Tonkotsu

I have been surprised by the relative dearth of London blog reviews of Tonkotsu, which is an offshoot of Tsuru (a mini-chain of unfussy Japanese restaurants in the City) dedicated to ramen noodle soup; from a quick Google, it looks like there have been only one or two.

Tonkotsu raised its spectre at the end of 2011 with some teasing tweets. They followed those with a series of fully subscribed and well received test events at the beginning of the year, and then, eventually, a seemingly manic opening week or two at the end of June. Plenty more tweets ensued, this time from people on their way there, but almost no reports of what was on offer and what it tasted like.

Was this because Tonkotsu was, hold your breath hype fans, disappointing?

Nah, can’t have been; I went the other day and thought it ticked all of the boxes.

Tonkotsu is on Dean Street, which is near as damn it the epicentre of Soho. This small ramen bar is next door to, opposite, and generally surrounded by, a plethora of fashionable restaurants, all attracting a bustling evening trade. It’s also walking distance for any media workers who want more than just a sandwich at their desk for lunch. Tick.

There’s a cosy room at street level, lit sympathetically and decked out in a kind of urban warehouse way (bare wood, scaffolding legs for tables, steel grids only just disguising the exposed fixings in the ceiling). It looks good and fosters a convivial atmosphere. There’s extra seating upstairs for when it’s busy. Tick.

At the entrance is a counter, behind which the chef cooks up stock, boils noodles, and puts the ramen bowls together. Which is just like the ramen bars across Japan. Tick.

They serve tasty gyoza and other side dishes. Fried chicken marinated in ginger, soy and garlic was particularly good. So that’s another tick.

There’s a small selection of British craft beers, along with Japanese beer, sake and whisky. Tick.

And the really important check point is, of course, the ramen. Which is based on stock cooked down for hours and hours from pork trotters and chicken bones, so there’s real depth of flavour and a pleasing viscosity that comes from the slow breakdown of the collagen in the pork trotters. There was a comforting level of creaminess and salt in the eponymous Tonkotsu dish, and a modicum of heat in the spicy one (Tokyo). More heat was easily available in the form of a punchy garlic and chilli paste. Noodles were springy. Egg halves were gooey and soft yolked. Pork, whether shredded and spicy, or pale and sliced, was spot on. So, tick, tick. Tick, tick, tick. Tick.

Basically, I thought Tonkotsu served up a great little meal and I’ll definitely return. There was a good balance between authenticity (at least based on my limited experience of a couple of weeks spent in Japan) and the desires of Western palates and central London aesthetics. I suppose those side dishes might be a little dear, but they’re not unreasonably priced, and £9 and £11 for the main event is about right for the best bowls of ramen that I’ve had in London (the Tonkotsu and the Tokyo, that is – there’s a vegetarian one that I can’t vouch for).

Both the place and its food are simple and no frills, but are also effective and classy and do, I suspect, exactly what the owners intended. Maybe a couple more ramen options would be good, but perhaps they’ll be added over time.

I’ve no idea why there have only been a few write-ups so far. But that at least means that this post is neither totally redundant, nor overly keen. Tick.

Tonkotsu in 3 words

Deceptively simple. Slurp.

The Bill

At £9-11 if you just have a bowl of noodles it’s a cheap and totally satisfying meal. Sides and beers will move you to £25-30 per person territory.

9 thoughts on “Tonkotsu

  1. Hah, interesting. I was wondering the exactly the same thing, hence was holding off until further reports filtered through. Much has been made about their stock and am glad to hear it pays off.

    Adds to list of places to go.

    Tick

  2. There’s an interesting psychology at play I feel with restaurant openings. If, through twitter, you build up a loyal fanbase and then the final opening or final end-product ends up being a shade off-key, then out of loyalty, the likely result is silence rather than a negative blog post.

    Although I should classify I’m not using Tonkotsu as an example: friendly staff and a really nice tonkotsu when I went.

  3. Richard – Indeed. Though, as you say, unless it’s very different now to original weeks, I can’t think it’s the case with Tonkotsu – a strong addition to Soho.

    Louis – reckon you’ll enjoy. No queues on the evening I was there either (admittedly a Monday).

  4. I went during soft launch (twice!) and had both the vegetarian and the tonkotsu; tokyo spicy wasn’t available at the time. I really liked both, but thought the tonkotsu needed a funkier porkiness, which I did feedback to them. I haven’t been back yet but I intend on doing so. I do think it is a little dear though; I know Ippudo are a chain and perhaps an unfair comparison, but their set lunch in New York was eel over rice plus a ramen (hearty sized) for $17 – their noodles were slightly more interesting with the addition of black garlic oil etc.

  5. I’m by no means an expert when it comes to Ramen but when I visited to review for View London I was very impressed. I’m a fan of Tsuru – in terms of food and excellent service – so really did want to like Tonkotsu. Glad to say I wasn’t disappointed. I think perhaps it would benefit from being a little cheaper as coming in under or on £10 is a real draw. I’ll be going back again and again for sure; added to which it had me looking at flights to Tokyo within hours!

  6. Lizzie – Would certainly be nice if the sides were cheaper, but for Soho rent & a large satisfying & quality bowl of ramen, I thought £9-11 was fair, albeit at the top end of that subjective measure. Just checked a few local prices. It’s marginally more expensive than these two http://www.rocketandsquash.com/ittenbari-and-suzu-ramen-and-sushi/ and the Hare and Tortoise chain, but on a par with Wagamama (and also Koya – not ramen but given proximity a comparator). I’d take Tonkotsu over the other ramen places.

  7. I didn’t love it I must say. I reviewed it just late last week too.

    It did tick a lot of the boxes as you’ve said, but fundamentally I just didn’t get a huge thrill out of the food. It was fine – so I guess I’m damning it with faint praise…

    I too was surprised about the lack of reviews. It’s Japanese and in Soho for God’s sake, we shouldn’t be able to move for blog posts! Perhaps Richard is right – when there is hype and excitement which isn’t fulfilled, this relative silence is the result…?

  8. TPT – I think the problem is often unrealistic expectations held by some punters.

    Granted, Tonkotsu is not Koya, but it seems to me to do what you’d hope of a £10 ramen bar. After all, it’s just a (good) bowl of noodle soup.

  9. Hey Ed – fair enough. I guess I had the Chinatown roast duck / braised beef brisket noodle soups at around £5 in my head when I wrote that, but I see your point.

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