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?

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

Kanada-ya ramen bar, London review: not bad.

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There’s always a tremendous queue outside Kanada-ya ramen bar. The place is undoubtedly small, but the fact that customers are willing to wait for their turn to eat, should often be taken as a good sign of superb food.

Kanada-ya was founded by Kanada Kazuhiro in Yukuhashi, Japan, back in 2009 but only recently their management has considered expanding abroad, with the opening of two new restaurants in Hong Kong and London. This one is located just opposite to the major competitor in town: Ippudo. Let the ramen war begin!

As much as the cold weather and the light rain put me off, the die-hard foodie inside me never surrenders, so there I was, waiting for my piping hot bowl of ramen.

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The queue was even longer.

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While waiting…

After 45 minutes outside in the freezing cold, I was actually questioning my intellect. “This is crazy, this ramen had better be the most amazing I ever had.” Which, of course I doubted, having tried the real thing back in Japan. Anyway, Finally G and I were seated at the main shared table, together with other 6 people.

The decor is minimal, with a dominant theme of aged wood tables and brick walls painted in white, that reflects the light from the two big windows and creates the illusion of a wider space.

At the table I immediately noticed a tall glass filled with reusable chopsticks and I could not hide a bit of disappointment. Just to be clear, I’m not some hygiene freak, and I don’t doubt the health and safety standards of the place. Plus I’m always in for green choices and reusable materials. The unbearable truth is: I can’t eat by using reusable chopsticks without looking stupid, because their lacquered surface lets slip the noodles and I end up splashing soup all over the place.

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Original Ramen

While I was wondering how to limit the damages, our order arrived quicker than the time spent queuing. Both G and I got Kanada-ya’s Original Ramen, which consisted in a bowl of noodles underneath a thick white and foamy 18 hour pork bone broth and topped with chashu pork belly, nori seaweed, wood ear fungus and spring onions. We both added the seasoned soft boiled egg, because without it, ramen would have been just profane, right?

I first tasted the soup, which was intensely rich, meaty, just as I imagined it would be after boiling for 18 hours, but unfortunately it left an unpleasant greasy residual in my mouth. Stop! I know what you’re thinking: pork broth is fat, no wonder that ramen is so high in calories. Yes, true, but I tried a lot of ramen places where broth tasted “cleaner”, without leaving any oily feeling on my tongue.

Noodles were thin, but with firm texture. As for the toppings, the seasoned soft boiled egg was cooked to perfection, with some of the yolk melting heavenly into the soup. However, I wasn’t really convinced by the pork belly, because it was sliced so thinly to the point of looking like prosciutto. It should be thicker, as everybody who tried ramen in Japan knows, otherwise the texture and meat juices are noticeably reduced to the detriment of the overall flavour.

I have to say that I was not super impressed with Kanada-ya’s ramen. I think that after 45 minutes queuing outside, I was expecting an almost perfect bowl of noodles. Unfortunately, some characteristics of this dish did not meet my expectations.

For this reason, my vote for Kanada-ya is 7, because although I find the product not bad, I think that some aspects of both the management of the place and the ramen itself should be improved.


Kanada-ya, 64 St Giles High Street, WC2H 8LE London.

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.

October’s Favourites: 5 gluten free products I’m loving!

Thanks to my faithful hypocondria I just discovered that some mild symptoms I have from birth could be linked to a hypothetical coeliac disease or gluten intolerance. Panic at first, that’s what being ignorant about the subject causes. However, my doctor reassured me that if this were the case, it wouldn’t be the end of the world, since valid gluten free alternatives on the market are rapidly increasing.

At the moment I am waiting to go back to Italy to run some tests and verify if a coeliac disease or gluten free intolerance is confirmed, but in the meantime I was advised to reduce the intake of gluten rich foods and see how it goes.

So lately, I often find myself hanging out at Whole Foods, to carefully study the alternatives I should adopt in case I get diagnosed. I still need to do a lot of research about the topic, but, for the moment, these are my 5 gluten free products that I’m loving this month:

Drink me chai green tea chai latte

 

Normally I’m not really a fan of Chai Latte, because I find the spice blend too powerful for me, but this one is truly amazing! It’s spicy but delicate and sweet with a pinch of green tea to balance the overall flavour.

Seasoned nori seaweed – Crispy texture, full of flavour and fun to snack on. Be careful to read the label though, as the majority of Japanese brands use wheat and soy sauce (which contains wheat unless it’s tamari) in their seasoning. In fact, I was about to give up when, luckily, I found some Korean seaweed that was seasoned with just olive oil and sea salt.  Although seasoned nori seaweed is super easy to prepare at home, it’s handier for the lazy ones like me, to have a little package to toss in the bag, right? Healthy bits: nori seaweed is also good for your body because it is a natural source of iodine, which regulates the production thyroid hormones.

Nutritional yeast:

Nothing to be scared or disgusted about, because nutritional yeast is inactive, or in other words dead! It’s grown on sugar canes or molasses then killed with heat. In this phase the yeast develops glutamic acid, which is a natural source of umami. This is one of the two main reasons why nutritional yeast is produced and sold, because it adds a nutty savoury note to our recipes and enhances their flavour. Nutritional yeast does not only please the palate, but it also has healthy benefits, because it is packed with vitamin B complex, zinc, selenium, folic acid, potassium and proteins. Cool right? At the moment I’m using nutritional yeast in soups, salads and mashed potatoes, but I will experiment more combinations.

Want to know more about nutritional yeast? then check this blog out.

 

Eat natural bars:

My guilty pleasure in this period I’m trying to figure out if I have a gluten intolerance or not. Well, to be honest I loved these bars even before, but let’s say that now I have a good excuse to try the whole range. My favourite ones are the cashew&blueberry bar with yogurt coating and the coffee&chocolate bar with peanuts and almonds.

Mangajo lemon and green tea drink:

Last, but not the least a light and refreshing drink made with lemon, apple juice and a hint of green tea. The only sugar in this drink is the natural fructose contained in both lemons and apples. Great for those who don’t like super sweet beverages or watch calories. Normally, fruit juices should be gluten free in the first place but it’s always better to check the label regarding any possibility of contamination by the handling of other sources.

What about you guys? Let me know what you’re loving this month, both regular and gluten free snacks. Recipes for homemade treats are also welcome, as I would like to have everything covered in case this coeliac disease/gluten intolerance is confirmed. This would be the second phase, the acceptance, but we all know that before there’s the denial. Considering my optimism, I already picture myself crying my eyes out for the possibility of giving up the regular pizza for ever. Sigh!

Monthly ranking: my favourite Comfort Food

I didn’t know what Comfort Food meant until I was forced to broaden my scholastic vocabulary when I moved to London. However, it was just the definition that was missing because all the times I felt homesick I always found myself cooking something that could make me smile. That was what it’s called Comfort Food. I believe this label includes more than just those recipes whose flavours can, in a way, strengthen a connection with home, family or particular memories. For this reason, thinking about the dishes I cook or eat out the most, I wrote my ranking for February, including the 5 foods that simply make me happy.

5) Grilled ham and cheese sandwich, because cheese is one of the few things I could never give up. And adding ham takes the sandwich to the next level.

4) Chocolate cake, a pretty obvious source of serotonin, a.k.a. the happiness hormone, which is extremely necessary for us girls, especially at that time of the month.

3) Stuffed calamari, which happens to be what my mum cooks every single time I come back home. So, for me cooking and eating stuffed calamari is a way to feel close to my mum, but of course results are still far away from the original.

2) Sushi. When I want to treat or reward myself, it has to be sushi because the combination of raw fish, rice, rice vinegar, soy sauce and wasabi is just a boost for my mood.

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Photo: Mike

1) My Nonna’s recipe for baked pasta: this is the most effective medicine when I feel sad because it’s my personal solution for immediate happiness. Slow cooked meaty tomato sauce, melted mozzarella and tiny meatballs combined with penne or fusilli pasta. What more could I ask for?

So guys, what is your comfort food?

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And now in Italian.

Non sapevo cosa volesse dire Comfort Food, fino a quando mi sono trasferita a Londra e sono stata forzata ad ampliare il mio inglese scolastico. Era solo il significato che mancava, perché già cucinavo Comfort Food ogni volta che sentivo la mancanza di casa. Era ed è tutt’ora quello che mi mette di buon umore, che mi fa sorridere. Questa è l’essenza del Comfort Food. Credo, però, che questa categoria non debba per forza includere quei piatti che hanno un legame con la nostra famiglia o alcuni bei ricordi. Ecco perché pensando a ciò che cucino o che mangio fuori più spesso, ho scritto la classifica dei 5 piatti che mi rendono felice.

5) Toast al prosciutto e formaggio, perché non potrei vivere senza formaggio. E il prosciutto aggiunge un sapore molto più godurioso.

4) Torta al cioccolato, perché è una fonte di serotonina, o ormone della felicità. E noi ragazze ne abbiamo tanto bisogno, specialmente in quei giorni…

3) Calamari ripieni, cioè il piatto che mia mamma cucina ogni volta che torno a casa. Per questo motivo, cucinare e mangiare questo piatto è un modo per sentirmi più vicina a mia madre, anche se i risultati sono ancora distanti dall’originale.

2) Sushi. Quando voglio coccolarmi mi concedo il sushi, perché trovo che la combinazione di pesce crudo, riso, aceto di riso, salsa di soia e wasabi dia una spinta al mio umore.

1) Pasta al forno con la ricetta di mia nonna: questa è la medicina più efficace nei momenti di tristezza, per essere felici al primo boccone. Sugo di carne a cottura lenta, mozzarella filante e polpettine insieme a  pasta corta. Che cosa potrei chiedere di meglio?

E per voi? qual è il vostro Comfort Food?

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