★★★☆☆ / Japanese / Japanese Noodles

Craving review – vegetarian ramen hidden away near Tottenham Hale

There’s deliberately no tonkotsu on the menu, but there is tonkatsu watermelon

Some tasks can feel impossible. Getting your kids to eat their vegetables, stopping your nan from believing daft things on Facebook and finding decent Japanese food in London for vegetarians. The latter is especially egregious given the high-quality vegetarian food available in Japan itself, such as the tofu and yuba dishes at Kyoto’s Sagatoufuine.

The problem, in the UK at least, is the knee jerk assumption that Japanese food automatically equals sushi. This then leads to hamfisted attempts at replicating fish using plant-based substitutes which, for now at least, is such a far cry from the real thing that you’d be better off with a cat chew toy in the shape of a fish.

Other parts of the Japanese culinary pantheon are far more amenable to Western-style vegetarianisation, ramen being a prime example. By day, Craving serves up coffee in an industrial estate located not far from the perennial building site that is Tottenham Hale. By night, it dishes up a compact menu of almost exclusively vegetarian and vegan Japanese-ish dishes.

The broth of Craving’s miso ramen had a respectable level of umami, as did the firm tofu wrapped in nori. What really set this bowl apart was the addition of pickled chillies as a garnish, its tart heat adding another level of flavour. Firm shiitake and oyster mushrooms had the necessary mouthfeel that the overly soft noodles did not. While disappointing, that was really the only serious flaw here.

illustrative photo of the nori tofu and shiitake mushroom ramen at Craving Tottenham
There should really be the option to add more nori-wrapped tofu.
illustrative photo of the nori tofu and shiitake ramen at Craving Tottenham
The nori tofu and shiitake ramen was consistently decent across multiple visits.

Removing the rich soft boiled egg makes that miso ramen vegan-friendly. For insistent carnivores, there’s a version with added char siu pork. While not in the same league as the superlative pork available at some of London’s other ramen restaurants, the generously thick and wide oinky slabs were still pleasingly meaty with a light moreishness of their own. They could’ve done with a bit more extant fat though.

illustrative photo of the char siu pork ramen at Craving Tottenham
‘Char siu’ in the Japanese tradition, of course, rather than the Cantonese one.

More thick and heartily firm slices of tofu are served at room temperature as a side dish, garnished with sesame seeds and a bit of dashi for nutty moreishness.

illustrative photo of the tofu at Craving Tottenham
This review’s procrastination was brought to you by me watching, dumbstruck, as someone had an indoor ventilation system turned off. In the middle of a pandemic where the contagion is spread through the air. This wasn’t at Craving, but I need to put something in these captions.

Grilled aubergine, allegedly glazed with miso and mirin nasu dengaku-style, was lacking in mouthfeel and flavour, although the garnish of sesame oil and crushed peanuts helped compensate for the latter to an extent.

illustrative photo of the aubergine at Craving Tottenham
Craving has a number of picnic bench-style outdoor tables, all covered by large parasols.

Tonkatsu watermelon feels like a dish designed to harvest Instagram likes and it’s certainly eye-catching. The crisp, fine-crumbed and dimpled batter was mostly oil-free and somehow cradled the watermelon inside without falling apart at the drop of a chopstick. Delicate yet crunchy and sweet, its fruity qualities contrasted neatly with the relative richness of the tonkatsu-style carapace. It was a relatively small helping though, with the bulk of this dish made up of sliced radishes and edamame beans.

illustrative photo of the watermelon tonkatsu at Craving Tottenham
The tonkatsu-style batter wasn’t as feathery crisp as the versions I tried in Tokyo, but it was still respectable enough in its own right.
illustrative photo of the tonkatsu salad at Craving Tottenham
The Book: why are you still fixated on outdoor tables? Me: infection rates in this country were, until very recently, still rising and ventilation is still crucial in reducing the chances of infection when visiting indoor spaces. Why are *you* ignoring the continuing importance of outdoor seating?

A side of pak choi was competently stir fried and served in soy, although it was oddly chopped into fine bits and served with sliced cucumbers and radishes – ultimately to little effect.

illustrative photo of the bok choi at Craving Tottenham
The pak choi fixation at Craving is somewhat odd.

At the other end of the scale were the cabbage rolls, possibly a take on summer rolls or spring rolls. The steaming hot cabbage fronds not only needed more resting time, but were excessively chewy and unwieldy in size, spilling their fulsome load everywhere. That load of diced mushrooms and nuts was a mouth-pleasing one though, especially when daubed with the punchy tang of hoi sin sauce served on the side.

illustrative photo of the cabbage rolls at Craving Tottenham
Thicc af

The thick, tightly crumbed pastry of the chocolate tart could’ve been more buttery, while the dark chocolate filling wasn’t as bittersweet as I would’ve liked.

illustrative photo of the chocolate tart at Craving Tottenham
Craving is located in a building which also houses a recording studio, which leads to a somewhat self-selecting clientele that’s more Shoreditch-y than I expected for Tottenham.

More pleasing, at least in the first instance, was the intriguingly dense yet airy cheesecake. Its gentle sweetness allowed it to act as a conveyor for the tangy sour-sweetness of the umeboshi-style jam plopped to the side. Sadly, all of these qualities were far more muted on a subsequent visit, suggesting that the kitchen is struggling somewhat with consistency issues.

illustrative photo of the Japanese-style cheesecake at Craving Tottenham
I do wonder whether these desserts are brought in or not.
illustrative photo of the cheesecake at Craving Tottenham
No prizes for guessing which photos in this review were taken with my dedicated camera and which were taken with my ageing but still largely capable phone.

The Verdict

Craving’s vegetarian take on ramen and other Japanese dishes isn’t quite compelling enough to travel across town for, especially once its occasional wobbles and somewhat eccentric opening hours are taken into account. But Craving is a perfectly decent option for locals, and anyone else passing through, who want to eat something that’s meat-free, but not flavour-free. Plus, Craving’s graceful service counts for a lot. To put it another way, while I’m not raving about Craving, the experience here is by no means chafing.

Name: Craving

Address: 39B Markfield Road, South Tottenham, London N15 4QA

Phone: 020 8808 3178

Web: https://www.craving.london/

Opening Hours: Thursday-Friday 10.00-23.00 (last orders 15.30 and 22.00); Saturday, Sunday and Monday 10.00-16.00 (last orders 15.30); closed Tuesday-Wednesday.

Reservations: yeah, if you want

Average cost including soft drinks but excluding tip: £26 approx.

Rating★★★☆☆

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