Just as Koya finally brought properly made udon noodles to London, Tonkotsu aims to do the same for ramen noodles. Ramen are of Chinese origin but are very popular in Japan: the quest for the perfect ramen noodle is the theme of the wonderful Japanese movie Tampopo. Ramen noodles are made from wheat flour, along with water, salt and an alkaline mineral water called kansui. There are several types of soup associated with ramen noodles, of which tonkotsu (pork bone) is one. The Tonkotsu restaurant opened in June 2012 in the heart of Soho. Tonkotsu is a particular style of noodles with a broth made from boiling pork bones. Chef and owner Ken Tamada could be seen tending large pots of broth simmering in the kitchen near the front of the restaurant; here the broth involves boiling the bones for 18 hours.
Tonkotsu is split over two floors, and takes no reservations. It was minimally decorated, with some hanging sashes along one wall, and closely packed tables and bench seating. To drink, Asahi beer was on draft at £2.10 a half, and there were a few token wines, such as Mengoba Brezo Mencia Bierzo Castilla Leon Spain at £25 for a wine that retails at around £11; there were also a few sake choices. The short menu offered three style of ramen: the tonkotsu itself, Tokyo, which is a style variant that traditionally uses a chicken broth with soy, as well as a vegetarian ramen option.
There were a few other dishes available too. Gyoza dumplings (£5 for five) are pan-fried, originally a northern Chinese dish. These came with three choices of fillings: prawn and pork, pork or shiitake mushrooms with bamboo shoot. These are made from scratch each day in the kitchen; the pork and prawn version that I tried was pleasant, with a slightly crispy base, the filling for me having a bit too much vinegar (1/10). Chicken Karaage is another Chinese import (Kara means Chinese, age means deep-fried) popular in Japan. The chicken is marinated with ginger, soy, garlic (traditionally sake is also used) coated with potato starch and then deep-fried. This was a tasty snack, the batter crispy (2/10). For the ramen itself, the Tokyo spicy version had a chicken and pork stock, with a seasoned egg, pulled pork, spring onions and bamboo shoots. The pork had good flavour, the egg worked well and the broth was rich; this tasted pretty much like ramen I had eaten in Tokyo: a simple but very satisfying dish (3/10).
Service from that rarest of creatures in London, an English waitress, was friendly and efficient. The bill, just with tap water, came to £15.40 including 10% service, and this was for more food than was probably sensible to eat at lunch – the ramen alone would have been plenty. Tonkotsu is a very pleasing addition to the London dining scene.