Neutral Bay has its fair share of Japanese restaurants, but none are quite like Ichibandori. Although the restaurant has been open on Sydney's lower north shore for a while, Hideto Suzuki of Manpuku and Tomoyuki Matsuya of HaNa Ju-Rin have recently taken it over and given it a new twist. They've turned it into a late-night ramen haven.
But, you won't find any ramen here when the doors of the small 20-seater restaurant swing open at 5pm — you'll have to wait till 9pm.
For the first half of the night, from 5–8pm, the restaurant is Ichibandori Robata, and this when the robata grill takes precedent. A traditional charcoal grill used throughout Japan, particularly in Hokkaido (where both Matsuya and Suzuki grew up), it's traditionally used to cook 'off-cuts': liver, thighs, heart. Ichibandori adds in some extra cuts for those less-adventurous eaters, including scallops, chicken breast marinated in sweet soy, young corn grilled within its husk and potato with creamed butter and fermented squid. These are paired with izakaya-style snacks, too, such as fresh sashimi, gyoza and fried chicken.
By 9pm, the line is out the door, stretching down Military Road. You'll want to lineup early, and, we promise, it's worth it. Suzuki and Matsuya's idea for Ichibandori Ramen is based on the concept of late-night eating in Japan — often individuals go out for a few of drinks and slurp down a big bowl of ramen before heading home. That tradition hadn't quite made it to Australia yet.
Noticing the lack of people out in the evenings on Neutral Bay, they jumped at the chance to open right across from The Oaks Hotel — to draw people in for some late-night noodles. It does comes at a price, however, with one single bowl will set you back $25.
Suzuki — who looks after the ramen side of things — uses the best produce for each bowl, even importing many of the ingredients from Hokkaido. There are only two bowls available: the signature ramen — creamy tonkatsu ramen with chashu, pureed apple, enoki mushrooms, broccolini and a soft-boiled egg — a ramen of the day. When we visited, their special was a shio (salt) ramen with chicken (cooked on the robata), a soft-boiled egg, chargrilled shiitake and enoki and a variety of herbs. But, Suzuki is also known for his seafood ramen and, rumour has it, a lobster ramen will hit the menu in the near future, too.
An extensive drinks menu is also available, including beers, sake and wine that are all sourced from Japan or from Japanese winemakers. One of our favourites is the Small Forest chardonnay, which is produced by a Japanese winemaker in the Hunter Valley, NSW, and on the sweeter side, which cuts through the umami of the ramen.
Ichibandori is a restaurant like no other in Sydney. It makes the most of a tiny space, packing it full of delicious robata dishes and ramen well worth a drive across the bridge.
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