There is just something so undeniably cool about Japanese Culture. Perhaps it is the fact that they apologise when their trains are early (National Rail take note), or their obsession with cleanliness or their questionable choice in clothing. One thing that they have absolutely nailed is their national dish of Ramen. Its history is a little hazy, with many saying ramen is in fact a Chinese dish but the Japanese have fully embraced it and now the world is obsessed with the stuff. The magic lies in the noodles and there is only one place in London who make their own and they are incredibly proud of it. So much so that all the menus are emblazoned with ‘if you don’t make your own noodles you’re just a soup shop’. Talk about throwing down the gauntlet. Tonkotsu then, is a serious outfit that serves up huge steaming bowls of the good stuff. It now has seven locations across London and is edging dangerously close to becoming a chain. We all know the fate of chains in recent times, please don’t become a chain.
The interior is bare, no tacky Japanese artefacts plastered across the walls. There is a specials board and a set of little monkeys that see, hear or speak no evil sit at the bar, it’s a nice touch. On a Wednesday afternoon in Notting Hill, it appears that people like to have their ramen at home as there is a constant flow of delivery drivers picking up parcels. Come here, sit at the counter and eat your food, it’s better that way.
Although the focus is on the ramen, you have a great selection is small plates to snack on. Things kick off with the sweet potato korroke which have a great crunch, aren’t dripping in oil and are full of smooth orange potato. These were joined by 5 shiitake and bamboo shoot gyoza which were absolutely sensational for two reasons. The first was that they weren’t mixed vegetable which is what I have found everywhere else in London, the second that the outside has a little crunch yet maintained the familiar chew that comes with a gyoza. For one person, this was more than enough but Matthew insisted I try every other vegetarian dish. This meant I was presented with a plate of tenderstem broccoli with a yuzu mayonnaise, tonkotsu pickle, salted edamame and a bowl of kimchee. All were fantastic little snacks but none stood out, although it would be a little difficult to outshine those gyoza. However, one thing did manage to trump the gyoza and that was the chilli oil. It was full of chilli, garlic, sesame and little bits of chilli. I took a bottle home and nothing has been safe, I even had it with pineapple and it was brilliant.
Onto the main event and the reason, I was here, to try my first ever bowl of ramen. I know, it is terrible of me to have not eaten this dish till now. The only vegetarian option on the menu is the curried pumpkin and spiced corn ramen. Pumpkin, squash and soy milk form the base and it is enhanced by a mushroom stock which you can taste. The earthiness of the fungi comes through in every bite. Pieces of grilled pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, spiced corn, spring onions and a soy sauce marinated boiled egg sit on top the noodles. The noodles themselves were unlike anything I have had before, chewy but not rubbery. You can credit that perfect bite to a 32 seconds cooking time. It must have been an unsavoury site for the few other diners, but I was in slurping heaven #noregrets.
Every topping played its own part, with the pumpkin giving sweetness, the spring onions and seeds giving different textures and the corn giving a smokey spice. Of-course I drizzled that oil across the top to bring it all together. The egg was also something magical for me, with every bite delivering a ‘oh my umami’ salty hit of soy. I really recommend asking for one more piece when you order your bowl of ramen!
The broth itself kept delivering layer and layer. The back of my throat was getting hits of sweetness from the pumpkin, a musky flavour from the mushroom, a little hit of spice and I’m sure the soy milk had a purpose but unfortunately, I couldn’t figure it out. I now understand why people say ramen is the ultimate hangover food. The morning after an evening of gin or rosé, I think this would go down a treat. Light enough not to upset my stomach, but punchy enough to get me going again.
Tonkotsu offer a selection of desserts including some mochi, but one yuzu lemonade, 5 small plates and a bowl of ramen defeated me. For one of the first times ever, I physically couldn’t stomach a dessert. I really had no complaints about this place. Admittedly I had just lost my ramen virginity and so had nothing to compare to, but I won’t be forgetting my first time anytime soon.
This meal was provided free of charge by Tonkotsu