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.

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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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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.

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.

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.