Bone Daddies ramen bar, London: my review

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This place was on my list of ramen to try (see my idea here) since I read a while ago that Jonathan Ross crowned it as the best ramen bar in town. Well, considering that Bone Daddies’ director, Ross Shonan, is the former executive chef from Nobu and Zuma the success is assured.

I know, I’m always late and I should have visited Bone Daddies at that time, but I somehow trusted Jonathan Ross’ opinion as a connoisseur of Japan and its culture, so I left it on my list as the last one to try. Needless to mention how high my expectations had grown in the meantime. Finally, one freezing Friday of January I had the chance to verify if Bone Daddies’ ramen actually were the best noodle in town.

The downside of popular places is they are always packed with people, especially on Friday nights, so it can’t be helped but joining the long queue outside. Waiting is never pleasant, but in this case it was also painful considering the sub-zero temperature of the night. Anyway the staff managed brilliantly by offering us hot sake shots. Nice move, Bone Daddies, nice move.

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Can you spot me?

Finally our turn to get in. The interior is characterised by bold red and white walls decorated by Japanese rockabilly subculture related prints, the main theme of this ramen bar.

Unfortunately the dim lights affected the quality of the pictures I took, therefore thanks to this photo belonging to The Guardian, you can see what the place looks like in a natural light and without people.

 

Credits: The Guardian

Materials used are wood and steel, in line with the latest tendencies for places that target young professionals and creatives as their bracket of customers.

Packed.

Packed.

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We were seated next to a group of Korean girls that I shamelessly spied, to grasp the secret of holding the chopsticks correctly. Yes after studying Japan, its culture, after being to Japan twice, after having Japanese friend I talk to all the time, after cooking Japanese food at home, when it comes to ramen I still have problems managing my noodles not to slip off my chopsticks. Unfortunately the secret is not really a secret, it’s just practice.

We chose to order a classic ramen and a popular one, in order to see how the place interprets a standard and well known (among the Japanese food aficionados) recipe and how the same staff uses their creativity to innovate their noodle dish, to make it trendy, to make it viral as they say. According to this personal point of view we chose a Tonkotsu ramen, the classic one with its 20 hour pork bone broth, chashu pork and marinated soft boiled egg. As for popular dish we got a T22 with chicken bone broth, soy ramen, chicken and cock scratchings which seem to be pretty popular on reviews around the internet.

While waiting for the order to be ready, I looked around and I noticed behind me some shelves with sake on the top one and homemade shochu on the bottom one. Surely cherry and lemongrass and lime shochu are not really traditional flavour choices, so I think Bone Daddies’ staff should be acknowledged for their creativity and their will to experiment.

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Cherry Shochu

Cherry Shochu and lemongrass and lime at the left.

A shiny plastic thing folded in a decorated steel glass immediately caught my eye. I was a giant plastic bib with Bone Daddies logo on it. Usually ramen bars in Japan provide their customers with these bib to protect their clothes from splashes of broth, so everyone can enjoy their noodles without bending their back weirdly and awkwardly. Yes that’s what I normally do here in London when I go out for ramen.

Da bib!

Da bib!

So the bib thing brought me immediately back to Japan,  because it means authenticity, and I give you kudos for this, Bone Daddies!

Enough is enough, let’s go straight with the main dish, shall we?

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My Tonkotsu Ramen

Tonkotsu ramen – I admit the first taste of the broth left me a bit puzzled because it wasn’t piping hot to the point of burning the tip of the tongue, leaving it numb. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate it, but this means the soup would turn cold in no time. Aside from the temperature, the flavour was rich, full with almost creamy texture given by the collagen of the pork bones. I usually am a bit fussy with this kind of broth because as soon as my tastebuds touch it I know if I’m really going to digest it. It’s just a sensation, in fact if it leaves a greasy feeling in my mouth it’s a no-no. This time the broth passed the exam and exactly as I predicted I had no problem digesting it. The noodles were thin but with a nice bite and both the pork and eggs were perfect and full of flavour.

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T22

 

T22

T22

T22 – This dish was different, that’s why G and I chose it. The broth was lighter, more transparent than pork one, but in order to contrast the delicate flavour I could taste a strong sesame oil, soy sauce and some chili pepper in the back ground. As for the toppings, the famous cock scratchings (every time I say it I chuckle a bit), they added crunch and texture to the dish.

My vote: 8.5.A satisfying interpretation of a classic recipe and a nice attempt to convey creativity into something new, younger and fresher. I don’t feel like giving a higher vote because I would have preferred the broth a little bit hotter, but this is really a minor flaw. What really matters is flavour and I can assure you won’t be disappointed with that. Is Bone Daddies really the best ramen bar in town? Maybe, but I believe it’s still a draw with Ippudo in my opinion, in my opinion even though the two differ in various aspects of the preparation.

I will tell you more in my next post about the 5 places to eat ramen in London.

Stay tuned!

Bone Daddies Ramen Bar 31 Peter St, London W1F 0AR 

Review: Tonkotsu East, London

The first time I ever tried tsukemen was almost three years ago during my second visit to Tokyo. On a very busy sightseeing day, ruined by constant rain and freezing cold, a hot meal was just what could fix everything straightaway. The selected place was the popular Rokurinsha, in an area inside Tokyo station called ramen street. The last thing I wanted was to stand in a 1 hour long queue, but after I was served whatever I purchased at the vending machine at the entrance (that’s how you order and pay in some places in Japan), it was love at first bite. From that moment I decided I had a mission: to find that same flavour and texture outside Japan. So when ramen bar started to pop up like mushrooms in the London foodie scene, I felt that was a place to start.

I started trying the most popular ramen places in London, because I wanted to have an informed point of view about the current ramen scenario and also to create a personal ranking based on certain criteria like best soup, noodles, toppings etc.

Tonkotsu East was on my list of places to try for a long time and for two main reasons. The first is that they are the only ramen bar out of the four in the chain to make tsukemen. The second reason is that unlike other ramen bars, they prepare their ramen from scratch on their premises. A time consuming activity that the founder of the little chain researched thoroughly. Not only did they find a special English flour and alkaline water similar to the Japanese ones, but they also imported an interesting ramen machine that makes the job a lot easier.

The place: The place is located, like many others in East London, under an arch in what it looks like to be a former garage. Bright with a very modern hip style, wood and stone materials to decorate the atmosphere, the kind of interiors you would expect from the area.

We were seated at the bar, where we could observe the staff preparing the food and the famous noodle machine in the window, where one of the Tonkotsu guys was preparing the noodles.

The noodle machine @ Tonkotsu East, London.

The noodle machine @ Tonkotsu East, London.

G and I weren’t really hungry so we just ordered some karaage (Japanese fried chicken) and some tsukemen of course!

The wait wasn’t so long and staff was super kind to apologise for the few extra minutes we waited between the karaage and the tsukemen.

Karaage chicken.

Karaage chicken.

I am supercritical with karaage because I don’t find any other recipe that is as good as mine (sorry, just my humble opinion), but I’ll keep it short and I’ll just say it was crunchy and juicy but a bit bland in flavour.

Here we go, the moment I was waiting for, the tsukemen. Thick, elastic, porous enough to absorb the pork broth, in two words they were very good.

Detail of the noodles.

Detail of the noodles.

tsukemen

The soup was cloudy and tasty as it should be if pork bones are left to boil for more than 12 hours but unfortunately left a greasy film in my mouth. I usually have some problems digesting this kind of broth, because of course, let’s face it, it’s not the lightest healthiest thing on earth, but this time it went smoothly. The chashu pork was a bit dry for my taste but thick enough and the egg was perfect in cooking and flavour.

My vote is: 8! I believe that the fact that they prepare their own noodles is distinctive when compared to other ramen bars. In my case, the tsukemen I ordered were very similar in texture, thickness and elasticity to the ones I had in Tokyo, therefore the vote. Kudos, Tonkotsu East!

However, I feel I can’t give more because I didn’t have the ramen, which is the protagonist at this place, and my soup didn’t convince me entirely.

Have some of you guys been to Tonkotsu East in London? Let me know your thoughts about it!

Tonkotsu East, Arch 334,1a Dunston Street. London E8 4EB. Tel: 020 7254 2478

Super quick review for a super quick brunch: Andina Shoreditch

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I had this place on my list of bars/restaurants to try for quite a bit and I don’t know why I didn’t stop there before, since I pass by it almost every day.

So, last Sunday I decided on a whim to grab a bite before deliberately losing myself in the craziness of the Christmas Shopping District: Oxford Street. After all, I have gifts to buy like everyone else.

Little sister of the famous Ceviche in Soho, Andina is a Peruvian Bar which concentrates its focus on Andean soul food with a modern touch, a necessity if you want to make it among the uncountable hip restaurants in Shoreditch and London in general.

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The first thing you notice as soon as you get in is the brightness of the place, thanks to the natural light coming from the big windows that surrounds the room. Then the quirky decor of the yellow tiles, the wicker basket chandeliers and the colored yarn hung on the walls add authenticity and modernity without weighing the interior down.

Unfortunately for us, G and I were seated downstairs in a very much different room with an aseptic bar, dim lights, furniture almost totally made of aged wood and a large mirror that covers completely a wall.

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I ordered simple poached eggs and avocado sourdough toast, just to play it safe after the flu I got during the week, while G got the Chicharron sandwich, which according to Andina’s menu should be the best bacon sandwich: chunks of confit pork belly with camote (sweet potato) ketchup, with red onions and tomato. Challenge accepted.

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The service was fairly quick, and in no time we had our plates. While mine was a bit bland in flavour and unfortunately cold, G’s sandwich was too much for me to handle, not really the best bacon sandwich as the menu claims. Excessively greasy with a strong pork flavour, that remained in my mouth for quite a bit that afternoon, even until dinner time.

My vote: I expected more from this place, to be honest. I cannot talk about their other specialities or their famous ceviche which I would like to try one day, but as a place for brunch I give Andina a 6. In my opinion there are far better places in Shoreditch and in London in general, to have a bite.

Andina,1 Redchurch St, London E2.

November’s favourites: 5 sweet treats to enjoy in London

Here we go again, Monday. A gloomy cold Monday here in London, like Monday itself wasn’t enough to get bogged down as soon as I open my eyes. So what’s the best medicine to increase our serotonin levels, therefore have a moment of happiness? Chocolate. Or cake. Or just whatever you fancy as guilty pleasure.

Here 5 guilty pleasures I indulged in this November:

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Couldn’t resist…

Hot Chocolate and Curly Whirly Brownie from Konditor and Cook. First things first, I confess to be a bit fussy for hot chocolate, because too many times I have been given some cheap and bitter stuff that always made wonder about how managers care about the quality of a product and the satisfaction of customers. This little introduction just state how much I actually appreciated Konditor and Cook’s product: one sip of this luscious hot chocolate and you can taste the top quality of a rich bittersweet cocoa at the right temperature, thanks to the amazing barista staff. Then the Curly Whirly brownie, the most popular treat at Konditor and Cook: a dense chocolate chip goodness swirled with vanilla cheesecake, because we don’t want to choose, we want it all! After the first bite I understand why it’s the most famous choice: so fudgy and moist that it melts in my mouth. A silky texture balanced by crunchy chocolate chips and creamy cheesecake. These three types of texture also reflect a harmony of flavours: sweet and bitter married together by the delicate vanilla aroma of cheesecake.

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Couldn’t resist, again.

Baked Zebra Crodoughnuts from Dum Dum Donutterie. The founder and doughnut chef Paul Hurley opened Dum Dum with the mission of bringing on the market a baked doughnut which should have been as good as the fried one, or even better. Well, he’s having quite a success and I am one of Dum Dum’s loyal customers, especially after trying the Zebra crodoughnut. Layers of ring-shaped croissant dough filled with chocolate butter crème form another one of my favourite guilty pleasures of the month. This is the one I end up buying often, because chocolate, that’s why! Anyway, I also recommend the Strawberries & Cream and the Peter Andre Yum Yum Dum Dum, which despite the funny name is filled with dulce de leche crème. Or if you are a Nutella fan get the Chocolate and Hazelnut one (in the picture below).

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Black Bottom Cupcake from Hummingbird bakery. A classic one for me, because it’s been 4 years after my first and I always go back and have one. Moist and dense chocolate sponge with cheesecake and chocolate chips filling and cream cheese frosting (see a recurring pattern here?). A bomb, of calories and happiness.

Chocolate and banana streusel cake from Timber Yard café. I first tried this cake only a couple of days ago, but it is so good that I feel I need to share it with you guys – unfortunately only  by describing it. The perfect combination of spongy and crunchy textures with different levels of sweetness, from the streusel topping to the banana’s natural sugar and the bitterness of chocolate.

Matcha green tea dorayaki from Japan Centre. if you feel the options above are too much to handle and prefer a guilty pleasure that doesn’t include chocolate, why not getting a matcha green tea custard dorayaki from Japan Centre. Two featherlight soft pancakes that sandwich a delicate matcha custard filling. The overall taste is sweet but with a bitter note given by green tea. A satisfying treat for sure.

What about you guys, what are your guilty pleasures of the moment?

Have a good week!

P.S.: regarding my suspects of gluten intolerance I addressed in this post, I am still waiting to run the test, and in order not have a false positive result, I’m still eating foods that contain gluten (as for example the cakes listed in this article ). Will see how it goes.

Sunday Brunch at Lantana Shoreditch: my review.

It happens every Sunday. I roll out of bed with semi closed eyes uttering weird sounds and wander in the house before realising how late it is and regretting those two hours I overslept, because the bed couldn’t let me go. The routine continues like this: usually after drinking some coffee in slow motion, I call my mum to catch up with the latest family gossip, but every time I end up getting scolded. Why? Simple, because it’s almost lunchtime and I preferred sleeping rather than waking up and do the preps for Sunday sauce, as every good Italian woman should do according to my mother’s and gran’s thought. At this point I have two options: 1) Lie and tell her that the sauce is on the stove simmering since 7 am and if I am convincing enough I also can find a quick excuse for my sleepy voice. Unfortunately I am such a bad liar, so I go straight to number 2. 2)Tell her I’m going to have brunch.

Her reply is always immediate: “Why? You’re not American.” Then it becomes melodramatic: “Hearing you’re losing your national identity makes me so sad.” Seriously, mum? I should probably take her to brunch next time she visits to try to change her mind.

After a quick search, G. and I decided for Lantana in Shoreditch, a trendy Aussie style café renowned for their excellent coffee blend and their signature drink, the flat white. I had already tried their coffee and cakes at their original location in Fitzrovia during my MA year at SOAS, and I kept going back at the time just to reward myself with quality products after classes, exams, you name it. This time it was all about brunch.

We arrived around 12:15 and we joined the long queue, because the café was packed with customers. Good sign.

The place has nice aged wood interiors without frills, in line with the trendy simple but absolutely vintage style, which is common to many independent coffee shops in London. Not really bright I would say, as the room can only benefit from two windows, so in rainy days like yesterday, the artificial light becomes necessary even at midday.

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The very kind waitress asked us if it was ok to wait 20 minutes, and of course we were more than happy to do it, but 20 minutes soon became 40 when we finally got seated. Well, it can happen when the kitchen is particularly busy and orders keep piling up, right?

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Soon another waiter came to our table and when I was about to order, he informed us that the food would have taken another 15 minutes. Fair, our order needs to be cooked and plated. Plus, what could have we possibly done after queuing 40 minutes to get a table, stand up and walk away?

Too bad that 15 minutes became 30. At this point I was very hungry and, honestly, annoyed, but our food finally came.

Smashed avocado and streaky bacon on sourdough toast with a poached egg and rocket (£7.5) for me and slow braised beans with ham hock served on corn bread with grilled chorizo, a poached egg and spinach for G (£8.5).

Well, I have to say that the kitchen staff made up for the wait with their flavourful dishes.

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A matter of perspective: the portion was bigger than it looks here.

My choice celebrated the always winning union between bacon and eggs, with a fresh note added by a creamy mellow avocado and the final bitter touch given of rocket to complete the dish. Nice, without any doubt. However, I would have seasoned the avocado with some pepper, smoked paprika and sumac just give it a spicy kick.

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Same goes for G.’s choice.

G’s order as well had a nice harmony in the combination of ingredients. In fact, the hearty beans braised in tomato sauce and ham hock gave respectively acidity and texture to contrast with the distinctive sapidity of chorizo and extremely peppery corn bread.

I give Lantana 7.5 that could have been easily transformed in a higher score, but the long waiting at the entrance and then at table was a significant source of influence. I perfectly understand that Brunch can be a busy time, but more communication and coordination of the staff could significantly improve the customers’ experience.

Lantana Shoreditch, Unit 2, 1 Oliver’s Yard ,55 City Rd. EC1Y1HQ

Kirazu London review: a Japanese “tapas” restaurant in Soho

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I found Kirazu during a hot August afternoon while, in the middle of disastrous property viewings, I was comforting myself with the latest hipster trend, a bubble tea, in the shop right next to it. I suddenly stopped gulping my fresh white peach and tapioca pearls drink and intensely stared at the inside of the empty room from the window. I am sure the waitress, who was cleaning and tidying up for the evening shift, thought I looked a bit creepy, but she smiled politely back at me like only the Japanese can do.

To tell the truth, I was totally enchanted by Kirazu’s interior design whose aged wood, wrought iron elements and beautiful Japanese pottery create a modern but also homely style. An elegant and, at the same time, cozy balance between the Japanese modern design and the vintage approach that is taking over London trendy bars.

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I unquestionably missed Japanese food, I craved it so much during the previous 9 months I stayed in Italy (no, I wasn’t pregnant!) that I felt the urgency to go back there and give this place a chance. Usually I consult the web before trying a new place, like everybody in 2014, but this time my instinct was stronger than my usual reasoning. Or, simply, I was just in love with the interior and I expected the food to be as delightful as the location. Typical me!

The following day I went back there for lunch to give a first try, since the lunch box menu was only just £5. “I’ll play it safe this time and if they surprise me I will definitely go back.” I told myself while I was staring at the big black board listing all the tapas they prepare for the evening shift. Yes, tapas, although I don’t like this word when used outside its Spanish context, but I assume the chef Yuya Kikuchi borrowed the term to immediately convey the precise concept of tiny plates to share to its international customers.

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My partner, G., and I chose our lunch box from a list of 4 available on that day. He ordered chicken karaage with curry and I got the same chicken but with sesame dressing and mayo  and a pickle salad. Both lunch boxes included a hot miso soup and a portion of steamed rice.

While waiting, G.’s face lit up as his eyes caught the word Matcha on the menu. Now, Matcha green tea is not something supposed to be drunk at the beginning of lunch, but I don’t always follow rules because life would be boring, wouldn’t it? Plus, G. wanted to try the “real thing” for so long, so I challenged him to prepare it. Luckily for him, every passage was carefully explained by our kind waitress, so no mess or green splashes all over the place.

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“Your face shows everything you’re thinking, please do something about it.” I remember my mother and friends repeating these words to me since childhood. This time it happened again, I could not hide a bit of disappointment in looking at how small portions were, especially the main dish of the bento box: 2 tiny bite-sized pieces of chicken. At the same time, I was torn because I felt almost guilty being dissatisfied with my lunch as I was paying £5, seated and served.

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I have nothing to complain about the food, as it was delicious and full of flavour. It was just what I wanted, what I had been craving for months: pure Japanese home style flavours. I just wanted more of it. I solemnly promised myself to go back for “tapas” and that’s what we did a week later.

Surprisingly, the evening atmosphere had completely different vibes: dim lights, people cheerfully toasting, waitresses who relentlessly juggled around the tables and tiny spaces with their trays full of beers and sake. In other words, the place was rapidly transformed into the modern adaptation of the traditional Japanese izakaya, a bar where customers can enjoy food to accompany their drinks. However, I noticed that the options for the evening are far more refined than the ones offered for lunch, so it has to be said that the food served here has not the mere role of a side dish to accompany a glass of beer, but more of an elegant protagonist.

This time we ordered from the “tapas” board a portion of takoyaki, octopus carpaccio with fresh wasabi, mentaiko (a type of marinated roe) and salmon sashimi to accompany the roasted aroma of our Asahi Kuronama black beer.

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Octopus carpaccio

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Mentaiko

Food portions were again tiny and maybe a bit expensive for that size, but I give up to the fact that fish is pricey anyway, so I don’t feel I should blame the owner/chef for overcharging us.

Again the flavour was just perfect for each plate in a different way, but my favourite were, the octopus carpaccio and mentaiko. The first had a delicate soft texture which is not easy to master. Then the intense flavour of fresh wasabi gave the dish a nice zingy kick. Mentaiko had a strong spicy and smoked flavour that I cannot associate with anything else I have ever tried, but it was undeniably pleasant to the palate.

I can’t say I was full after eating there, so I would probably not call that meal, a proper dinner, more like a fancy aperitivo.

I give this restaurant 7.5 in total, as the food truly reflects the authentic flavours of Japan. In addition, the place has a simple but modern atmosphere that makes the whole dining experience charming.

I’m still not convinced by their £5 lunch deal, so for your lunch break I would recommend more a place like Soya, whose larger portions are worth spending some more pennies.

However, Kirazu can be a lovely place for an elegant pre-dinner sake or to indulge in a Japanese dinner where traditional flavours are modernised with a hint of sophistication.

Kirazu, 47 Rupert Street, London, United Kingdom W1D 7PD.