Monday, 11 March 2013

Tonkotsu - Soho

For a real glutton like myself ramen is the closest I probably get to health food and I'm aware that that's still not really very close but in comparison to the buttery, cheesy, oily foods I favour, it's positively saintly.

With the second round of that particular months lurgy of choice I was feeling sneezy, grumpy and all the other dwarves including a new one I invented, 'sorry for myself'.
At times like this my body which has previously never had much of affinity with soups let's me know I need chicken, noodles, and litres of stock, to restore me.
So, here was Tonkotsu, my gleaming Florence Nightingale, in Soho on Dean Street, with it's huge vats of home-made elixir, waiting for me as I walked in the entrance.

I'm a massive fan of the no-booking policy in some restaurants and although it can lead to ridiculous queues (bubbledogs, Meatliquor) it means that instead of having to think ahead about what we might want to eat a week on Tuesday, we can have what we want at that moment (as long as everyone else doesn't fancy it that day too, in which case you might be waiting outside in the cold for a while).
Thankfully, Tonkotsu had a very small queue on the Wednesday evening we went and after seating a big group we were brought to our table after only a five minute wait.

It's a well-thought out but compact little place, there isn't a huge amount of elbow room and my friends and I concluded that we should probably stop going to places with such an 'intimate' seating policy when we want to have, well, 'intimate' conversations.

The menu is relatively small and incredibly effective, it shows a confidence in their food, which, having eaten there is entirely justified.

We ordered a delicious bottle  of wine from their 'natural wine' menu which is very reasonably priced (ours was £16) and is updated and changed. 

 To start we shared some prawn and pork gyoza (both £5 for 5 dumplings).
I have to admit, I've never been particularly excited by dumplings of any kind but having tasted the Tonkotsu gyoza, it feels like this is the first time I've tried one. Nothing else I've had, labelled as goyza, or, dim sum, in other restaurants, compares to this.
With a crispy shell on top and doughy pillow on the bottom it was a light, perfectly flavoured, parcel and I would have quite happily eaten all of them to myself.

For our main course we each ordered a different ramen. I had the vegetarian based Shimeji, Shiitake & Miso Ramen (£9), my friends had Tokyo Ramen (£9) and the Tonkotsu Ramen (£11).
Now, in terms of dinner, £11 for a main course is cheap, in terms of ramen it is not.
It seemed a little overpriced before we received the main course, especially since each dish was made mainly from stock, a relatively cheap ingredient. However, when the food arrived and we had a taste it seemed justified especially bearing in mind the the obvious time and effort lavished upon it and the quality of the ingredients.

The Tonkotsu Ramen was a sea salt-based pork stock with thin noodles topped with slices of melt-in-the-mouth pork belly. It was deep and earthy and had a pungent, strong flavour that sort of knocked you out and repaired you at the same time.
The Tokyo Ramen has a soy-base instead with a pork and chicken stock and medium thick noodles topped with mirin and soy marinated pork belly. It was mellow, with a less overpowering taste but still thick and satisfying.
The vegetarian Ramen was miso-based with konbu and shiitake stock with shimeji mushrooms, medium thick noodles, a handful of bean sprouts and bamboo shoots. The lightest of all in flavour it was delicate, subtle and just as delicious.
Each also came with a seasoned soft-boiled egg, floating on top of the stock like an ingredient in a witches' brew.

Just as goldilocks did we tasted each dish to see which one was 'just right' and each of us preferred a different ramen (not necesarily the ones we ordered for ourselves).
I liked the soy base, medium thick noodles and the pork and chicken stock, it was the right level of intensity between the pork stock and miso base.
I also added in a drizzle of the delicious Tonkotsu chilli-oil which is now for sale.
I loved being in control of the level of heat in my stock but I can't think of anything this oil wouldn't go with.
Unlike the greasy attempts at chilli-oil in some high street pizzerias, you only needed a dribble to get the intensity of the chilli, instead of having to coat your food in oil to get any heat. Everyone commented on how delicious the oil was and I certainly intend to go back and buy some for myself.

Usually, this gathering of girls, use dinner as a guise to catch-up, gossip and discuss whose won the accolade of the most calamitous experience this week. However, we all fell into silence, our ramen dictated attention.
Instead of the usual cackling around a table (which would of fitted quite well with our witches brews) we were concentrated on our food, finding the noodles in the stock and discovering different components that were lurking below.
We wolfed down our noodles instead of chatting so much we worked through our meal slowly, which meant that, for usually slow eaters, our meal was ordered, eaten and paid for in just over an hour. 

Whilst it seems more like somewhere to come for a quick, delicious dinner when you are in the area, rather then languish in for hours on end, the friendly staff certainly weren't trying to hurry us out.
Not only did I have the best ramen and gyoza I have ever eaten but I left feeling like i'd had a big bowl of food-hug TLC.

Tonkotsu on Urbanspoon


  1. Great post Isabelle. It certainly sounds like Tonkotsu should be my venue of choice when I'm in need of a hug-in-a-mug (bowl). I found you on Triptease, hope to see some more of your stuff soon.

  2. Definitely put it on your to do list for winter, it's incredible.

    Thanks Rob, appreciate your comment.