Ramen… in London
Ramen is essentially a bowl of yellow noodle, most often served in boiling hot soup. Despite its Chinese origin, ramen is one of the best known and most influential food categories to emerge from Japan. On one hand, you have Momofuku Noodle Bar (and perhaps Wagamama and other more authentic Japanese ramen giants) flying the flags for *specialty* ramen restaurants overseas. On the other, you find the friendliest reincarnation of ramen as pot noodle in supermarkets and convenient stores.
In Japan, ramen is treated either as snacks or a very, very quick meal. Specialty ramen restaurants, called “ramen-ya”, can be found at nearly every corner, and regional chefs apply special take and treatments to the three main elements – noodle, soup, toppings – that comprise a bowl of ramen.
The recent ramen boom in London, for me, does not quite vouch for authenticity and sadly to say I find none of the new ramen-yas convincing enough.
Tonkotsu, run by the same operation as Tsuru Sushi, is a little lair of East-Village-like ambiance and prides itself for the exemption of MSG. The food menu is very concise – three kinds of ramen (£9-11) and a handful of side dishes (around £5). The drink menu, however, is extensive. There is no option for extra toppings. The eponymous Tonkotsu Ramen (of sea salt and pork bone stock) (£11) looked milky but tasted too light for a Tonkotsu. The positive, however, went to the temperature of the soup, which during my two visits, were nearly correctly burning hot. The noodle used was not exemplary but it was acceptably cooked. The toppings were the highlights. The soft-boiled marinated egg was gooey (but could do with more depth from the marinate); the chashu was tender (but could do with less tenderness so it doesn’t fall apart); the menma had a nice crunch. As for the small dishes, I didn’t like Chicken Karaage so much (£6). Here the big and plump thigh pieces were used and there was a noticeable amount of grease left in the meat.
Shoryu Ramen, run by the Japan Centre Group, is very canteen-like and boasts the biggest ramen and drink menu – a hell lot of side dishes at £1.90-10 and 14 kinds of ramen (!!) at £8-10.40. The soup variations, however, were mostly Tonkotsu-based. There was an option for gluten-free noodle as well as a small portion for kids. Extra toppings (around £2 each) can be requested. I went for Hakawa Tonkotsu (£8). The soup had a good boiling temperature but was so loose and tasted as if I was drinking a fine bowl of authentic premium instant noodle. The noodle was just okay. The toppings, though generous for the price, was ordinary and disappointing. My “soft boiled” egg turned out solidly hard boiled. The chashu was a little dry. For the small dishes, Gyoza (£5) here were machine-made. The texture of the pork filling was unpleasant and the skin was not adequately pan-fried.
Bone Daddies by formerly Zuma and Nobu chef Ross Shonhan might be the *most enjoyable* ramen in London. There are 8 ramen variations on the menu (£8-10), including a dipping ramen and a ramen salad, and a good selection of inventive side dishes (£3.5-9). Extra toppings (from £0 to £2) are also options here, and the drink menu is very long. My Tonkotsu Ramen (£10) with extra chashu, egg and menma looked indulgent. The 20-hour pork bone broth, however, was oil-y and did not have much porky complexity. It was also served very lukewarm. The noodle, despite the broth’s being not that hot, was over-boiled and lost any trace of chewy-ness. Despite that, I think Bone Daddies had some potential and the lavish (extra) toppings saved the day. As for the side dishes, Artichoke with Yuzu Kocho Mayo (£4.50) was quite wet.
You may also want to compare this post to another previously-reviewed ramen-ya ITTENBARI.
63 Dean Street
Tel. 020 7437 0071
9 Regent Street
31 Peter Street
Tel. 020 7287 8581