Ittenbari is a Japanese ramen restaurant import by the guy behind a noted ramen restaurant Ryukishin from Sakai, Osaka. (If you are unfamiliar with ramen, read this first). Unlike its Japanese outlet, Ittenbari isn’t just a ramen specialist restaurant. The menu includes (at present) two ramen dishes – Shoyu and Shio – but offers a breadth of well-know Japanese dishes, from sushi to katsu-don. The price point is kind. £8.90 for a regular ramen and £10.90 for one with extra toppings. Other dishes/sets (excluding sushi) are approximately priced between £9-11.
The ambiance was very casual, but the look of the restaurant verged on being either a pop-up or, plainly speaking, unfinished. There was a warm but muted welcome from the chef station (where the ramen was prepared) at the front, but the staff in the dining room during both of my visits were antithesis of Japanese hospitality. A few came across as they did not care so much. It is also noteworthy that the restaurant has already attracted a lot of Japanese diners.
Best ramen, etc.
Ryukishin is known for its Shio ramen (salt-based and with its own take on infusing the broth with mussels) and the bowl of Shio Ramen at Ittenbari (£10.90) was as great as I have come across in London. The noodle was perfectly cooked and had a wonderful flour aroma; its texture was correctly chewy and bounce-y. The salt-based broth was nearly transparent and had a great clarity of flavours. The topping, however, did not come together as well. I particularly found the gooey, soft-boiled egg loveable, but the chashu pieces were slightly dry and not appetisingly tender. They would have tasted better if sliced more thinly. The other veg toppings were, at one time, thoughtful, and at others, dull. I also noted that each veg topping component did not have much taste in itself and therefore added nothing to the soup. That said, the combination of Ittenbari’s great broth and great noodle alone made it worth a visit.
(Second visit) I asked for a regular-sized Shoyu ramen (£8.90). While not a big fan of Shoyu ramen myself, I liked Ittenbari’s version. The scent of a good quality soy hit my nose first. I also liked the soup of dark amber colour and its fermented soy richness. Yet, it would fare better with a less oily surface. The topping came together better but the minimal scattering made me feel half pleased. And there came the non-ramen items. The Other Bib shunned his Pork Katsu Curry (£9). While the crumb added a great crust, the pork itself was flat, dry and deep-fried until all the life was drained out. The pool of curry was loose and banal. I also noticed that the water and the thicker part of the curry were separated. The side of Chicken Kara-age (£5) was no redeeming grace. Firstly, the dish arrived 10 minutes or so after the bill…
…(Ittenbari runs one we-give-you-the-bill-when-we-see-you-have-finished-your-meal policy. On our visit, as we nearly finished our mains, we asked the FOH to check if the kara-age was coming. The guy disappeared. 10 mins later, the bill made its own way to our table. Another FOH was puzzled that we were waiting for a dish to come and without an apology just walked away with the bill. We assumed it was because they *forgot* to add the kara-age to the bill)…
In addition to this, the kara-age was dry on the outside but was greasy and soggy inside, hence a total of £5 plus 15-min-or-so waiting time for unwanted nothingness.
The bill came.. at the right time at last. And I do feel that Ittenbari ramen would have a very good potential to make it in London, well, if it weren’t for the unpleasant non-ramen dishes and the nonchalant service.
I won’t discourage anybody from trying their ramen. Period.
84 Brewer Street
Tel. 020 7287 1318