Japanese noodles have finally arrived in London. Apart from the established and highly praised Koya which opened a couple of years ago and serves home-made udon (their walnut miso udon has made it on the top 100 dishes in London list) , two new ramen bars were launched in the last few months. There is Ittenbari in Brewer Street, which was brought to London by the Japanese owner of a ramen bar in Osaka, and now also Tonkotsu. Â Behind Tonkotsu are the guys that are responsible for Tsuru, a small chain of excellent and cheap London sushi bars that also do great chicken katsu.
In case you are not familiar with different Japanese noodles: udon noodles are soft and thick white wheat noodles while ramen noodles are slim and chewy. I am a big fan of both, although I might slightly prefer udon in the end if given the choice. If you have ever been to Japan and visited a noodle bar there, you will have experienced the slurping. Japanese, the politest nation in the entire world with the best manners, forget them when it comes to eating noodles – they need to be slurped and this by itself is an art not easily perfected by us Westerners.
Ramen is prepared using different stocks, and at Tonkotsu the name says it all: tonkotsu is the cloudy broth made from boiling pork bones and fat. At Tonkotsu, the soup stock is allegedly boiled for 18 hours. You can see big pots of stock bubbling away in the open kitchen, resulting in intense depth of flavour.
The service was atrocious. We managed to get an outside table, which initially left us completely ignored by the waiters (even though we pointed out several times that we were sitting outside). They had run out of Asahi and Kirin ichiban beer and they had also run out of salty caramel mochi (I am still crying thinking that I have missed out on salty caramel mochi, buhhh) We did not get spoons with our ramen, which is not that great considering that it is difficult to eat soup with chopsticks. After going into the restaurant twice, asking for a spoon we got tired of waiting and finally went in a third time and stood in the waitress’ way until the spoons were finally given to us. Kind of ridiculous. The only time our waitress smiled was when we were leaving. I was trying not to take this personally….
This could all be due to the restaurant having opened very recently, although as soon as I pay full price I expect service to be a bit better actually.
The menu is pleasantly short and to the point, the only main courses being ramen.
The food overall was good. We started with the Spinach and bean sprouts salad with sesame dressing (4) and for me this dish did not work. The bean sprouts were far too dominant intermingled only with single leaves of spinach and diluting the delectable sesame sauce with their watery taste. More spinach and less bean sprouts and I would have been happy.
The pork and prawn gyoza (5) would have almost been the best goyza I have ever had – a single plump prawn instead of prawn mince was surrounded by pork and tightly packed into thinly rolled dough. They were properly pan-fried after boiling which gave them a lovely crust. What a shame that the goyza were not served fresh – they were getting cold already and the crispness was turning into soggy and soft.
My Tonkotsu Ramen (11) was superb. Intensely flavoured pork stock came with bouncy thin noodles and generous and delicious pieces of steamed tender fatty pork belly. I can’t remember ever having eaten pork stock and I was surprised how tasty (if maybe not healthy) it was. In comparison the Shimeji, Shiitake & Miso Ramen (9) seemed flat and boring, I only tried a couple of spoonfuls but my friend who ate the main bulk was not exactly raving about it.
The outlook of ice cream mochi (4) was too good to be missed. Sadly no salty caramel mochi, but yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit) and sesame mochi - a thin layer of glutinous rice paste surrounded the chilled ice cream centre. Pleasant but nothing to write home about to be honest. Or maybe I am just still disappointed about missing out on the salty caramel.
Tonkotsu is a great addition to the London food scene. I often crave the comfort of Japanese noodle soups when I am feeling cold, low or in need of a Â gastronomical hug and too frequently end up eating a mediocre one at some cheap Chinatown Japanese. Â The ramen at Tonkotsu is by far the best I have tasted in London and if the small mistakes that we experienced on our visit are ironed out, I will return again and again to the warmth and satisfaction that only your mum’s chicken soup or good Japanese ramen can give you.
- Food: 6.5
- Service: 3/10
- Ambiance: 7/10
- Value for Money: 7/10
- Chances of Returning: 20%
- Verdict: Japanese ramen comfort