A decade ago in London, any Japanese person — or Japanophile — craving this hearty dish of wheat noodles, broth and toppings had very few options. There was Wagamama, which at the time seemed an oasis in the desert, and there were a couple of places along Brewer Street, like beloved Ryo which has sadly moved on. These days however, ramen houses in London seem almost ubiquitous, although many are branches of a bowlful of big players. Most specialise in tonkotsu, a creamy broth made of pork bones simmered for ‘X’ number of hours, and there’s little as satisfying as tonkotsu ramen done well. But there’s more to try out there: While ramen is wholeheartedly adapted and adopted by the Japanese, it is in fact of Chinese derivation; in London, Japanese classics such as shoyu and miso rub shoulders with exciting dishes influenced by Korea, the Philippines, Thailand and the Caribbean. Here are 15 of the best ramen joints in town.Read More
The Best Bowls of Ramen in London
Comforting and bracing broths, bouncy noodles and spicy, zesty toppings
Omar Shah’s Filipino-Japanese ramen bar is an illustration of what can happen when chefs shake off the straitjacket of “authenticity” and channel their culinary upbringings and inspirations into something singular. Reconstituting the building blocks of Filipino cuisine as ramen bowls, oxtail kare kare combines a peanut beef broth with pulled oxtail and makes tonkotsu look boring in the process; a traditional soup, chicken sopas, shines when reimagined as a series of ramen toppings. Fun, articulate, stunning cookery — it’s another hit for Shah’s Kentish Town empire, which now has a new site in Soho sporting a lobster and crab bowl of pure decadence.
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Camden stalwart Seto specialises in shoyu and miso ramen, with twinkling, delicate, eminently slurpable broths a winning counterpoint to London’s widespread horn for vast quantities of pork fat. It’s family run, one of London’s best-value restaurants, and so singular as to require no other ordering — except some gyoza liberally coated in chilli oil.
The head chef at this restaurant between Old Street and the Barbican may be English, but the menu — like the chef — is bilingual. This thoughtfulness from chef Ian Wheatley, who studied at ramen school in Japan, translates to the food itself — the noodles are made in-house and have a nice bounce to them (although texture can be specified). Wheatley’s menu also offers classical Japanese dishes like brothless abura soba with tare and hiyashi chuka (chilled ramen) rarely seen in the U.K.
Menya Ramen House
With its bare brick arches, this ramen house is tucked around the corner from the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury. It pulls in the punters with ramen dishes thrumming with fiery Korean influences — its seafood sundubu ramen is practically overflowing with crab, prawns, Korean soft tofu and mussels. Here, diners can choose not just the texture of their noodles, but the spice level of their broth, too. About that broth: Menya wins hands-down in terms of the coveted simmering times, boasting a 48-hour boiled pork and chicken broth.
Before ramen properly entered the nation’s consciousness, Cocoro was one of the few places Japanese diners could go for a bowl of their favourite noodles, and it’s often still packed with salarymen who order their usual. Often thought of as pricey, as befitting its address off Bond Street, the lunch sets are in fact extremely good value — £13 or so brings ramen plus 3 kinds of appetiser, miso soup, rice, and fruit. This may seem like overkill but it’s in fact quite a Japanese thing — where noodles will often come with rice, an orgy of double carbs. For real indulgence, try the Seabura spicy miso ramen set: it comes with extra pork fat.
The first Kanada-Ya set up shop in Fukuoka 10 years ago and now queues for all three London branches reach down the street. Kanada-san’s special 18-hour pork broth works particularly well in his truffle ramen which comes with chashu pork collar, spring onions, porcini truffle paste, white truffle oil, and seaweed. Kanada-Ya asks diners to choose their texture of their noodles, with ‘hard’ being recommended, and it’s always tempting to zhoosh said noodles more than necessary with the addictive takana (pickled mustard leaves) on every table.
The original Soho branch of Tonkotsu seems the culprit for the rest of the ramen houses’ obsession with the creamy pork bone broth that it’s named for. Thankfully, it does what is says on the tin, and its signature dish of Kyushu-style tonkotsu ramen is a treat. There are now branches everywhere: wherever diners might end up, it’s a good idea to pick up a jar of Eat the Bits chilli oil and apply its savoury goodness to everything.
Expect large queues and raucous music at this ramen joint from Ross Shonhan, as diners perch on stools, neck cocktails and dive into noodles, surrounded by images of bequiffed Japanese rockabillies. Choose from rich tonkotsu ramen with broth made from 20-hour simmered pork bones, the popular “T22”, kimchee seafood or soy ramen, made with chicken broth, or three vegetarian options made with mushroom broth. Crab and yuzu specials riff on the tonkotsu, while summer specials include the brothless crispy duck aburamen with pickled padron peppers, roast corn and duck fat in a coating tare sauce. There are now many other branches, not to mention offshoots like Shackfuyu and Flesh & Buns.
The Japan Centre has switched out Sakagura for Heddon Yokocho, a vibey ramen bar whose menu has many things that aren’t ramen. Leave them be and choose from nine bowls, three apparently derived from London’s intersection with ramen and six that display the regional variations in ramen across Japan. The shoyu and shio soups offer respite to central London ramen bars’ apparent contractual obligations to tonkotsu, while the appearance of tantanmen is a welcome straying from the city’s ramen consensus.
As diners enter a branch of Shoryu, staff bark the traditional Japanese welcome of “Irasshaimase!” while banging a drum — a reminder that Shoryu is part of the Japan Centre’s mini empire which heralds each new addition to said empire with a huge barrel of sake and festivities into the night. Shoryu’s 12-hour pork bone broth is showcased in a number of Hakata-style ramen dishes, with dracula tonkotsu being a particular garlicky favourite. If that wasn’t enough, diners can crush extra fresh garlic onto their noodles at the table. There are interesting choices for vegetarians too, with broths made of tonyu soy milk, miso, konbu seaweed and shiitake mushroom. Shoryu also serve up Kirin Frozen — a unique Japanese import of super-cold beer served with a frozen whipped top.
Haru Sushi and Ramen House
One of the few ramen shops outside of central London, Haru is a regular haunt of the local Japanese community. “Proper” tonkotsu and miso ramen is present and correct, but for the more adventurous, there’s peri peri tonkotsu ramen with hot sauce, and for those with understanding friends and family, there’s mayu ramen with lashings of fresh garlic and pickled ginger. Hungrier diners can push the boat out and try Haru’s dirty ramen which comes heaving with chashu pork, barbecue chicken, tempura prawns, and grilled duck.
When it was announced that the legendary Ippudo would come to these shores, the food world was beside itself with breathless excitement. This seems to have dampened somewhat with — inevitable — claims that it’s “not as good as the original,” but Ippudo’s ramen still hits the spot, and the novelty of choosing noodle consistency never pales. The menu is slightly bewildering with too many bolt-on options, but it’s worth upgrading for a mere pound to receive sides such as excellent tori karaage (crispy fried chicken) or pitch-perfect, pan-fried gyoza.
The fake plastic food in the window outside make Yamagoya look like it’s been transplanted directly from Japan; unsurprising, as founder Masatoshi Ogata opened his first ramen shop in Fukuoka in 1969. Once inside, it’s more utilitarian. Grab a drink from the fridge, place an order and take a pager, which buzzes merrily when food is ready. The yuzu kara ramen made with yuzu chilli paste is an interesting change from the classics in spite of, and because of its iridescent green: there are several ramen salads on offer to see diners through any summer heat. Table condiments are plentiful: pickled ginger, shichimi pepper and a hand-cranked sesame grinder all at diners’ service. Save room for the Instagram-friendly raindrop cake – a type of wagashi (Japanese sweet) served with kuromitsu (molasses syrup) and kinako (roasted soybean flour.)
Around the corner from its original okonomiyaki bar in Brixton Village Market is Okan Ramen. Surroundings are pleasingly plain with old Japanese posters and masks decorating the walls. The short menu is equally serious, spotlighting shoyu ramen as its signature dish, as most ramen joints in Japan would, though miso and tonkotsu are also on offer. It’s worth noting that smaller portions are available for under 12s for only £5.
Former MasterChef champion Tim Anderson’s former restaurant Nanban seems to have one mission in life: eat well and have fun with it. Anderson knows his stuff, having lived in Fukuoka, the home of ramen, but he tore up the rule-book and served up signature dishes. He’s now departed, but his influence remains intrinsic: the Thai-inspired tom yum seafood ramen with king prawns, mussels, squid, comes with the intriguingly named ‘seafood sawdust’, while ‘the leopard’ — a rich dish dappled with burnt garlic oil and Scotch bonnet bamboo shoots — nods to Nanban’s Brixton home.