THE TROUBLE with starting with the best – or at least what all others think so to be the best – is that you would end up in just either one of two situations, neither one a total win–win. If it’s good, you start on a quest with the bar set so high, everything else just pales in comparison right after. If it’s not good, you will have yet another conjured–up image of perfection come crumbling and crashing down.
I decided to fan the flames of my rekindled passion for ramen with a (first ever) visit to IPPUDO SG on 333 Orchard Road (Mandarin Gallery).
The experience begins with a line that starts way outside the restaurant and continues inside as if it is a line at a movie theater box office on the opening night of a big hit. This queuing up can make or break you – especially when you’ve reached the front of the line and some of the diners would be staring back at you and you know exactly what’s in the thought bubbles above their heads. “You are not getting this seat.”
It sounds like it’s a test. And it is. It is one of patience. This to me fits right in in a place that serves food steeped in the oldest of traditions, something that others may argue to not be the case when it comes to the interiors. Yes, the ubiquitous multi–hued bowls belong, rather, are the reason for being of this place. But as design elements on the main red wall, they’ve taken a more edgy, contemporary vibe.
I mentioned patience belongs here, and this is primarily an allusion to that virtue being needed to achieve the perfect ramen broth. I remember hearing from those Japan TV documentaries that used to air on RPN9 or IBC13 that in Japan, some ramen restaurants would refuse to open for business if the chefs thought that the broth – which they had started to prepare the night before – was not up to their standards. They would turn people away! In Manila, I’ve been told about the strive for perfection a particular ramen chef had that if any customer would ask the wait staff for condiments, he would emerge from the kitchen to ask explicitly if there was anything wrong with the broth.
Not the whole ramen dish itself, but specifically the broth.
The menu at IPPUDO SG was helpful, quite descriptive actually. And before long, I had zoomed in to the operative words, “Ippudo’s original tonkotsu broth.” It was a no–brainer. I asked for the AKAMARU SHIN–AJI, enhanced with a specially blended miso paste and fragrant garlic oil. I proceeded reading through the menu, salivating. I had to make sure that my right hand was ready to reach for my handkerchief just before my synapses would’ve exploded from the intense pleasures derived from reading the descriptions and having them run around in my head.
The red bowl that arrived at my table, with the first sip was so Japanese; it could’ve very well been the shores of Yokohama, as the sea breaks against the rocks and the bridges. The broth was cloudy white, always a good sign of excellent pork–based goodness. The flavor was strong, but not arresting to the palate. It had a clean quality to it, a flavor that’s almost subdued but full–bodied. And as promised, kicked up a couple of notches by the miso paste – prettily perched on top of the organized chaos of noodles and ingredients – and the fragrant garlic oil.
I would almost always forget to acknowledge the presence of the thin strips of tender pork belly deliciously swimming in the broth because next to the latter, the actual star of the whole thing was the noodles. Originating from Hakata, they are quite thin, white (as opposed to “yellow” noodles), and perfectly done as any ramen should be. And rightfully so, because even without the menu encouraging it, I would always specify how I like my noodles done – plunged into a rolling boil, swished around for exactly three seconds, drained, and then shocked in ice cold water. Two words – very hard.
Which, ironically, is something so untrue about falling in love with Ippudo ramen. The bar has been set so high.
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