35 Great Queen Street WC2B 5AA www.shoryuramen.com
Nick wilts in the sun but is revived by a good watering with pork broth.
Do you remember where you were when the ramen craze fizzled out? London loses interest so quickly; one day you’re a chef helming the hippest restaurant in town, the next you have to admit that having a’no reservation’ policy isn’t such a cool thing after all.
At the height of the craze people would go online to debate broths, eggs, noodle and pork fat in a way seemingly as knowledgeable as any resident of Tokyo and verbal spats would break out on Twitter at the drop of a gyoza.
Now the fog of stock wars has cleared Shoryu has emerged as a market leader with seven branches across town.
One of the newer branches is in Covent Garden, although as I found out when I tried walking there from Soho on one of the hottest days of the year, it’s more in Holborn so I arrived in lather of sweat and very hungry indeed.
It seems tiny from the outside but enlarges the deeper you go in. Staff call out the obligatory greetings in Japanese, which always makes me spin around to see what the crisis is, and the minimalist decor is recognisable from the other branches.
Consistency is crucial in a chain in decor and food. Here there are white tiles and brickwork at the front with a more cosy area at the back lined with sake bottles. There seems a fair few Japanese people eating lunch, which suggests the food might be good.
The menu of predominantly Hakata cooking is small enough to grasp quickly, the willing staff are keen to sell me the new chilled ramen dishes, the’Hakata Rei Shabu’ (chilled ramen in a sesame-soy vinegar dressing, with buta shabu pork, a chilli yuzu chutney, tomato and salad) and the’Spicy Chilled Yuzu Salmon’ (chilled ramen in a sesame-soy vinegar dressing, with isle of ewe hot smoked salmon, a chilli yuzu chutney, tomato and salad).
Well it is very hot outside for sure but I can never eat cold soup. Gazpacho? Put a vodka in it and maybe. So I don’t think that I can eat cold ramen, nice as these ones sound. What I do want quite keenly are hirata buns. I do like these fluffy pillows of fun and out of the six fillings on offer I go blogger and order char siu barbeque pork belly plus a cold beer. They they don’t come colder than Kirin Frozen served with a -5 degrees frozen whipped top in a chilled glass. It looks like a crazed Tin Tin and cheers me up enormously.
My Hirata is very messy, what with the sauces and lashings of kewpie mayonnaise, but it is the taste monster I expected; each bite the same as the last of course but for once I don’t mind the monaural experience. The grey tinged buns delivering the right amount of chewiness and the pork quantity just about right.
I’m also a big fan of Gyoza dumplings, especially those little burnt bits to be found under their bellies, that’s if they have been cooked correctly of course. Shoryu serve the Hakatan version of gyoza filled with pork and these are firm and tasty.
We debate the crime of’double dipping’; the act of biting off a bit of your gyoza and then dipping the remaining half back in the shared sauce. We agree it’s not’on’, and then I I catch myself doing it. Sorry.
Thee ramen arrives with its big ladle spoon and chopsticks for a two-handed attack. I’ve gone for Karaka Tan Tan Tonkotsu as it features minced pork and not the usual pork slices, which I am beginning to find a bit too fatty these days for my taste and waistline.
The deep bowl is filled to capacity and on top is the usual golden egg that’s been marinated overnight and cooked to soft, lots of wood-ear mushrooms, the green crisp circles of spring onions, lots of red ginger (but no sesame) and sheets of Nori.
There’s plenty of pork under the surface and massive amounts of perfectly soft ramen and, because the pork had been marinated in white miso, garlic and chiu chow chilli oil, it gives me problems; ramen joints really should provide more napkins for those of us whose noses erupt massively when confronted with hot spicy stocks. Which I think is most of us?
It’s a very good, deeply rich, broth in my opinion, I don’t know whether it was cooked for twelve minutes, twenty-four hours or a hundred days and only total ramen spods would know or care. There was, as usual, far too much of it though. Once the solid parts of a bowl of ramen have been consumed I start to lose interest a bit. I threw in the ladle with an inch or so to go.
No time for dessert, back out into the broiling sun. I really did enjoy the food at Shoryu and would cheerfully go back with hungry young relatives, or when looking for fast food that wasn’t an insult to taste and decency. And to get my gums around some more of those buns.