1st Floor of Shuang Shuang, 64 Shaftesbury Ave, London, W1D 6LU www.yamagoya.co.uk
Nick does noodles at the six month pop up of Yamagoya in London.
There’s a Japanese man standing in the corner of the restaurant carefully tying a headscarf around his head. That done, he looks very different to how he did a minute ago; no longer a genial man with a ready smile he now looks determined, tough and ready for business. He’s the MD of Yamagoya, Mr Kameda and he has a secret family recipe to guard.
Down below in Shuang Shuang the robot march of dishes on conveyor belts is running full steam, up here on the first floor the belts are still but there is certainly plenty of steam from stock pots.
This is the start of a six-month pop up from Yamagoya, a food outlet founded by Masatoshi Ogata in 1969 in Fukuoka City. Amongst other dishes they’ve brought over their’Yamagoya’ ramen and the’Tobanjan’, a fiery tobanjan spiced broth known to locals as’the fire of food’, to the heart of London on Shaftesbury Avenue.
The Japanese version is lighter, more delicate, slightly smaller and slightly more fried. It’s just as delicious though and each one is gone in two bites after we dunk them first in a mix of rice vinegar and soy with additions of garlic and ginger.
We also get into some Chicken Karaage, popularly known as Japanese KFC. If KFC was this tasty though I’d be sitting on the top deck of a bus, grunting into a mobile phone and chucking bones on the floor like everyone else. But of course Karaage is in a different league.
It’s actually a cooking style, mostly applied to chicken, the meat is coated in potato starch after sometimes being marinaded in soy sauce and sake. Deep fried it comes out a lot lighter and crisper than the Colonel’s horrors and is usually boneless too. We dip ours in yuzu mayo.
But we’re here to slurp. I choose the Tobanjan and bask in awed approval from the waitress.’It’s very hot,’ she says with the tone of someone announcing a death in the family. I wave off her concerns with insouciance, hot is my middle name.
She asks if I want the noodles hard, soft or medium. I’m not sure, so I choose medium. Apparently hard is the pro choice as it stops the noodles going too soft towards the end of the meal as they are still cooking in the broth even as you tuck in.
I know this interesting noodle fact because I have just asked a Japanese colleague sitting near me, and not because I’ve become a ramen nerd a few years too late. Ã¢â‚¬Å“KatameÃ¢â‚¬Â, he says is the correct term.
I don’t know what the secret pork bone broth recipe is, of course, but it does have less fat than other ramens in London. This suits me fine as I was never that obsessed with fat in my stock. It is very, very spicy hot indeed and I am driven to use up all the napkins to control my nasal reaction.
Very tasty though and the pork chashu is delightful and I happily splash away, spooning up crispy spring onion, tender bamboo shoots and slippery wood ear mushroom with one hand and shoving tangles of noodles in with the other.
L was busy with her own broth, Yuzu Kara. A green broth to my red, it had the same ingredients as mine plus one of those eggs cooked in soy sauce, water and mirin. She didn’t like the egg much so I ate it. Yuzu is that sharp, tart fruit you find a lot in Japanese cooking, while kara means spicy. It wasn’t as spicy as mine though and she took to shaking in some fierce chili oil from the condiments section, apart from that she was very happy,
We’d drunk nothing but Shochikubai Goki Sake with the dishes, a not too strong sake that came in a decent measure for the price. Very good with all the dishes.
On the way out Mr Kameda smiled again, we told him how good his food was and his smile broadened wider. Nicest noodles we’d had for a long time actually.