Is there anything in this world more comforting than a delicious, rich broth of steaming ramen? No, I don’t think so. Which is why I often entertain the idea of spending a mini lifetime in Japan devouring endless bowls of this Japanese staple.
Ramen is one of Japan’s best known dishes, with each region specialising in a different type of ramen. This dish is all about the stock, which is a delicately balanced art form made from pork and chicken bones with vegetables and sometimes fish bones.The stock is combined with the base to make one of four types of ramen: shoyu, miso, tonkotsu and shio (salt).
I paid a visit to Tonkotsu in Soho’s Dean Street last night since I wanted to compare it to its rival Bone Daddies. Unfortunately, I don’t claim to be a ramen expert but I like to think after years of going to restaurants I have developed an intelligent palate (well I’ll let you be the judge of that…).
Visiting Tonkotsu, is like stumbling into a hidden Japanese den. Filament globes in birdcages hang from the ceiling giving it a semi industrial feel. The decor is quite stark, with long wooden communal tables and benches with pop up stools throughout. But the atmosphere is warmed up by its dim lighting, heart warming ramen and super friendly service.
The menu is short and to the point, with five choices of ramen; including one chilled option for summer and an assortment of Japanese staples like edamame, pickled cucumber and tofu. There is a great range of local and Japanese beer on offer and for the hard-core drinker also sake and Japanese whiskey.
A big bowl of ramen is usually enough to satisfy the hungriest of customers but we were feeling greedy and ordered the Shiitake & Bamboo Shoot Gyoza dumplings (£5). The dumplings were light and pan-fried delicately with a great stickiness to them which binded the mushrooms and bamboo beautifully. If I were to be particularly picky, they were a little too sticky since they all stuck together, but I would much prefer sticky over stodgy. If you are a chilli fan like me, they go down a treat with the house made chilli oil.
After much deliberation, I couldn’t go past the signature dish and of course what the restaurant is name after – the Tonkotsu ramen (£11). This type of ramen is typical in Kyushu but found all over Japan.
The stock isn’t one for the faint hearted. Sinfully rich and creamy, the stock achieves its silky consistency by cooking pork bones for up to 18 hours allowing an emulsified melting pot of collagen and other porky goodness. A touch of soy and chilli was just enough to further enhance the flavour. Topped with generous chunks of melt-in-the-mouth sliced pork belly, a gooey marinated boiled egg, bean sprouts and spring onion it was a rather heavenly dish. The noodles were soft and thin, any thicker and they would have been too heavy with stock. They were cooked al dente with a slighlt firmness to the touch.
I experimented with different eating techniques but soon came to the conclusion that it was nearly impossible to eat ramen gracefully. It’s very much a leaning over your bowl and shovelling and slurping experience. So don’t be shy and get stuck in! My only real complaint was the distinct lack of a mirror in the bathroom and for a girl who carries only the bare necessities in my handbag, it really is a must for dealing with messy ramen.
After this dining experience, I would say Tonkotsu and Bone Daddies are an even tie break. What do you think?
Tonkotsu East is opening later this summer – keep following me for details.
£35 for two bowls of ramen, gyozas and drinks.
Phone: 0207 437 0071
Address: 63 Dean Street, W1D 4QG
Opening Hours: Monday – Friday 12 – 3pm / 5 – 10.30pm, Saturday 12 – 10.30pm, Sunday 12 – 10pm