I went out with my high school friend, Cathy, who is also my regular hangout mate in London, last Thurs to register as an election voter for our home country. She suggested after the registration we should go to a newly opened Japanese restaurant in London, which she found out on an article in a newspaper few days ago. What captured her attention was the broth. The broth is not only cooked with pork bones, but also with an added and to some, perhaps an unusual ingredient, pig heads with brains intact. Accordingly, brains will melt in the soup and hence thicken the broth further. I tried to look online for quotation of this claim, but failed to do so. So I think I’ll just keep it as pork bones broth.
When I first looked at the menu, everything seems to end with tonkatsu. However a second look at the menu, I realised that it is actually tonkotsu, with an “o” between k and t istead of an “a”. Tonkotsu is broth made with pork bones. On the menu, there is an introduction of where Hakata is and the main selling point of this restaurant and noodles.
Hakata is a district in Fukuoka City, and Japanese centre has purposely hired a chef from the region to bring authentic Hakata tonkotsu taste to London. Well I wouldn’t know if that is indeed the authentic taste of Fukuoka as the ingredients would be sourced locally if freshness is one of their top agenda. However the fact that they bring in a chef who is borned and raised in Hakata would definitely be able to maintain the authenticity of the taste. So despite the fact that I haven’t been to Hakata, I can only use the ruler of my usual taste preference as an Ipoh girl and some knowledge from my passion for cooking.
Let’s start with the drink we ordered, i.e. soba cha tea or buckwheat tea. A decaffeinated tea, served in a pot with 2 small oriental tea cups. Just the way how I like my tea instead of teabag in a cup. The teapot is interesting, almost like chinese pot to boil chinees medicine or herbs.
I am also curious as to what exactly buckwheat tea looks like, and so here’s a picture of what is inside the tea pot. It is indeed a pot full of buckwheat instead of the normal tea leaves.
The first sip was almost like eating buckwheat, nutty and wheaty yet aromatic. It reminds me of brown rice tea, less the roasting taste. Overall I prefer buckwheat than brown rice tea.
We agreed to order Kimchi as our starter/ side dish, however I was speechless for few seconds when I ordered this. I didn’t expect to be asked wehther I would like to have just kimchi as topping or served with tofu. And Cathy has stepped away to the ladies. So, considering that Cathy is pregnant and requires calcium, so I took the liberty to order with tofu. Which I am glad I did so as I never thought of combining these two delightful dishes. The tofu is soft and full of soya taste , though bland in taste, it just goes perfectly well with the spicy kimchi. The kimchi is slightly skewered towards the salty radar rather than sour but again it marries well with the bland but aromatic tofu. Though I am quite happy to just eat the tofu.
On the menu, you can find this under side dishes/ starter as Kimchi Kinugoshi Tofu sold at £4.50 per serving. Kimchi as topping is sold at £2.50 per serving, which can be found under Extra Topping on the menu.
While we were happily tucking away in our starter, soon the first main dish was served (although the waiter did make a mistake by serving us two bowls of Dracula Tonkotsu). Cathy ordered Shoryu signature ramen, i.e. Shoryu Ganso Tonkotsu whilst I ordered its recommended Dracula Tonkotsu.
Shoryu Ganso Tonkotsu, as narrated on the menu, is ramen in tonkotsu and miso broth, with added spinach and garlic. From my experience of boiling pork bones soup, I roughly know what to expect, at least the colour of the broth. So the first look of the colour of broth didn’t surprise me, i.e. milky white. I couldn’t wait to taste the broth to determine whether is is boiled with a lot of pork bones or just enhanced with MSG. The colour test has passed, milky white to be concluded that it is boiled with a lot of bones and that other secret ingredients. The next test would be the taste. I was expecting heavy pork smell as I do find that porks in England has some smell that I don’t find it in Malaysia pork. I can’t quite describe how is that different to Malaysia pork but I supposed it lies in the food they eat.
The taste of this broth is totally different to the soup I made using just pork bones I bought from Chinese or local supermarkets. It doesn’t have that distinctive smell and taste I found in porks sold in England. And unlike pork noodles soup I had in Malaysia, this broth is sweeter and to be honest, I am more than happy to just drink the broth than eating the noodle. Most of Malaysian pork noodles soup are heavy handed with MSG and since I have lived in England, I can’t drink the soup of any soup-based noodle anymore. Otherwise, I find myself full by drinking water before I can finish my bowl of noodles. Or my tongue will be numb by too much MSG. That will also be the ultimate test of this tonkotsu ramen.
We have also unwillingly opted out the half boiled egg since I don’t take runny yolks and Cathy is not supposed to eat anything that is raw or half cooked. We tried to convince the waitress to hard-boil the eggs, but she refused to as the eggs are pre-cooked, and they can’t change it.
Now my order of Dracula Tonkotsu, it looks somewhat similar to the signature dish. From the first glance, the only difference seems to be the pickled ginger, the pinkish-purplish strips on top of the noodle. The colour of the broth is somewhat similar to Ganso tonkotsu, creamy white broth. The dish is further apart when we took the first taste of the broth.
Whilst Ganso tonkotsu is sweet from the pork bones, Dracula Tonkotsu is slightly sourish. My best bet was because of the pickled ginger. A read of the menu again “deep roasted tones from caramelised black garlic mayu, balsamic vinegar and garlic chips”. So the sourish taste of the broth is more than just pickled ginger but also balsamic vinegar. It definitey suits my tastebud than Ganso tonkotsu as the sourish taste cut through the heavy milky broth and it makes me want to drink more and more of the broth. Again I am happy to just drink the soup than eating the noodles.
Another difference both Cathy and I noted was the cuts of the porks served in the noodles. In the Dracula tonkotsu, each slice of pork consists of 5 layers of meat and fat. I think it is pork belly. As for Ganso tonkotsu, we noted that only 10% of the pork is fat and the rest is meat. It must be either pork shoulder or loin to go with the dish. I will definitely validate this in my next visit to Shoryu Ramen. Accordingly those who knows how to eat will appreciate the 5 layers of meat and fat, however as I am conscious of my waste line, to certain extent, I only ate the meat layer, leaving the fat layers on a side plate. I can hear “tsk, tsk, tsk” upon reading the last sentence!
The ramen noodles – well I am not an expert in ramen noodles, however I was expecting someting more springy or al-dente. The noodles are rather soft and “doughier” than I would like my noodle to be. This makes me want to drink the soup only rather than eating the noodle.
Here’s a another snapshot of what have been served on our table:
We ended our lunch with a slice of Cheese Soufle Cake. It is cheesecake ultimately and it is light and fluffy, just what you would have expected for a souffle texture. I however was quite full and conscious that I shouldn’t take too much dairy based food, so I let Cathy finished the cake. She on the other hand, needs a lot of calcium for herself and baby in her tummy. I have forgotten to take a picture of the cake as when it was served, I was on the phone and Cathy couldn’t wait for me and helped herself to it.
How to get there:
The restaurant is tucked in the heart of London strategically by the Piccadilly Circus Station, exit number 3, if my memory serves me right. It should be the exit opposite LilyWhite, the big digital advertisement boad, and you should be able to see a Pizza Hut upon exiting the underground station. There is also a Tesco along the way and it is actually located in between The Flight Centre and Ryman Stationery shop. The predecessor of this restaurant was a Spanish Tapas restaurant. There is also map on the website and it is quite accurate. All you have to do is to look up for no 9!
The Final Test
Well, as mentioned, I am particular with food seasoned with MSG. A hint of it will leave my mouth taste funny wanting to drink water. So does Shoryu Ramen pass the test? I didn’t verify with the chefs or anyone who works in the restaurant but only relying on my tongue. After finishing my bowl of Dracula Tonkotsu, it first left my mouth with garlic taste, as it is with garlic chips. Brilliant! Then I did feel the urge wanting to drink water, probably about 10-15 mins after finished my bowl of noodle. It is the thirst due to MSG. So I think they do put MSG in the broth but not a lot.
Will I go back and eat again? I will but not for the same dish anymore. I am curious of the Fire and Ice Salmon Tsukemen and there are other questions as mentioned above, that I would like to ask the waitresses or waiters to validate my guesses.I just hope they wouldn’t mind to give me an answer!