Posted on Monday, 14th September 2015
Tonkotsu on Dean Street specialises in ramen noodles, the tonkotsu kind from which it derives its name. Tonkotsu ramen hails from Kyushu, the most south-western of all Japan’s main islands. Tonkotsu ramen is distinctive as it is made using a pork bone broth, typically cooked for about 16 hours which gives it a rich creamy flavour and is distinct to the miso and soy broth based varieties.
There are a plethora of ramen noodle restaurants in Central London. Tonkotsu was one of the very original ones to open, before it was joined by the likes of Bone Daddies, Shoryu Ramen, Kanada-Ya, and most recently Ippudo. Having tried Bone Daddies, Shoryu Ramen and Kanada-Ya, it is my opinion that Kanada-Ya serves the best tonkotsu ramen out of the three. But Tonkotsu on Dean was one of the first in London, and I have always wanted to see how it would fair against the rest.
We began our meal with starters of king prawn katsu (£6) with a tonkatsu sauce and salt and sansho pepper squid. The prawns were delicious, with a lovely firmness and a tasty, sweet flavour. The panko crumb coating was crispy and light, and with the sauce, the crispy prawns tasted wonderful.
As for the salt and sansho pepper squid (£6), these were nice and crunchy and very well seasoned. But the squid had not been evenly cut. The result was that there were some tiny pieces of squid that were overcooked and chewy.
The first of our noodles was the classic tonkotsu (£11), made with a sea salt-based pork stock. The broth was rich and creamy, having been enriched with lardo which gave it an added intensity and silkiness. The broth was rather salty, but it was still tasty with a distinctive pork flavour.
In contrast, the Tokyo ramen noodles (£10) came with a soy sauce base and a pork and chicken stock. Overall it wasn’t a bad bowl of noodles, but I would have preferred a stronger, richer flavour of chicken and pork in the broth. The noodles in both bowls were nicely cooked with a good bite to them. There were also some delicious and fatty slices of pork belly, half a seasoned soft-boiled egg with a runny yolk each, menma (fermented bamboo shoots), bean sprouts and spring onions.
Moving onto dessert, we tried the ‘ice cream little moons’ (£4), a mochi selection with yuzu, raspberry and mango. The raspberry and mango fillings were good, but the yuzu was very acidic and not entirely enjoyable. The rice cake casings should also have been softer and chewier.
On the service, this was rather disorganised. Tonkotsu both forgot one of our starters and got one of our noodle orders wrong. It was friendly, but organisation wise, the service could do with some improvement.
So how does Tonkotsu compare to Kanada-Ya? Tonkotsu was pretty good, but I still maintain that Kanada-Ya serves the best tasting ramen noodles in London. Their broth is outstanding, with a clear, distinctive rich flavour. But on the plus side, the queues at Tonkotsu were shorter. Tonkotsu also has a starter selection which Kanada-Ya doesn’t offer, and in that respect you can linger longer at Tonkotsu and have more of a dining-out rather than the fast food type experience at Kanada-Ya.
1. The prawn katsu
2. The tonkotsu ramen isn’t as good as at Kanada-Ya, but you can have starters and linger longer. The queues are shorter too.
1. The disorganised service.
Food rating: 3.5/5
Service rating: 3/5
Prices: About £18 to £24 for three courses. Excludes drinks and service.