Who to trust?
It has been a while now since the ramen trend hit (Central) London and I am still pretty on the fence about the current offerings. Last year Tonkotsu (operation by Tsuru Sushi) was just passable. Now they have acquired a machine and are making their own ramen noodle in house. Might be promising. (I haven’t tried it yet). Bone Daddies was not stellar, during the first few of my visits, but has ever since managed to constantly intrigue the crowd with new, funky (fusion-led) ramen. The products are good but the digression from the traditional isn’t what I exactly crave. Ittenbari was and still is the most traditional. However, it is an inferior product in term of ingredients. Also, I think their broth has a heavily saturated taste of MSG that *improves* the taste of the food as much as the taste of my gum and teeth. (If you eat me now, I might taste good). And this has brought me back to Shoryu Ramen and its new branch in Soho.
Shoryu Ramen has received a much favourable 4-star review by A A Gill. A much lauded, writerly critic who awarded 5 stars to a certain Japanese restaurant by an internationally renowned chef last year in London. The proof in the critic’s expertise of taste in Japanese cuisine lay in the fact that that restaurant was closed 6 months after its opening. And who are we to trust?
Shoryu Ramen is an operation backed by Japan Centre. Its second branch on Denman Street, conveniently located next to Piccadilly Circus and just opposite Chinatown, is much bigger than its original. The vibe is very Japanese. There is an inviting sake and cocktail bar at the entrance, an open-plan ramen kitchen in the dining room, and canteen-style tables and stools.
The menu has inflated a lot (since last time I was at Shoryu’s first branch). Apart from its extensive ramen offerings (14 kinds and between £9.90 and 12.50) and gluten-free noodle options, Shoryu has incorporated a decent-sized yakitori section in its menu (£1.80 – £9 per skewer). Fried dishes dominates the starter section (£1.90 – £10) but there are also sashimi options. The dessert section (£3.50 – £4.80) sounds promisingly transported from Japan Centre.
My whole experience at Shoryu Soho was bad. The ramen dishes, like my experience at Shoryu’s first branch, were just alright. I ate my Tokyo Shoyu (£9.90). The Chashu pork had a likeable flavour and was not too dry. The soy sauce based broth was traditionally boiling hot but it was so one-dimensionally salty that I’d rather not sip on its own. The noodle was delightfully chewy at first bite. For my second bite, it lost that elasticity nearly completely. This showed the noodle wasn’t good enough to be matched with the high temperature of the broth. TOB’s Shoryu Ganso Tonkotsu (£10) was appealing to the eyes but did not strike a high note for taste. The broth achieved a finer balance than my Shoyu but lacked depth to convince that pork bones have been slow-cooked for hours. That said, I liked the generous topping of fried garlic (very aromatic) and the Chashu was acceptable.
Other dishes misfired nearly completely. Kawa or Salted Chicken Skin (£1.50) featured a stick of gelatinous chicken skin. Barely charred. Thoroughly not crispy. If chicken skins are in (think Bone Daddies’s “cock scratching” and Kitchen Table’s “Chicken Skin Wafer”), this skewer can certainly put an end to all that. Satsuma Age or Deep Fried Fish Balls (£1.80) was edible, though TOB refused to eat them. Chicken Karaage (£5) had a standard of KFC chicken popcorn. The batter was crispy but thick. Chikuwa (a kind of fish cake) (£4) was stuffed with cheese, crumbed and fried. In Japan, this could be an extremely addictive dish. Here the fish cake was rubbery and lacked taste.
There were also faults in operation. We were served ramen first. This was followed by a long wait until our starters did make an appearance. The cocktail also did not arrive at the same time as the soft drink (as in the soft drink arrived before the ramen and the other drink arrived right after we finished our ramen). As with new openings, these things will hopefully be ironed out. Hopefully..
SHORYU RAMEN SOHO
3 Denman Street