February’s favourites: 5 Ramen bars in London I love

It’s been a while since I thought about writing a post about the best ramen bars in London and whoever read my post in the previous months, knows how I was dedicated at finding the best place in town that could satisfy my ramen craving here in this cold part of Europe.

Aware of the fact that London is full Japanese restaurants and the ramen fashion is rapidly picking up, I decided to visit the most popular ramen bars in town. After careful consideration (as those many rejection email I’m receiving start) I decided to briefly describe my personal favourite places, ranking them for a precise feature that makes their product stand out.

For first starters: Shoryu Ramen. This is the first place where I had the chance to eat ramen in London after my sublime foodie experience in Japan. The Origin Tonkotsu has a pretty well balanced harmony of flavour between the the broth and the toppings. A nice place to start your ramen appreciation. Unfortunately I don’t have a review for Shoryu, because I went there before I started this blog. However I still remember a pleasant experience.

For broth: Ippudo. A bowl of ramen without the perfect broth would just be pointless (see instant ramen cups) Here the broth is creamy and milky as it’s supposed to be after pork bones are violently boiled for 20 hours and release their collagen. Taste is meaty, satisfying, but at the same time it’s almost sweet,  “clean” I would define it, meaning it does not leave a strong greasy aftertaste in your mouth. Read my complete review here.

Ippudo

Shiromaru Hakata Classic @Ippudo

For noodles: Tonkotsu. These guys make their noodles on the premises thanks to their Japanese noodle machine and the use of local ingredients (let’s not forget the research for the perfect alkaline salted water) that perfectly abide by the original recipe. I love their tsukemen noodle so much for their “bite”. Unfortunately they are available only at their Tonkotsu East location. Read my complete review here.

Detail of the noodles.

Noodles for Tsukemen @ Tonkotsu East

For the marinated soft boiled egg: Kanada-ya. Ok, I know, you think I am kidding right? Simply, I’m not. Everybody who had the chance to try a real bowl of ramen (no, the instant one you had in college don’t count) know how extremely important the egg is to the whole flavour of the recipe. It has to be still runny, so the yolk mixes a bit with the soup, and white should have nicely absorbed the soy sauce overnight or more. In other words it should be a concentrate of Umami. Kanada-ya’s egg was absolute perfection, but unfortunately it comes with an additional price of £2. This is not a deterrent to hungry customers, because it seems to sell out very quickly. Read my complete review here.

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Kanada ya. That egg over there is to die for.

For strong flavours: Bone Daddies. Considering that when on a diet, ramen in general might not be the best choice for your calorie count, Bone Daddies’ speciality requires customers who want enjoy the full flavour experience and preferably without any sense of guilt after eating. Rich (or fatty maybe?) and intense broth, contrasting aromas and different textures in just one dish. Read my complete review here.

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@Bone Daddies

The winner or should I say winners

I think it depends on the occasion and the the atmosphere I’d like to give to my meal. In fact I would definitely choose Ippudo for a girls’ night out both because the place looks a bit fancier than the other ramen bars and because the broth base has an authentic flavour, but at the same time it tastes clean, not greasy at all.

However if I wanted a foodie date without frills or a highly satisfying solo lunch experience I would definitely choose Bone Daddies’ insanely rich Tonkotsu ramen.
What about you guys, have you visited any of these five places?

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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