Anarchy in the U.K. ramen bowl.

They say you can’t fight on an empty stomach, and the same goes for hunting ghosts or becoming a rock god on a London street corner. So when our Japanese-language reporter Seiji Nakazawa’s stomach started grumbling during his travels through the U.K., he listened to it and started looking for a place to eat lunch.

His eyes quickly fell upon this charming eatery with indoor and outdoor seating in London’s Stratford district. It looked like just the sort of place to munch on fancy finger sandwiches and maybe have a spot of tea, but then Seiji noticed the restaurant’s name.

“’Tonkotsu?’ Like Japanese tonkotsu [pork stock] ramen?” Seiji wondered. But no, that couldn’t be it. This place looked way too posh for a ramen joint. “’Tonkotsu’ must mean something else in another language,” Seiji concluded. “Maybe it’s Italian for ‘To you, my beloved?’”

But once Seiji had the restaurant’s menu in front of him, he found out that Tonkotsu is a ramen restaurant after all!

Naturally, the house specialty is tonkotsu ramen, the representative ramen of Japan’s southwestern island of Kyushu. However, Tonkotsu also serves miso ramen, which is popular in Japan’s northernmost prefecture, Hokkaido, as well as something the restaurant calls “Tokyo” ramen, with a chicken soy broth, though that’s not by any means the standard for ramen in Japan’s capital.

Being the comprehensive taste-tester he is, Seiji sampled two types of noodles, starting with Tonkotsu’s tonkotsu.

It passed the visual test with flying colors, with an enticing white broth offset by amber-yolked half egg and chashu pork with just a bit of brown char to its edge. The noodles were slightly firm, as they should be in orthodox tonkotsu ramen, and the broth was tasty too.

All in all, it’s a perfectly respectable tonkotsu ramen, even by Japanese standards, if a bit on the pricey side compared to Japan. Tonkotsu’s tonkotsu is priced at 11 pounds, which works out to about 1,430 yen, about 60 percent more than you’d pay for something similar in Tokyo, but Seiji figured it was still a fair enough price when you accounted for Tonkotsu’s stylish ambiance.

Next up was the Miso Mushroom Ramen, which is a little more affordable at 10 pounds. Apparently created for those who don’t want any meat, it eschews the strips of chashu pork (which would be borderline sacrilege in Japan) and instead gives you shiitake, enoki, and shimeji mushrooms, plus kale, menma (fermented bamboo shoots), and a sliced egg.

However, right off the bat Seiji felt something was strange here. For miso ramen, the broth is generally supposed to be an opaque and bold brown. For example, here’s some miso ramen we had in Japan in Hokkaido

and Mie Prefecture.

On the other hand, Tonkotsu’s Miso ramen has a thin, almost gray broth.

As a matter of fact, to Seiji’s eyes it looked more like the broth used for miso soup than miso ramen. Maybe this was a case of looks being deceiving, though? So he picked up a spoonful of Tonkotsu’s miso broth, brought it to his lips, and discovered that instead of tasting like miso soup

it tastes exactly like miso soup.

Now, if you haven’t had miso ramen before, you might be wondering what the difference is. Despite the name, in authentic miso ramen, there’s more that goes into the broth than just miso paste, as Japanese miso ramen chefs also use sesame oil, ginger, garlic, mirin (cooking sake), and sometime even chicken stock to create a complexly layered flavor profile. In contrast, Tonkotsu’s miso ramen stock tastes like someone just spooned some miso paste into a bowl, added hot water, and stopped right there (though Tonkotsu’s menu says the broth is also made with kombu kelp and shiitake), which left Seiji wanting a lot more stimulation for his taste buds.

So while Tonkotsu will satisfy cravings for authentic tonkotsu ramen, if what you’re looking for is the taste of Japan, its miso ramen isn’t going to scratch that itch (which maybe explains why the restaurant is called “Tonkotsu,” and not “Miso”). Still, Seiji can’t say Tonkotsu is making an outright mistake, considering that the restaurant seems to have plenty of local customers. Maybe like with the extremely unorthodox sushi he also had while he was in the U.K., it’s not that Tonkotsu’s miso ramen is “bad” or “wrong,” just that it’s very, very different from the ramen they serve in Japan.

Restaurant information
Address: Unit 1, Endeavour Square International Quarter Stratford London E20 1JN
Open 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. (Monday-Thursday), 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m. (Friday-Saturday), 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. (Sunday)

Photos ©SoraNews24
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