As the winter approaches and the grey, rainy, months that London is infamous for begin, where the sun stops shining and the birds stop singing – you can find sanctuary in the warmth of the new craze of the Ramen bars in Soho.
Ramen, Hirata Buns and Japanese Tapas seem to be what all the cool kids in Soho are eating these days. So, one rainy Friday evening Claire and I decided to try out Shoryu Ramen, just down one of the side streets off Shaftsbury Avenue in Soho, London.
They don’t take bookings but if you get early enough you will definitely get a table – but by 8pm a queue begins at the door. As you walk through the Japanese Noren door curtains, you’ll be greeted and taken to your table through the wonderful smells in the restaurant. The waiters/waitresses really know the food and are happy to help you decide what to order.
As it was still happy hour in the restaurant (£5.00 per cocktails during happy hour), we obviously had to have a cocktail to start off the evening – we had a Wasabi Martini, which was sweeter than I expected but delicious all the same. With an open kitchen, you can see your food being freshly made by the chefs – and the wonderful smells coming out of the pots and pans are mouth-watering.
We wanted to try everything on the menu but ended up ordering the Pork Belly Hirata Buns (£4.00 for 1 or £6.00 for 2), Tempura Soft Shell Crab (£7.00), and for the mains I had a Tokyo Shoyru (£9.90) and Claire had a Tori Kara-Age Men (£10.90).
Hirata Buns are the new talk of the town with their sweet, fluffy, yet sticky buns, shaped like pita bread and filled with either fish, pork, chicken, prawn or mushrooms. We ordered the bbq pork belly which had a lovely bbq sauce, cucumber, salad leaves, and a Japanese mayonnaise.
Tempura Soft Shell Crab are an incredible invention. These soft shell crabs are dipped into a tempura batter (shells stay on) and it is deep fried and served with a sweet, sesame soy-sauce on the side to dip. Crunchy on the outside, soft and meaty and seaside flavours on the inside – you do not even notice the shell of the crab as it just blends with the batter.
Tokyo Shoyu is made with the original thin Hosomen Noodles, which are the original Ramen egg noodle and have a great bite to them. Soaked in a soy and pork broth and then decorated with some bbq pork, nitamago (a delicious soft boiled egg seasoned with soya sauce – my favourite bit of the noodles), nori (a crispy seaweed), picked bamboo shoots, naruto fish cake (which have a completely different taste to the western fish cakes that are made with potatoes; instead these have a much bouncier and smoother texture to them and a much sweeter flavour), spring onions and bonito flakes (salty, fish flavoured flakes) sprinkled over for a finish. The broth was absolutely heart-warming – It tasted like miso soup, but with the flavours of the pork stock coming through. Ramen are an art form in Japan and these came looking absolutely stunning! On the table there is chili oil, sesame oil, fresh garlic and a garlic crusher, and other condiments to make the soup your own.
Claire ordered the gluten-free noodles with her Tori Kara-Age Men, which tasted very much like a softer Vietnamese pho noodle. have to admit that this was not to my taste. I am more of a ramen girl. The broth is a miso soup made with shitake mushrooms and konbu soy and it is decorated with fried chicken (tori kara-age is a Japanese friend chicken), nitamago, kikurage (a jelly textured, black fungus mushroom), nori, kelp, mushrooms, spring onions and a naruto fish cake. It had a very earthy flavour to it and was also very tasty.
Exactly how I would imagine a little ramen bar in Japan to be like and we headed back out into the rain with very warm and happy bellies.