I’m a relatively new convert to Ramen, the Japanese noodle soup dish so popular around London and the UK these days. Full disclosure – I am far from expert in this arena, so take anything I say with a pinch of salt, and as the words of a layman.
Anyway, amongst the few places I’d tried, I have been to Bone Daddies probably half a dozen times, and become somewhat of an evangelist for their Spicy Seafood Ramen, but was then informed by a friend a few months ago that I was missing the real deal – Kanada-Ya. A little digging revealed that many consider this to be the best Ramen spot in London, and so off I trotted to investigate. I was greeted with a small place on a corner near Tottenham Court Road (they’ve also just launched a site near Haymarket, and have others in Japan, Hong Kong & the USA), a bit of a queue outside in the chilly winter night, and a locked front door. The guy handling the queue was great though, and people were allowed to hold spots for friends arriving later, with other groups going in ahead as suitable, which made for a stress-free wait (some places insist that people can’t join friends in the queue, which to me seems needlessly harsh if someone is running late but the others are there).
We were ushered in after maybe 10 minutes, and seated in between various people at a bench right in the middle of the small, busy, very bright room. The menu is pretty simple, and I elected to go for the original ramen with Ma-yu (charred black garlic sauce).
When it arrived it was presented very neatly and prettily, if looking far from spectacular by comparison to the bowls I’ve had at Bone Daddies. And even with the garlic sauce, and adding in a few pickles supplied free at the table, I found the meal to be slightly underwhelming compared to what I had begun to consider as “correct”. Initially, I felt a little disappointment, but as I proceeded through my bowl, and adjusted my sights, there was a tangible point at which I was genuinely excited about the next mouthful, the broth having a wonderfully rich fattiness to it (reading that back that doesn’t make it sound appealing, but trust me it’s lovely) , and a remarkable savoury umami characteristic, very delicate at first but incredibly more-ish by the end, and with the pork slices providing the perfect centre-piece to the dish, falling apart deliciously in the mouth, almost like a warm cured ham in its texture.
After my first mouthfuls I had really expected to be slightly unhappy about the meal, by the end I was certain I’d be back, which was a strange (and at the rate I eat, rapid) shift in perceptions. Don’t go expecting big, bold flavours from this dish – but what it does, it does brilliantly. The seaweed was a bit of an anti-climax – to my palate it didn’t really add a whole lot to the experience, even from a textural stand-point as it was more rice-paper than krispbread, and I didn’t get anything much happening to my tastebuds.
So all in all, I have to say that this was a thoroughly enjoyable meal despite my initial reservations, and one I hope to repeat again to try a few variations on the theme. I’m giving scores to my meals, but I may well be back in the future to add an addendum to this article, as I feel like this score may well shoot upwards now I’ve acclimatised my tastebuds and expectations to the different style of Ramen on offer at Kanada-Ya.