I think my first bowl of ramen was at Tampopo on Manchester’s Albert Square in the late 90’s. I’ve been quietly addicted to the combination of slippery noodles in hot broth ever since. When I left Manchester Wagamama has been my consistent source of a ramen-fix, but I’ve always known there was better out there.
I have found it at Tonkotsu on Dean Street in Soho.
The place is small and busy at 7pm on a Monday evening. There is a first floor (according to other bloggers) but my friend and I were shown to a shared table next to another couple. The decor is all unvarnished wood and metal grills – a bit industrial, but pleasant enough in dim lighting.
As the dining room is small, so is the menu. There are three mains: Tonkotsu ramen, Tokyo ramen and Miso and Shimeji Mushroom ramen (the veggie one). I suppose there aren’t many restaurants that can claim that 1/3 of their menu is vegetarian! Joking aside there are a good proportion of vegetarian side dishes to go with it.
I ordered the miso ramen and a plate of shiitake and bamboo shoot gyoza to share with my friend.
The gyoza arrived first. The dumplings were stuck together with the crispy side up. The shiitake filling was rich and savoury, but needed some of the chilli oil (on the table as a condiment) to give it a lift.
There was no need for any condiments to boost the main course. The noodles were soft but springy at the same time, the mushrooms were cooked but still had bite and texture, the seasoned egg was firm with a soft yolk and a rich flavour, but it was the stock that blew me away. I’ve had miso before – savoury, umami but with flavours in the tenor range, maybe a bit of baritone. This miso was definitely in the bass section. It was deep, satisfying, mouthfilling. My friend loved the tonkotsu stock, but I didn’t feel I was being shortchanged by having the vegetarian option, not at all.
If they’re getting the ramen right, they’re also getting the service right. It was prompt, friendly and attentive. Table-turnover was pretty quick, and there’s an eat-up-and-go culture to noodle places, but when my friend and I made it clear we wanted to linger a bit we never felt pressured to leave.
I’ve never eaten ramen in Japan, so I’ll let other, more knowledgable, people speak to the authenticity of the ramen. I don’t care. I’ll be too busy thinking up excuses to go back.
Dinner for two, including beer and service came to £38.60.
63 Dean Street
0207 437 0071