find something worth queuing! With my expectations heightened and kiasu nature out in full, I arrived promptly at 6pm on a Wednesday to find the restaurant was largely empty. While everyone was crowding the nearby pubs, no one was sitting at the inside Ippudo Bar taking up their highball and karaage special.
It became quite clear that, despite having a respectable menu of nearly ten sakes, Ippudo’s draw was primarily the famous ramen. I’d definitely find no sake sommelier at Ippudo and, given some language barriers, it took a few service staff before I could even get a high-level sake recommendation.
Ippudo prides itself on its innovations around the basics of Hakata ramen, creating a number of special Singapore ramen dishes. The famous ramen foundations include a special soup “double maturated” over two days, Kaze no Daichi wheat noodles of ideal fineness and blades, vacuum-aged, unami-rich double chasu pork and secret recipe onko chishin kaeshi.
So how did it taste? Honestly, delicious! It was one of the better ramens I’ve had and my wife was very pleased as well. I ordered the Akamaru Shinaji Hakkata-style ramen which had a richer, creamy tonkotsu broth enhanced with miso paste and fragrant garlic oil. The broth complemented the thin noodles, pork, bean spout, black fungus and spring onion perfectly and I added on bamboo shoots, which complemented the dish further.
My wife ordered the other recommended, but more spicy, ramen, Karaka-Men which had the same basic ingredients but added spices, sweet and spicy miso bean sauce and Japanese peppers. We were almost as equally pleased with the Otsumami dishes to go along with the ramen, having ordered the Pepperon Edamame, Spicy Boiled Gyoza, Teppan Takoyaki and garlic shrimp skillet. Out of those, I’d say the Teppan Takoyaki and garlic shrimp were particularly stand-out.
One of the things that drew me to try Ippudo for a Sakemaru review was the easy-to-understand way of they present their sake menu in a quadrant of Classic/Modern & Light/ Rich. Similar to Kabuke, the sake emphasis seems to be on the large group of sake novices in Singapore and not Japanese expats.
Interestingly, compared to most sake bars, Ippudo doesn’t offer sake by the bottle only by tasting and cup portions. Given the marginal price difference and desire to get my wife’s opinion, I went for the overflowing cup size for each of the four sakes tasted. We started out with the sole modern rich sake on the menu, the Rumiko no Sake Junmai Daiginjyo. This ended up being my favorite sake of the night and I felt a perfect complement to the ramen.
However, my wife, who admittedly sampled the sake a bit longer after the pour, felt the alcohol taste was too forward. We decided to move counter clockwise on the sake taste quadrant going for the “classic/rich” Jyujiashi Kimoto Gohyakumangoku which I, interestingly, felt was too alcohol forward and not as rich as the Rumiko.
The “classic/light” sake we tried next, Tanzawasan Rinhou Junmai definitely wasn’t as flavorful as the previous two sakes and, while palatable and perhaps refreshing compared to the ramen, and didn’t end up being a favourite. My wife’s favourite was the last sake we tried of the evening to accompany the delicious almond noodle dessert. For her, the Fusourzuru Junmai Ginjyo Sakanishiki was just the right mix of flavor and refreshment without being too alcohol forward.
While the price-tag ended up being a bit more than what we expected, I’d definitely recommend Ippundo for anyone looking for a group dinner complemented by a variety of sakes. Unfortunately, for true sake lovers looking for more than a few mouthfuls, the value a bottle offers isn’t possible at Ippundo.