Slightly Peckish: London Ramen Wars - Ittenbari (LDN)
London is currently undergoing a ramen boom. In the past year alone, five new ramen bars are opening its doors to a public clamouring for some hearty B-kyu Japanese grub. It's a ramen war, baby. Compared to what was available before, these are serious noodle bars with a tight focus on all the accoutrements that make ramen such big business in Japan: fresh noodles, aji-tamago (marinated boiled egg), home-made chashu and most importantly, the soup.
In collaboration with Osaka's Ryukishin, Ittenbari opened last March in what used to be Ramen Ryo on Brewer Street in Soho. My Japanese friends and I used to go there when we were desperate for some ramen and it did the job, but their ramen was nothing to write home about. But Ittenbari is a proper ramen bar originating in Osaka specialising in shio (salt-based) ramen and the change in quality was immediately apparent. I have to admit I've never tried shio ramen before but we were so excited about having a proper ramen place in London that we tried all the noodles in our many trips to the noodle bar which, luckily for me, is just down the road from where I work.
The shio ramen has a light, clear soup made from chicken and seafood stock mixed with a secret salt sauce. Don't you love the way each ramen place, especially in Japan, have their secret recipes?
The ramen was perhaps a tad too light for me but my friend who used to eat a lot of shio ramen in Japan loved it.
The shoyu (soy based) ramen reminded me of the ramen I used to have at my grandpa's local Japanese/Chinese restaurant, Shoryu in Nagoya. It's simple, filling and very good.
I love the noodles they use here. They are from a local noodle factory which is great news because it means that proper ramen is now more accessible for us Londoners. I'm guessing the noodles are made with kansui, with its yellow hue and firm bite.
My friend also tried the seafood fried ramen which is just like the crispy noodles served in Chinese restaurants.
She said it was nice but preferred ramen with soup.
Out of all the ramen, my favourite is the miso ramen. The soup is thick and spicy and has a complex mix of flavours including sesame oil and a kick of chilli.
This bowl bursts with umami. I recommend this to all my friends.
The aji-tamago was soft and creamy. Just how I like it.
Ittenbari is also the first noodle bar I know to offer kaedama or extra portions of noodle for any leftover soup for £1-50 a pop. Bargain!
We also ordered sides. The gyoza looks great but fell apart before it even reached our mouths and was just messy. I wouldn't bother with it here.
The kara-age, on the other hand, was crispy, juicy and bursting with flavour.
The mini chashu-don (roasted pork over rice) is a welcome extra for those who are delirious with hunger but Ittenbari's ramen bowls are more than enough for me.
What would put an even bigger smile on my face is if they offered chahan (fried rice). Pretty please?
Ramen chefs: left is the owner/chef of Ryukishin in Osaka and the gentleman on the right is from Ittenbari.
Tonkotsu (pork broth) from the south of Japan seems to be the soup of choice for many Londoners but I like my ramen fresh. I say start with the basics and if that's what you are after, then Ittenbari is for you.
84 Brewer Street
London W1F 9UB