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Jun 30, 2012 03:25 PM

Three Ramen Places, London

• Ittenbari, Soho

A very impressive shio (salt broth) ramen. The broth is clear, with a well rounded savoury flavour that is mellow and sustained without being heavy or intense. Noodles are curly and thick, with a good amount of springiness and chew, cooked just right. The slices of cha shu/pork carry a good meaty flavour with a pleasant shade of porky pungency.

Gyoza are also excellent, as was the case with the former Ryo Ramen, with crisp pan fried bases and delicate thin skins. Tasty chicken kara-age, good deep frying, but less of the ginger/soy marinate flavour than others that I've had.


• Tonkotsu, Soho

A very rich tonkotsu broth, thick and a bit sticky from long simmering of pork bones. Enjoyable, but I confess to preferring a more milky textured version. Noodles are also high quality, similar to the ones from Ittenbari. Cha shu is also roughly of similar quality. Nice bamboo shoots/menma.

A vegetarian (mushroom filled) gyoza was pretty good, but the skins a step down from Ittenari's version.


• Bento Ramen, Camden

Ramen seen through a Chinese lens. Better than I would have thought, but not as good as the other two above. The tonkotsu broth was pleasantly savoury, with a good load of oiliness on the surface, the thickish noodles were a touch on the soft side. Cha shu was unctuous, rich and soft and sticky, which I enjoyed.

Shishito peppers stuffed with minced chicken and deep fried was rather greasy and probably just ok.

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  1. Thanks for the review. I totally agree with your assessment as to Ittenbari and Tonkotsu though I think I disliked Tonkotsu much more than you. I love the shio broth at Ittenbari. It's pleasantly salty and had a great depth of flavor. I loved the pork and best of all, you get two generous slices when you order the DX size!

    I was very disappointed with Tonkotsu. I had gone to their preopening ramen events so I have tried a number of their ramens. I was expecting a much porkier, richer and milkier broth. Tonkotsu ramen is my favorite type of ramen but I would much rather have the ramen at Ittenbari than tonkotsu. Bottom line, if you are going to name your restaurant after a particular food, it had better be good and the ramen at Tonkotsu is not.

    What is most disappointing is that Tonkotsu has been very busy and popular while Ittenbari has been pretty dead comparatively. It's sad that a place with such inferior food but great marketing do so much better than a restaurant with great food. At least I can get my ramen fix without queueing.

    8 Replies
    1. re: kawainekko

      Glad to hear more about these places. Ittenbari was quite crowded when I went (a Saturday evening), and we had a wait a bit; sounds like it's less crowded at other times. What days were you there -- the info might help to figure out when they're less busy.)

      Unfortunately this is quite typical -- marketing often goes a longer way than good food, which it why it's so important to seek out good stuff and report back.

      1. re: kawainekko

        Thanks for the steer on Ittenbari both of you.
        Had a very good bowl of the Shoyu ramen last night.
        Very satisfying stock, good amount of fat on the pork and the yolk on the egg was still soft, just as it should be.

        It's a pity about Tonkotsu thought this might be the one.
        I had a disappointing bowl of tonkotsu at Nagomi a while back, so the search continues for good tonkotsu..

        As an aside I caught Kensuke Yamada talking on BBC radio's food programme In praise of Stock. He said he wanted to create a London ramen rather than an authentic tonkotsu. (why he didn't just concentrate on making very good tonkotsu I don't know.)

        It was very good listen generally and the link's below if you're interested.

        1. re: Paprikaboy

          Had a very similar experience at Nagomi several months ago. Sad that it's gone downhill.

          1. re: limster

            Had heard great things about Tonkotsu from my friend, so decided to try it on Saturday.

            How disappointing... Soup was plain and had none of the thick, fatty, oily and intense flavour that I love about tonkotsu. When I finish, I want to feel satisfied and slightly disgusted with myself for eating so much delicious badness.

            However, I left slightly angry that I had wasted money, time and stomach space on such a lousy meal. I think what annoyed me most was that my expectation was raised when I was reading the menu. There were bits about how they don't use MSG, they mix meat, bones and veg for 18 hours, their gyoza's are handmade, prepared on site to ensure quality etc etc.

            Tonkotsu ramen - if that is tonkotsu, I have no idea what I was eating growing up. Char sui, menma/beansprouts were good, and the egg was the best part. Noodles - average but maybe it's the best I can hope for in London.

            Gyoza - had the prawn and pork version. Skin was crispy but the filling was boring, and the texture was poor. Chili oil helped with taste!

            In their defence, we did go for lunch and apparently, dinner is better.

            Glad I am going to Dusseldorf in August. Takumi or Naniwa are both far superior to anywhere in London.

            1. re: wongkei

              It's really a shame that Nagomi went downhill. Is Roka still doing ramen on Mondays? They didn't have a tonkotsu version when I went last year, but there were murmurs that they would try.

              1. re: limster

                I don't live in London so not totally up to date with the ramen scene.

                We were actually planning on going to Ibuki in Maida vale to try sushi but it hasn't fully opened apparently.

                Just checking out the menus for the 2 places in Dusseldorf. Neither have tonkotsu... Shame but I know I will not be disappointed with shio/shoyu or miso.

                1. re: wongkei

                  Went to Ittenbari on Sunday. Ordered the kara-age and one portion of the Ittenbari ramen and one of the shoyu ramen.

                  Kara-age okay - actually preferred those at Tonkotsu as more flavour from the marinade

                  However, we both really enjoyed our ramen. Can only really speak for the shoyu but the broth had a good depth of flavour, lovely springy noodles and the pork was pretty alright too. Would say the quality of the pork and menma at Tonkotsu better, but overall, I preferred my bowlful at Ittenbari.

              2. re: wongkei

                Hot damn, now Marina O'Loughlin has reviewed both TR and Ittenbari, and says the former is better.

                Now I don't know WHAT to think! Look forward to visiting both of them next time I'm in town, to make up my own mind...

        2. I concur with most of the comments on this thread.

          In a nutshell, if you are looking for an authentic satisfying bowl of ramen, head to Ittenbari (with predominantly Japanese clientele).

          Tonkotsu is overrated and the only thing going for it is its superior marketing. Having said that, I can see how the watered down version of ramen is more popular with the non-traditionalists.

          1. I finally went to Tonkotsu this week and was completely underwhelmed. Mediocre broth and gyoza.

            5 Replies
            1. re: greedygirl

              Have you tried the ramen at Curry Ono yet? Unfortunately, I still haven't; been distracted by Bukowski Grill.

              Came across the "coming soon" sign for Bone Daddies Ramen in Soho over the last few weeks. Will have to see if it's any good when it opens.

              1. re: limster

                I was in Brixton today to go to KaoSarn which I found out was closed on Mondays.
                Funnily enough, had a look in Curry Ono but ended up in Bukowski's.
                Couldn't resist the pull of the short ribs.
                I saw the Bone Daddies opening on London Eating and will definitely give it a go when it opens.

                1. re: Paprikaboy

                  BTW, was thinking that the Clapham Junction branch of Kaosarn should be open by now. Will have to go scout...

                  1. re: Paprikaboy

                    you what would be great? if london restauranteurs just tried to make things that are authentic, instead of relying on "snappy" phraseology like "bone daddies" ramen. i cite things like the notorious p.i.g. (aka pulled pork sandwich) at anna mae's, and the new york theme-park that is meatliquor. trust me, there is no new york restaurant that is that loud or would put "chicks" and "dicks" on its restroom doors, except for in movies or in london.

                    i agree with the tenor of this thread that ittenbari is the better of these two ramen places, and that the concept of creating a "london ramen" before london even had authentic ramen is silly. maybe someday ippudo will come here (or, god willing, david chang). hopefully.

                    PS i am aware that this thread isn't exactly the right place for this rant. sorry.

                    1. re: rsh

                      I was at Ippudo for dinner last week and it was pretty dark and loud, it kind of reminded me of meat liquor?

                      Not sure whether we have enough of a Japanese population here to get a great ramen scene?

              2. Tried the Shio version today - nice, light broth. I found the squiggly deep-yellow-coloured ramen a bit too stodgy but it might just be my own preference. The thin round slice of soy-marinated cha-shu pork was nice, but the egg was slightly overdone, missing the trademark gooey yolk.

                The gyoza was overly-salty, as pickles were mixed with minced pork for the filling.

                Verdict? Don't like.

                Address details
                84 Brewer St
                London W1F 9UB
                Tel: +44 20 7287 1318

                2 Replies
                1. re: klyeoh

                  Have you been to Tonkotsu and Bone Daddies?
                  I really like the noodles at Ittenbari (good springy texture) and also the bowl size, the broth at Bone Daddies (great flavour ,but not enough of it) and the pork and egg at Tonkotus (better flavour and more fat than Ittenbari or Bone Daddies and the egg was perfect)m but didn't like the broth or noodles.
                  If you could combine all these in one bowl of ramen in London I'd be very happy.

                  1. re: Paprikaboy

                    I *love* Bone Daddies - was there the first week it opened:

                    I'd not been to Tonkotsu yet, but may do so one of these days.

                2. Has anyone tried Bone Daddies?

                  I don't eat pork so am precluded from eating at most ramen places. I've been to Bone Daddies three times, two of which I enjoyed (somewhere between mediocre and good), and the third try I almost couldn't eat my food. The broth is extremely viscous and rich and seriously overwhelming. I don't think the chef could spell the word subtlety if it was on a cue card directly in front of him.

                  I do love their boiled eggs, though, and their kaarage is delicious (as all battered fried things tend to be).

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: brokentelephone

                    When you say you don't eat pork, you're not talking about being on a kosher diet, right? Because Bone Daddies boil *pork* bones for 20 hours to obtain their broth, which is really more gravy than soup.

                    1. re: klyeoh

                      They have 2 broths -- the chicken and the pork bone.

                      The owner is actually a South African Jew so made some concessions so his friends/family would eat there.

                      1. re: brokentelephone

                        Aaah, I didn't know that - I'd thought they only did pork broth.

                        So you had the chicken broth then? I wouldn't be surprised if you found it *too* viscuous. It's a characteristic of chicken broth ramen. Back in Singapore, we have a Japanese ramen chain, Tsukada Nojo Bijin Nabe, which specialized in chicken broth ramen - there was a hot pot version where a bowl of collagenic chicken fat was placed in front of you, with a heater underneath. The fat melts to form the broth - I couldn't eat it, it's beyond my threshold for rich "soups":