Being in South London Tooting has hitherto escaped trendification, but needs must when the lack of affordable housing drives, and the young white middle classes are now to be seen around the place getting all excited and giggly just as if it was Shoreditch.
There’s even a Chicken Shop here, a smaller branch of the Soho House restaurant, and short of seeing Russell Norman peering into the windows of disused shops what greater sign can there be of an up and coming area?
Well a pop up restaurant perhaps, but hey, Tooting has one of those too. Inside the old tin roofed market at night Grub Club have been running successful evenings and tonight the chefs are United Ramen.
The market entrance roller blind is down but a small sally port allows entrance. Inside the place is airy and echoey and a bit eerie too what with all the shops being shut, but at the far end is music, coloured bulbs, trestle tables and life. It’s very welcoming, but it is a bit chilly though.
First on the deal is a rather good bubble cocktail. A blend of tapioca pearls, vodka and lychee schnapps, it comes with a large bore straw to allow the chewy pearls be sucked up and which would, if operated in reverse, undoubtedly make an excellent peashooter. I resist the very compelling urge to try the theory out.
A small’wine bar’ or wine shack is open with some decent wines by the glass, so we supplement our cocktail and take a communal seat at table. Behind us a singer guitarist is doing an uncanny impression of David Gray, right down to the nasal tone, and we find our dining companions easygoing company, which is always a relief at this kind of event.
No one seems to be toting a camera though, has the obsession finally, thankfully, passed? Or is it just that smartphone cameras have taken over with their easy route to social posting and social superiority? I send a snap to both Instagram and Twitter while I think about it. #unitedbyramen.
Papadums with homemade mango and wasabi chutney are passed around. I’m not sure about the chutney; I like mango and I like wasabi but the two are usually separated by continents and I am not convinced they are better together. Pleasant but not special.
Having been to a similar kind of’pop up’ turnout that was laughably incompetent last week(I could laugh because I wasn’t paying) it’s impressive how well this show is run despite the handicap of field kitchen arrangements. The man behind United Ramen is American, so that I think explains it.
Starters are tsukune, curry chicken meatballs with lashings of yakitori sauce. The meatballs are dense, a bit too dense perhaps, the chicken over chopped maybe but the taste is fine and we mop them up fast with the very good sauce and find we are warming up. Nothing to do with the alcohol, of course.
And then with commendable efficiency comes the main event; lamb belly curry ramen. Now this had worried me from the off because, while fat in a bowl of ramen is a very good thing and what makes ramen so filling and energising, lamb fat is not my favourite kind of fat unless sizzled to crispness. There’s often a rather unpleasant odour and taste to lamb fat too, one of the reasons many Persian cuisines simmer the lamb in water first so they can skim it off.
But actually this broth was okay. I did find the slices of lamb belly too strong for my taste, but the noodles were perfectly cooked – a little spring in their step but not overly chewy. Marinated bean sprouts and carrots (menma) and the kare tare sauce all enlivened a deep chicken broth and it was very slurpable in the approved manner – ladle in left hand, chopsticks in right. Overall, a lively and flavourful success.
Dessert of coconut and mango mochi ice cream was also good. Mochi is made from pounded sticky rice coating an ice cream filling and its a strange but endearing texture. The cold centre gave me brain freeze, but that’s my fault for eating too fast as usual.
Fun and games of a ramen quiz and a chopstick using competition all helped the event rattle along nicely and the adventure of the outside lavs gave everyone who used them a war story to dine out on. All in all a good night out with fun food and all involved put on a solid performance
United ramen hope to have a permanent home in the near future, but for now you can chase down the ramen via their website and find out more events at Tooting and other locations from Grub Club via theirs