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?

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.

Ippudo London, one of the best ramen in town

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During the event “Nanban: Japanese Soul Food” (read about it here), chef Tim Anderson mentioned the famous Japanese ramen chain Ippudo was about to open its first ramen restaurant in Europe and London was the chosen city to start their European adventure. Ippudo has currently 43 restaurants all over Japan and other stores in Asia, but with the opening of Sydney’s and New York’s branches, the chain started another chapter of their entrepreneurial adventure for the promotion of ramen outside Asia.

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I never had the chance to try Ippudo in Japan as I always idealistically preferred the little family owned Ramen-ya (ramen restaurants), fantasising about secret recipes passed down from the old generation to the younger ones. However, I’m not in Japan at the moment – I would add unfortunately – therefore the combination of my insatiable curiosity and, most importantly, my weakness for food was enough to lure me into the brand new Ippudo London restaurant at the base of Renzo Piano’s bright orange building in Central Saint Giles Piazza.

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Japanese television filming.

The location is trendy and modern, perfectly embracing the urban design and the style of the area with a hint of sophistication. In fact, the restaurant is surrounded by glass walls, whose brightness contributes to create a contemporary ambience, enhancing the contrast between the wood materials and the bold interiors. In all fairness, I would expect such a stylish atmosphere to be associated more with high end restaurants rather than ramen bars, which in Japan are often unsophisticated, definitely less bright, and more cramped places.

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Entrance

 

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Ramen bowls decorating the wall.

While I was lost in this reasoning and in the meantime I was questioning the suitability of my casual clothes for the place, I was surprised, and admittedly a bit scared, by the entire staff greeting us with a loud “Irasshaimase!!!!” (lit. welcome) in unison.

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Counter

After few minutes I realised there were precise guidelines for greetings: every time new customers were assigned to a table, one of the managers escorted them while shouting in a very polite Japanese something like: “There are 2 new customers!”, so the staff would reply with “Welcome!”. Then, after placing the order the waiter/waitress would shout: “Table 13 has decided!” and the chefs would reply “Correct!”. Then when the order was ready the waiter/waitress would shout that the food was leaving the kitchen and again the chef would respond something like “Correct!”. Needless to mention the choir of “Arigatou gozaimashita!!!” (lit. Thank you very much) with the entire staff smiling and staring at the customers when they leave.

The hearty welcoming atmosphere and the related loud greetings seem, at first, to be tailored exactly to bring the authenticity and informality of the original Japanese ramen restaurant, which are mainly visited by students and salary men, therefore not a really refined or exclusive target audience.

However, in Ippudo London’s case, this way of dealing with customers seemed to me too much forced as well as clearly contrasting with the trendy environment of the restaurant. I really hope the members of staff don’t lose their voice at the end of each shift, otherwise it would be a huge problem!

I cannot judge the entire menu, as I was at Ippudo’s only for their famous ramen, but I can openly express a bit of disappointment because I sincerely expected more to choose from, rather than only 2 types of pork ramen along with their two vegetarian version with seaweed and fried tofu. Don’t get me wrong, it’s undoubtedly positive that they don’t have 20 or even more different types of ramen on the menu, otherwise I would start questioning the quality and the freshness of their products. However, another two variations – say a seafood and a seasonal recipe – would have been a nice addition.

My fiancé and I went for the two original signature recipes, the Shiromaru Hakata Classic and the Akamaru Modern.

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Shiromaru Hakata Classic

Shiromaru Hakata Classic  according to Ippudo’s menu: “Our original tonkotsu pork broth; homemade thin noodles topped with pork loin chashu, sesame kikurage mushrooms, bean sprouts and spring onions.” The broth was so rich and thick that its opaque surface covered the noodles underneath. A bold statement of a full intense flavour, and it was indeed: meaty but at the same time smooth and mellow, I would say also reassuring.

Although this ramen was served piping hot as it should always be, noodles were al dente and kept their perfect texture for the whole time I was waiting for the broth cool down a bit. Pork was tender and succulent retaining all the juices of the soy sauce sake and sugar seasoning used for the marinade before being slowly braised. Kikurage mushrooms and spring onions added respectively earthy and acidic notes, contrasting the smooth flavour of the broth. I chose to add a seasoned boiled egg as extra topping for £1.50, because a ramen bowl wouldn’t be complete without it.

Akamaru Modern

Akamaru Modern

 

Akamaru Modern according to the menu: “A bolder translation of the original pork broth; homemade thin noodles topped with Ippudo’s secret Umami Dama paste, pork belly chashu, bean sprouts, sesame kikurage mushrooms, spring onions and fragrant garlic oil.” The bright red spicy miso paste slowly melting in the broth, together with the sharp garlic oil and the nutty sesame, gives the soup a daring kick to the overall well balanced meaty flavour.

So you liked your noodles very much and you almost finished them but still have plenty of soup, what do you do? if you are anything like my fiancé you would shout “Kaedama please!”, and soon a waiter would bring another serving of noodles for £1.50.

My vote for Ippudo London is 8.5 and here’s why: I loved their ramen because it’s prepared with excellent ingredients and traditional methods. I frankly believe it is one of the best, if not the best, ramen in town, but I don’t feel like giving Ippudo London a higher vote because I would like to try more ramen variations. Ippudo cherishes tradition, but the team behind it’s always open for testing of new ingredients and combinations, so who knows, let’s give them time to familarise with the European tastes and its influences and let’s see how it goes.

I’m still not convinced about the contrast between the trendy modern interiors and the idea of the typical ramen bar, but if this strategy works for all their restaurants, then it’s a winning one.

http://www.ippudo.co.uk/