Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ramen Delight @ Tonkotsu East, Haggerston

Ramen is a booming, popular enterprise in London. Aside from eating air, hipsters also apparently like to eat ramen. And so, those seeking their noodle fix and also hoping to be-in-the-know when it comes to food trends, wait in line for longer periods of time than they'd wait for the newest iPhone for a bowl of the slurp-worthy, steamy stuff at places like Shoryu Ramen on Regent Street and Bone Daddies in Soho.

Now, I haven't been to either - mostly because I'm lazy and impatient and if I need to be in the West End other than for work, there had better be a damn good reason (like seeing Book of Mormon next week) and I definitely should NOT be waiting in any kind of line, whatsoever, in order to be fed. So I was super excited when Plum of Plumdiddlyumcious tweeted that Tonkotsu on Dean Street had opened a branch of its popular restaurant in the heart of hipster-ville, Shoreditch - which also happens to be very close to where I live. And because Eric and I had a long-held ramen date for last night, I decided that we should both head East to Tonkotsu East, rather than West.

Finding the restaurant itself proved to be a challenge: you know when your mom tells you not to walk down dark, strange alleys alone at night? I had to do just that. Tonkotsu East is so new, it's not named on Google maps yet, so I found the address via a few online reviews instead. Housed in a railway arch (as other of-the-moment restaurants in that area are, namely, Beagle London and Trip Kitchen & Bar - also very new), it's a little tricky to find in the dark. Getting off the bus at Haggerston, I gingerly click-clacked my way across cobblestones down Acton Mews, past Trip, and squinted ahead, where the bright lights of ramen shone.

Prior to my visit, I had expected to wait in line (given how new restaurants' reputations spread like wildfire in that part of London), but to my surprise, it was completely empty at 6:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night (though not for long, the host assured me). I'm sure that, a couple of months - no, weeks - from now, you'll have to reserve a table in advance to even contemplate getting a seat.

We were hungry and feeling a little gluttonous, so we started with salted edamame beans (served hot and steaming), the crab korokke (perfectly crispy on the outside, oozing with flavor on the inside), and of course, the pork gyoza, which I couldn't resist ordering (my weakness). For me, the gyoza was the winner of the three. I'll go as far as to say that it was absolutely perfect - the best I've had in London. They're handmade and the wrapper is very thin and doesn't taste of oil at all, which is impossible to find at other London Japanese restaurants (usually, you'll find that the outside is thick and doughy and often charred, tasting of burnt oil). The pork filling was juicy, steamy, and delicious.

Tonkotsu East is BYOB, so aside from bringing your own beer or wine, you can also order one of their mocktails (all priced at £3.50) and add your own kick of vodka, gin, or other suggestions they include on the drinks menu. I can't remember the name of the one we ordered, except that it was sweet, citrus-y, and very, very good. 

Then our ramen arrived.

It was kind of magical.

Eric and I had both ordered the tsekemen ramen, or dipping noodles, which are served cold with a variety of toppings (we chose pork) and dipped into the steaming, flavorful broth before being consumed. It truly exceeded my expectations. I loved that the ramen was homemade, which you could really taste. Homemade ramen, like homemade and hand-pulled pasta or biang biang noodles, has a certain consistency and texture that tastes unlike any other factory-produced ramen. At £11 per bowl, it might seem pricey, but to be honest? I thought nothing of the cost, considering how delicious and fresh the ingredients were. And like any other well-practiced Asian, I heaped chilli oil onto my spoon in my left hand, and dipped twice with chopsticks in my right hand - once into the broth and then into the chilli oil - before depositing the noodly-goodness into my mouth. Mmm ... yum.

In short, I'm ecstatic that there is such an amazing ramen restaurant on my doorstep. I'm going to be a repeat visitor before the secret's completely out of the bag and it's impossible to get in to (the restaurant was 3/4 full by the time we left at 8:15 p.m.).

A word of advice? Wear a splash-proof shirt. Because you'll be slurping appreciatively, that's for sure.

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