Ippudo's signature Shiromaru Motoaji ramen. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA – The ramen craze in Manila hits top gear with the opening of Japanese restaurant chain Ippudo on Wednesday at SM Megamall’s swanky Mega Fashion Hall.
Founded in 1985 in Japan’s ramen capital of Hakata by three-time “Ramen King” Shigemi Kawahara, Ippudo has expanded to over 80 stores in Japan alone. It also opened some 40 stores worldwide, including in global capitals like New York, Sydney, Hong Kong and Singapore, where Filipino restaurateur John Concepcion tried Ippudo in 2011.
Concepcion, whose Standard Hospitality Group is also behind the successful katsu chain Yabu, said he and his wife went to Ippudo in Singapore to celebrate her birthday.
“When we tried our first bite of that ramen, it was just divine,” Concepcion recalled.
“The whole ambience was very cool and hip; it was Japanese but modern. I really felt good about the place. In fact, Ippudo has always been my peg in setting up Yabu. I longed for the day that I could bring in the Ippudo brand and be partners here. Well, that day had happened,” added Concepcion, who admitted that he was “completely in awe” when he met Kawahara.
Ippudo founder Shigemi Kawahara gives a speech. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
“Right away, I just connected with him. I felt I saw the passion in his ramen, I saw the passion in his brand. I also saw the passion in hospitality and service, and it’s something we both deeply share,” the businessman, who is also behind the successful launch of Magnum ice cream in the Philippines, said.
Kawahara joined Concepcion at last weekend’s “noren” ceremony, which refers to the split curtain used in place of doors as entrances to Japanese shops. Kawahara, who has earned a place in the Ramen Hall of Fame after three consecutive first-place wins in a TV competition, even helped prepare ramen at the open kitchen.
“Ramen is not only food but it is very important that together with that there is smile and our appreciation is felt,” he said through an interpreter.
“The Philippines is a country of smiles and we are very happy to be here to serve the ramen together with you,” Kawahara said.
The modern Japanese interiors of Ippudo at SM Megamall. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
The 79-seater Ippudo in SM Megamall has that bustling Japanese vibe with mood lighting and service staff who announce orders coming out from the show kitchen, where diners can watch the food being prepared. Another glass-encased room, meanwhile, allows customers to watch the noodles being made.
Customers can watch the noodles being prepared. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
Like Yabu, which specializes in katsu, Concepcion also likes the fact that Ippudo is focused on one dish. And even with ramen, the choices are limited to three signature dishes: There’s the flagship Shiromaru Motoaji (P375), a “classic Hakata-style ramen” with milky tonkotsu broth and ultra-thin noodles, pork loin, bean sprouts and spring onions.
Ippudo's Akamaru Shinaji ramen. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
The more modern Akamaru Shinaji (P390) has Ippudo’s original tonkotsu broth enhanced with special blended miso paste and fragrant garlic oil for a deeper and more complex flavour with a smooth spicy kick.
The Karaka-Men (P390) is tops in terms of heat but despite the pronounced spice level, the broth still had balance with a rich complexity. This was served with thin wavy noodles, with spicy minced meat, pork belly and spring onions.
(Diners can choose the hardness of their noodles – soft, medium, hard and very hard.)
Ippudo pork bun. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
But while Ippudo’s menu is short, the ramen isn’t the only star. In fact, even Concepcion admitted that among his favorites dishes at Ippudo is the steamed pork bun (P100) with braised pork belly and Ippudo’s original sauce. This particular appetizer will definitely have customers coming back for more.
Ippudo also surprised with its Hakata-style gyoza (P195), which certainly can compete with the best of them; and the curry cheese harumaki, which is like cheese sticks.
Other dishes include gyoza, cheese harumaki and the traditional cucumber slices. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
The restaurant also has salads, like the Goma Q cucumber slices, and even some rice dishes, like the Garlic Teppan Tonkotsu rice -- listed on the menu. Dessert choices include green tea and black sesame ice cream.
Although Concepcion managed to compete with foreign franchises with his homegrown Yabu katsu restaurants, the businessman explained that he wanted a brand that can become a leader – and he believes Ippudo can become just that -- in the highly competitive ramen segment in Manila.
“Filipinos do not have to go to New York, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and many parts of the world; they can get it here in Manila. It’s really a great, great pride in bringing this brand here and I’m looking forward to a long-term partnership,” he said.
Ippudo is expected to open eight restaurants in the Philippines within three years.
3/F Mega Fashion Hall,
SM Megamall, Mandaluyong City