Friday, April 10, 2009

Review: Ichi-ban boshi, Sydney CBD

Let it be said that Ichi-ban Boshi has the ramen that all other ramens are held against; I have yet to find tantan ramen as good anywhere in the world that compares to theirs even in Japan.

Ichi-ban Boshi is a little piece of home for a constant stream of Japanese students, it's about $10-12 for a bowl of authentic fresh ramen and that's about all that anyone is here for. The service is fast but very unfriendly, though often it's better if you know enough Japanese to get requests out to the wait staff as often the language barrier is a significant issue. There is one surly looking Western girl that works there but she can be seen nattering to the staff in Japanese and I suspect she lived in Japan for some time. When we first started going here it was unusual to see another Westerner in the room, now it's about 50/50 and the word is out. I'm very happy for their success however the wait times are becoming crazy and it's no longer a before movie dinner option due only to the queues.

A very common sight, people sitting on the floor after waiting significant times to be served.

As with many Asian eateries in Sydney you can't book a table so expect to wait in a utilitarian fashion regardless of your stature in society, and wait people do. If you come up at a standard lunch or dinner time you can expect to wait about half an hour for a table. If you are willing to share a table this can shave significant time off the wait, and depending on the nationality of your dining companions this can be very inobtrusive regardless. Keep an eye out for the "sign up sheet" because without a number you will not get a table.

Sharing a table I get a slightly innappropriate photo of my dining companions; note the Tokyo ramen and grilled ox tongue.

This is a 'churn and burn' restaurant and they are eager to get the waiting crowd in the door and back out as soon as possible. Often waitresses will flutter by for empty plates before you've even finished your meal and if you dare to sit and talk after the meal they will promptly deliver the bill to your table as a hint. This can be a little brusk but really, at these prices for this food they can afford to be rude, and really... ramen is often eaten standing at bars in train stations... ceremony can be skipped.

Probably the largest draw card for me here has to be the noodles. Hand made in huge quantities on a daily basis the noodles have a fresh chewy body that is lost in the drying process taken on by other restaurants. Combined with cheap prices, fresh vegetables and excellent stocks you just can't beat a great version of a simple meal.

Cold tofu with shaved bonito, ginger and shallots $5

Plenty of ginger, fresh shallots, large shavings of good quality dried bonito. I'd have preferred a little more soy but after the disappointment of recent outings at other eateries this will do me fine!

Gyoza with Ponzu sauce, Japanese leeks and chilli jam $6.50

The gyoza here are quite good quality. The meat and vegetable ratio is well balanced and good shallots are used throughout, the dumpling skin is soft but holds its texture. The addition of leeks, chilli and a fresh light ponzu make a "classier" feel to a common dish.

Tantan tsukemen $12

Tsukemen if you're not aware is "dipping noodles" - often referred to in Chinese restaurants as "dry type" soup noodles. Wet noodles are tossed in light oil and left to cool on a bamboo presentation tray, served with a smaller bowl of soup. The idea being that you pick up a small quantity of noodles and dip them in the soup before eating. This isn't really a meal recommended for those who aren't practiced with chopsticks but for those who are it's a nice twist on a delicious traditional ramen.

Usually I would order the Tantan ramen as per normal but after many rounds of the same meal at different restaurants I thought it would be more interesting for me to talk about the tsukemen, and the tsukemen at Ichi-ban Boshi is excellent. The soup is slightly thicker and richer than their standard tantan ramen. I think perhaps they water it down or water is taken on from the noodles when it is given in soup format. In this version it is thicker and clings to the noodles when dipped; I feel it is also saltier than normal as a warning and they add small blanched tomatoes for unknown reasons that I always pick out.

What's there to say about this meal? It is one of my favourite meals at one of my favourite kitchens without a doubt. The soup is rich and filling, spicy but not overpowering so that you can taste it the whole way through. An fresh free range egg is boiled and takes on the soup well, the vegetables are plentiful and fresh. The noodles are fresh, chewy and delicious. The meat is good quality but fatty enough to dissolve into the soup. It's good, it's all so very good. Upon discovering this restaurant I once went there 3 days in a row for lunch because I simply could not stop thinking about it.

Miso ramen $9.30

If you're expecting miso as it comes with sushi you will be surprised by this dish. It has a strong pork stock and rich miso paste which has a lot more body than the thin white miso soups often served at Japanese restaurants. It is served with a slice of roasted pork, sweet corn and fresh bean sprouts and plenty of thick chewy noodles. As one of their "basic" soups you can order this dish as part of a set for quite cheap although the servings here are such that even our favourite Japanese starters are questioned before ordering.

I will later post other dishes from their menu, as everything on their ramen menu is excellent. Prior to discovery of tantanmen I was strongly obsessed with their geki-kara ramen Ichi-bansuper hot chilli ramen) and frequently order their fried tofu ramen which is a miso based pork stock soup. One of the best things about their menu is their willingness to alter it. The ramen menu comes with a list of extras that may be ordered from kim chi, buttered corn, karaage chicken, extra vegetables, extra chilli or even fried tofu squares... meaning you can take their delicious base soups and alter them to your wishes.

Highly, highly recommended, it's worth the wait.

Ichi-ban Boshi
Level 2, The Galeries Victoria Bldg (Next to Kinokuniya bookstore)
500 George Street
Sydney, NSW 2000
(Note there is another location at Bondi, Please refer to their website for details)

7 days a week 11am - 9pm
Serves Japanese beer and sake only
Bookings are not taken

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