Sometimes smaller really is better
Compared to the barren dessert of a year ago, London’s Soho is now awash with dedicated ramen restaurants – namely Ittenbari, Tonkotsu, Bone Daddies and Shoryu. The latest is Kirazu, a very small restaurant on the former site of a Lebanese cafe. Small is the key word in every sense – the communal benches only have space for around two dozen covers, the toilet is barely bigger than an airplane WC and the menu lists just three types of ramen – shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce) and miso. There’s also a small selection of side dishes (unnecessarily called ‘Japanese tapas’ on the menu) with some daily specials, but the focus is clearly on ramen.
First things first
The small restaurant was almost deserted on my weekday evening visit with The Lensman. We shared a plate of gyoza which, even for a side dish, was a little small with just three dumplings. They weren’t terribly impressive dumplings either – I wasn’t fond of the rather bland, anonymous vegetable filling or the skins which were crispy all over. I’d have preferred gyoza skins which were crispy on one side and soft and pliable on the other.
The takoyaki were far better. These small, soft, doughy balls each had a firm piece of salty octopus in the middle. Each ball was then dressed with toppings often seen on okonomiyaki – katsuobushi (dried tuna flakes), mayonnaise and a sweet, tangy brown sauce. A delightfully moreish snack and far better than the merely passable takoyaki available from the Yaki bakery on Goodge Street.
I opted for the shio (salt) ramen. The clear broth wasn’t very salty, but was instead sweet and tangy. Nevertheless it was pleasing, especially when combined with all the other ingredients. The fatty slices of pork, the tender and earthy bamboo shoots, the thin wrinkly seaweed sheet and the rich, soft boiled egg were all delicious. It would’ve been all for nought if the noodles weren’t up to scratch, but the firm, bouncy, slightly wrinkly noodles are easily some of the best ramen noodles I’ve had.
The Lensman was surprised to discover ground pork rather than sliced pork in his miso ramen, although that’s apparently closer to how it’s served in Japan. He was also surprised by the presence of sweetcorn, but that didn’t detract from the noodles which were the same well-made noodles as the ones used in my shio ramen. He enjoyed the cloudy, moreish broth although he clearly had broth envy and declared my shio broth to be even better. Thankfully, neither of our ramen noodle soups were overstuffed with cheap beansprout filler.
Going back for seconds
I had to return to try out the soya ramen, also known as shoyu ramen. This ramen used the same firm, wrinkly noodles, soft egg, tender and earthy bamboo shoots, seaweed nori sheet and fatty pork as the shio ramen. The difference was the lightly cloudy broth which had a lip smackingly tangy and salty soy sauce flavour to it. The salty soy flavour didn’t linger on the palate or cause an extreme case of thirst afterwards, so it’s unlikely the kitchen cheated by using a heap of MSG.
For a side dish, I opted for the lotus root slices. The thick pieces somehow managed to be both crisp and soft at the same time and had been sautéed in what I’m pretty sure was rice wine. This gave them a distinctive flavour that’s hard to describe as a non-boozer, but I’ll settle for slightly acidic and tangy as well as a little sweet. My only wish was that the portion was bigger.
Kirazu isn’t the biggest or most elaborate of London’s ramen restaurants, but it’s easily one of the finest with simple, inexpensive yet tasty ramen that warms the cockles. Tonkotsu is still my favourite type of ramen and is best eaten at Tonkotsu. For other types of ramen however, Kirazu is a fine, fine choice.
Branch tried: 47 Rupert Street, London W1D 7PD
Phone: 020 3356 8900
Opening Hours: Monday-Friday noon-15.00 and 18.00-22.00. Saturday noon-16.00 and 18.00-23.00.
Reservations: not taken
Total cost for one person including soft drinks: £15 approx.