I’ve not had ramen
in over a year, partly because I’ve not really been impressed with what’s on offer in town and partly because comfort food cravings change as seasons do. Lately, with the temperature dropping a few degrees summoning the need for heat, my stomach’s been calling out for anything warm in a bowl.
said I should try Kanada-Ya
but they were closed, so we ended up crossing the road for Ippudo. This international ramen chain recently opened in London which was a big hoo-ha for me, simply because I can now scoff at Plaid Boy and friends whenever they send me photos from the SG/HK branches. Oh yeah, sweety. We have that here, too.
Located at Central St. Giles, the place is bigger than I thought. From the outside, you can see the restaurant’s two-floor set up and its tasteful decor. There’s a tiny bar downstairs to keep punters rolling with some sake & Japanese whisky while they queue for noodles (be warned though, 50ml of 18-year-old Yamazaki would set you back £27 a pop) and an open kitchen flaunting some noodle-tossing and broth-brewing.
We were greeted four very loud rounds of “Irassahimase!!!!” and were led upstairs to our cozy booth. It all looks so calm in the picture, but if I could photograph the loudness of top 40 pop and jazz standards blaring off the speakers I think I’d blow your ears off.
We had hot sake and houjicha tea to warm us up. Literally.
The tori kara-age (£) was surprisingly better than I expected. Seasoned well, these big chunks of chicken were pretty juicy.
Their Hakata tonpu-yaki (£8) was their own style of Japanese pancake. Whilst it had a nice umami flavour from the bonito flakes, I wish it had more pork belly and cabbage for depth of texture.
G ordered the Shiromaru Hakata classic (£10) aka homemade thin noodles topped with pork loin chashu, sesame kikurage mushrooms, bean sprouts and spring onions. The broth has less umami flavour than its bolder counterpart, the akamaru modern.
D & I ordered the spicy ramen (£11) on the specials. D ordered extra pork belly and egg with hers and kept to the usual spice level. The broth is their original hakata classic broth but has fragrant garlic oil and chilli paste. I must admit I was pretty disappointed by the quality of the pork belly. It just wasn’t thick enough and quite frankly, bland.
I ordered mine with extra “five times the chilli paste” (our server said the normal one wasn’t spicy enough) for an extra 50p. At first slurp it was very, very, very mild and I thought perhaps I should’ve gotten the “ten times the chilli paste”. I do have a high tolerance for spicy food after all.
A minute later, the chilli kicked in and… WOW. I’ve never had super clear sinuses before.
The noodles were disappointing. They just didn’t have that nice, stringy bite you get from good ramen noodles. The broth rather fell flat and thinner than how I would have liked.
In retrospect, perhaps I would’ve enjoyed this more if I had set the chilli paste aside and built the spice profile as I dug into the bowl. I managed to eat all of it, but D & I had to ask for some lemon in the last few minutes to make it tolerable. I suffered a bit of heart burn afterwards, too.
Overall, it was quite a ramen letdown. I had high hopes for this chain to be as good as its Hong Kong counterpart but I think I’ll just go elsewhere to get my ramen fix.
Central Saint Giles, London WC2H
Ave spend pp: £30
View their menu on Zomato.