Before today, there was no ramen in Beijing worth eating. (My deskmate in Mandarin class is from Kansai and will back me up on this.) While this is far from Ippudo’s first foray into Mainland China—multiple shops in Shanghai, Guangzhou, and even one in Shenzhen have been well-received—Beijing finally gets in the game with its first branch, in the underground level of the Kerry Center in the central business district, just around the corner from the CCTV Tower.
This was a soft opening. A cursory search pulls up no announcements on popular local media, nor is there even a mention of it on the Ippudo China site. Had it not been for my wife spotting the logo on the construction site while headed back to her office from lunch, I would have been none the wiser.
I arrived about 1:00pm to a full house, with a 20 minute wait to get a seat. Clearly, plenty of people knew what was going down!
I didn’t want to fill up on small plates, some of which I haven’t seen on the Ippudo NYC or Midtown menus, but at least wanted to have a try of the signature chashu buns. Nice and juicy, as always.
I couldn’t pass up my favorite, the Akamaru Shinaji, but I’ll try the Shiromaru Motoaji next time to get a better sense of the baseline tonkotsu soup. Funny enough, I’ve never actually had Ippudo in Japan, as I’m generally looking for something a little more adventurous in my limited time there, so my benchmark is the two shops in Manhattan. Compared to New York, this bowl was more intensely flavored and heavier in texture. The spicy miso and garlic oil were sharper. The soup had quite a bit more minced seabura (backfat) whisked in. Most significantly, there was a relatively thick layer of oil sitting on top of the soup, a very common technique in many styles of ramen that, besides adding flavor, traps the heat in the soup below, so that the last slurp is nearly as piping hot as the first. I tend to inhale my ramen—an obediant Ivan Orkin acolyte—but even then found my bowls in New York had cooled considerably by the time I got to the bottom. This bowl in Beijing is a bit closer to what I imagine the original Hakata shop would serve.
I was concerned that the choice of location, the heart of commercial wealth and power in the capital, meant that the price points would be equally rich. In New York, the $15-20 for a bowl with one or two extras is a bit much, even for good ramen. Fortunately, Beijing falls in line with the other Mainland shops (bowls are 39 to 48 yuan), more or less the same price points as in Japan. To boot, the Japanese touch of attentiveness in the service is noticeable, and appreciated. Beijingers rejoice!