Friday, May 29, 2009

Pulling on hats and scarves

Winter has the ability to change more than just the reading on the thermometer. Any venture out of doors turns into a parade of half the wardrobe with all accessories; one drink at the pub turns into four as rain prevents quick departures; bar hopping turns into an elaborate rigmarole of dressing and stripping; and on this particular night, it magically transforms a dinner for two into a mass gathering of eight.

There's a gravitational pull in winter, towards big and hearty; towards outdoor heaters and indoor fireplaces; towards warmth and groups. And this night we're pulled up the escalators of The Galeries Victoria to join the queue at Ichi-ban Boshi for a hot and steamy meal.

Chopstick cover at Ichi-ban Boshi, The Galeries Victoria, Sydney

After the requisite wait we score a quiet, secluded table down the back which feels more restaurant than the food hall feel of the main, brightly-lit dining area. It's less than a minute's scan of the menu before everyone settles on their dining choices, eager for the comforting warmth promised by ramen.


If I admit to having an addiction to rocket, I must also confess some degree of obsession with gyoza and its fried dumpling relatives. The offerings from Ichi-ban Boshi are slender and delicate, sitting in a pool of vinegary sauce and topped with shallots and a blob of thick, deep red sauce. The filling redolent with ginger and the skin pan fried to a golden crisp, these gyoza lack the burst of character normally found in freshly-made in-house dumplings but sate the ravenous as starters.

It's then down to business as the massive, steaming bowls start to arrive, lighting up and widening eyes around the table. There's mutual admiration but no bowl envy - ramen seems to have a strong equalising power.

Negi ramen in soy soup

My negi ramen is pleasing to the eye and nose: a pretty picture of wonderful smells that get the mouth watering. In my choice of soy soup, it features a hefty amount of finely sliced shallots, a thin circle of fat-layered pork, corn kernels and bamboo shoots - the latter of which have a strong preserved taste that's a little off-putting. However, I do very well with the rest of the bowl's inhabitants: the egg-y noodles are bitey and filling; the soup perfectly seasoned, not too salty, and warming; the abundant shallots adding a much-needed lightness to the huge bowl.

I attribute this winter weather with turning my appetite into the massive ramen-finishing, multiple drinks, ravenous beast it is. And the lunch skipping too.

Tokyo ramen

Tofu ramen

Other ramen orders on the table include the traditional looking Tokyo ramen with half a boiled egg, kamaboko fish cake and nori sheet on top of other toppings, and the tofu ramen with delicately fried tofu squares. Regardless of the topping or soup type, everyone looks stuffed to the gills with their ramen orders.

Although that doesn't prevent green tea ice cream for some, or the powerful pull of yet another drinking establishment about the CBD; with hat and scarf routine, fake fireplaces, multiple rounds, outdoor heating and all manner of other wintery Sydney activities.

Ichi-ban Boshi on Urbanspoon

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