Winter is coming and there’s a part of me that loves it. Obviously summer is delightful. But I like cold, rainy nights wrapped up like a giant baby, sitting indoors mainlining on NetFlix and throwing Doritos down my gob. The Danish even have a word for this, Hygge (pronounced hYOOguh?) that translates to being “cosy” – sitting inside next to a working fireplace with family, friends and food – drinking hot beverages, eating and chatting. Bliss. And ramen noodles are the perfect accompaniment to a dark and stormy night. Tonkotsu Bar & Ramen in Soho has been around since summer of 2012 and would be my choice for a quick after work bowl of steaming noodles and some delicious hot sides. I was pleased to see that Tonkotsu East has recently opened nearby for those of us who live in North/East London who are too lazy to go into town on a weekend, ramen cravings be damned.
I had the classic Tonkotsu ramen – sea-salt based pork stock and thin noodles topped with slices of pork belly, half a seasoned soft-boiled egg, menma, bean sprouts and spring onions. Mmm. It arrived piping hot (bonus) and the broth was indeed rich and tasty with a cloudy, milky texture that soothes and warm from the inside out. True comfort food. I get the feeling that a lot of care was taken into making the broth – I imagine this would be a somewhat healthy hangover cure, full of fresh ingredients, which is more than I can say for the much-maligned Big Mac. A few drops of chilli oil and I was ready to dig in. Heaven, especially if you’re feeling particularly ravenous.
Classic Japanese ramen is pork-based so it was lucky that Tonkotsu had a vegetarian option in the Shimeji, Shiitake and Miso ramen, a miso-based, konbu (seaweed) and shiitake stock served with shimeji mushrooms, medium thick noodles, a handful of bean sprouts, bamboo shoots with half a seasoned soft-boiled egg. You can never recreate the richness of a meaty broth that’s been simmered for 15 hours but S assured me that it was satisfying enough and really hit the spot after wandering Soho aimlessly, hollow-eyed and starving after a long day.
The menu isn’t huge but that’s a good thing. Between two of us we had three sides. First up was Salt & Sansho Pepper Squid. Not particularly original but it was done well – lightly battered with the right amount of seasoning (sansho pepper is spice with an earthy/lemony taste). We enjoyed it but it’s not a must-order – there are definitely better options on the menu.
The Prawn Gyoza (hand-made daily) were a much better choice and were light and slighty chewy – and I could actually taste the prawns, they weren’t ground up into an unrecognizable mash. I like to fashion myself a dumpling snob but these passed the taste test. We were so full that we left one behind. Sad face. I wish it was socially acceptable to just put the last gyoza in your handbag for later.
The Crab Korokke are a Japanese version of crab croquettes served with lemon and tartar sauce. This was the true star of the Tonkotsu sides. Melt in your mouth crab realness. Lightly battered and creamy on the inside. There’s a pumpkin version for vegetarians too which I’ll try next time. Check out the money shot below. Oh yes.
Tonkotsu Bar & Ramen
68 Dean Street
Soho W1D 4QG