There’s many an evening when we don’t have a set plan. We just want to grab a quick, tasty bite without spending a fortune. Something relaxed, comforting and hassle free. On those occasions, we find that ramen fits the bill perfectly.
It’s not just us who feel that way. Ramen is ‘the’ comfort food of Japan. It’s what people look for when they want something simple, reassuring and tasty.
It was 8pm on a Tuesday and we decided to head to a restaurant that’s creating a lot of buzz right now, Tonkotsu on Dean Street. As well as the name of the restaurant, tonkotsu is also a type of ramen and literally means ‘pork bone.’
London has a real appetite for ramen right now but happily, when we arrived, there wasn’t a queue in sight. We were lead up a tiny spiral staircase to their upstairs dining room which was around two-thirds full. There seemed to be more atmosphere on the ground floor but at least we didn’t have to wait.
We felt compelled to order tonkotsu. If they name a restaurant after a dish, it’s usually a given that it’s going to be good. We also went for a bowl of Soho ramen with some pork gyoza and a soft shell crab on the side.
The crab might not have been the prettiest dish of the evening (I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re an arachnophobe) but it turned out to be the best we’ve eaten for a while. The batter was incredibly light and crispy and the crab was surprisingly meaty. I would’ve liked some kind of dipping sauce but it wasn’t a deal breaker.
A plate of chicken karaage then arrived. We were confused because we hadn’t ordered it and our reflex action was to ask the waitress to take it back. We immediately regretted this though because it looked and smelled fantastic. Our disappointment was compounded when the gyoza arrived and were very run-of-the mill.
Good ramen is all about the stock. Extracting the required depth of flavour from the bones can take upwards of twenty hours but it pays dividends. Fair enough, it’s on the menu at the likes of Wagamama and you can buy it pre-made in packets but it’s really not the same. We recently visited Bone Daddies and Shoryu and you could clearly tell that they don’t believe in taking short-cuts. It’s exactly the same story at Tonkotsu.
Their tonkotsu ramen contains thick pork stock, slices of pork belly, thin noodles and half a boiled egg. As you might imagine, it was unbelievably porky. The broth was milky and rich, the ramen still slightly al dente. There was plenty of meat on top too. As much as I enjoyed it, I think I still prefer Shoryu’s less viscous take on the dish. Next time I eat at Tonkotsu, I might go for the slightly thinner Tokyo ramen.
The Soho ramen divided us. It was made up of pork and chicken stock, medium noodles, smoked haddock, fish eggs, pak choi and the obligatory half egg. I found it too salty and the smoked fish overpowered the taste of everything in the bowl. The Hog thought otherwise and enjoyed it more than the tonkotsu. He said it was lighter, more refreshing and a better fit for a summer’s evening.
When we got around to paying, we were a little annoyed that the phantom chicken karaage had made an appearance on our bill, especially as we’d regretted sending it back in the first place. This was quickly rectified though, so I won’t hold it against them.
Tonkotsu is great value and I can see why it’s become so popular. If you’re looking for proper ramen outside of Soho, I have some good news, Tonkotsu East will be opening later this summer – watch this space.
Meal for two including drinks – approx £43.
Address: Tonkotsu, 63 Dean Street, W1D 4QG