Writer: Lucy Self
Stock, Look and Listen
The London restaurant scene has a new love and it comes from excellent stock. I am, of course, talking about ramen – one of Japan’s best-known dishes and, according to those in culinary know, the next big thing to hit our sprawling capital.
As is such with a London trend (I’ve stopped trying to keep up with burger-based openings for health reasons) many ramen joints have sprung up over the last couple of months. One of the forerunners in terms of its opening and column inches is Tonkotsu – a specialist ramen bar from the team behind London chain Tsuru (who, incidentally, did a brilliant Japanese Scotch Egg a couple of years back that I still think about on a scarily regular basis). Located on Soho’s Dean Street, the aim at Tonkotsu is to deliver something akin to the ramen dens of Tokyo, where grabbing a noodle-based hit day or night is as part of life as cat cafes and karaoke bars. Mindful of this tradition, owners Emma Reynolds and Ken Yamada ran a ton of pop up restaurants before opening Tonkotsu (all of which sold out) and, if the heap of praise laid at its feet is anything to go by, the effort seems to have paid off.
My knowledge of Tokyo is woefully limited to watching Lost In Translation and an overnight stop over at Narita airport, so it was hard to tell from the interior if they had captured the look of a traditional ramen bar. But, to the untrained eye, the dimly lit, packed-out space adorned with simple sharing tables and benches seemed like a perfectly agreeable spot to slurp springy noodles with greedy relish.
The menu is pleasingly short, with a few handmade gyoza, four sides and the three of the four varieties of traditional Ramen – Tonkotsu, Tokyo Spicy (from the variety Shōyu, a soy sauce-based ramen) and Miso (here enriched with Shimeji and Shiitake mushrooms). Not one to turn down any type of fried chicken Japanese or not, I ordered the Chicken Karaage – which was plump, crisp and generally delicious plus some crunchy Edamame to pass the time waiting for my Tonkotsu.
Traditionally Tonkotsu (the dish not the restaurant) comprises of a broth made from boiling pork bones – giving it its thick, cloudy appearance – spooned over thin noodles and topped with pork belly, some vegetables and a soft-boiled egg. Tonkotsu’s (the restaurant not the dish) version is undoubtedly one of the best I’ve tried – from their gloriously pig-rich stock made on the premises in giant vats to the oozing slabs of swine on top.
I’m trying to think of the best compliment I can give Tonkotsu. It has a great central London location, slick service making the most of a space which has rarely been anything but rammed since they opened and a clear dedication to serving their compact menu of authentically-made, delicious food. But all I can think of is my last slurp of that ramen – so good I wanted that genius bowl of liquid fat to last forever.
All photos: Paul Winch-Furness
Tonkotsu, 63 Dean Street, London W1 4QG