13/86 Hay St
Haymarket, NSW 2000
My love for ramen is eternal. It is one of my favourite things to eat, and if not for the existence of sushi, may possibly be my most favourite food of all time. And although Hakata-styled ramen – tonkotsu broth with a thin, straight noodle – is what Australia is most familiar with, the world of ramen encompasses far more than just creamy pork soup (though that is arguably one of the best types). I love a good spicy bowl of noodles myself, and I also have an especial penchant for tsukemen, which is eaten soba-style, dipped into a bowl of super concentrated stock. But one thing I’ve yet to have is mazesoba, a broth-less ramen tossed with sauce and toppings. And guess what I’m at IIKO Mazesoba to try?
To call mazesoba entirely new to me however would be a bit of a fib. Although I’ve never had this specific rendition before, I am very much familiar with the dry style of noodles from China, and that’s where the creator of mazesoba drew his inspiration more than 70 years ago.
Walking into IIKO was a very Japanese experience. The vibe is a combination of a cheap and cheerful ramen-ya, with the verve of a modern izakaya. The shiba mascot is very adorable indeed, and I was very much tempted to prise their neon installation off the wall to take home with me. Food-wise, things are pretty straightforward. Alongside the staple range of mazesoba, there’s also a handful of seasonal specials, as well as a few snacks to share. Those who enjoy a tipple will appreciate the range of Japanese beers and sakes on offer.
Prawn Croquettes ($6, 2pcs) are something you see a little less often at a Japanese restaurant, so of course I jumped on them. And these were very lovely, the light, feathery crumb hiding a centre generous with prawn. It was especially good dipped into the accompanying sweet yet tangy tonkatsu sauce.
The Original Mazesoba ($14.9) came with a colourful mix of toppings the likes of which you’d see on your standard soup ramen, including pork belly charshu, gooey onsen egg, green onion, shredded nori, and bamboo shoots. You can mix it up and eat it as is, but it definitely pays to do it the way they recommend – adding a generous amount of kombu vinegar and chilli oil before tossing. Although the soy-based sauce at the bottom of the bowl was nice enough, the additional condiments really do serve to turn it into something more nuanced and interesting.
The noodles, which are made in house, were delightfully thick and chewy, and did a great job of hanging onto the sauce. I was especially appreciative of the blowtorched charshu, the fat of which began to melt once mixed through with everything else, imparting its rich smokiness to every bite.
I had decided on the Chicken Karaage Mazesoba ($15.9) mainly to avoid getting something with shredded cheese in it – I just wasn’t feeling up to dealing with bizzarro Japanese creations that day. This was very similar to its charshu alternative, except there was fried chicken and a dollop of mayo in lieu of pork. I was quite a big fan of the karaage here, with its thin but peppery batter and juicy meat. When you compare the two bowls of noodles side-by-side however, how much the smokiness of the charshu adds to the dish really becomes quite obvious. The shredded nori however made a good effort of filling in, its toasty brininess adding depth that would not have otherwise been there.
There was the option to ask for a small serving of rice to soak up the remainder of the sauce once we were done with the noodles, but we had eaten enough by that point that it wasn’t really necessary. I walked away from IIKO feeling satisfied, but not delighted. Although the noodles were tasty, they lacked flare, and I agree with what some reviewers have said about all the noodles being a bit too similar. However, I can see why IIKO has done as well as it has. It’s a quick and tasty meal that’s unchallenging but not boring, and is in a very central location to boot. Just like Chongqing Street Noodle last week, this falls under the same banner of being a place I would be happy to revisit, but wouldn’t go out of my way to go to.
Rating: 12.5/20 – not soba.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.