If you’ve just fired up Googlemaps for directions to Tokyo, thinking “WTF, is that some new ramen joint in Dalston I’ve never heard of? How did this pass me by? Cordelia! Pass me my bloody iPhone and get us a table for two this VERY INSTANT” then just hold your horses.
I mean the actual Tokyo. Yeah, the one in Japan.
I went to Tokyo and had ramen twice and I still preferred the tantamen at Bone Daddies.
Now if you’re one of those people who bleat “but authenticiteeeeeee” then chances are you’ve already given me up as a lost cause. But I don’t have a problem with restaurants which specialise in a particular cuisine and keep it brilliant but tweak it to suit the tastes of their new customers. I mean, how many times have you eaten dimsum in London and been given boiled chicken feet as a non-negotiable starter? Well, quite. But that’s a pretty standard appetiser in Guangdong, so if you reckon you’re a fan of Cantonese cuisine but you’ve not chewed a chicken claw, then guess what: not authentic.
So anyway, back to Bone Daddies. If we’re going to discuss the “realness” then let’s do it briefly. The broth is cooked for 20 hours. You can choose how hard you like your noodles. The basic ingredients are what you’d expect in Japan: pork, spring onion, bamboo, bean sprouts, nori. They offer things like “additional fat pipette” which echoes the Japanese “extra richness” option. When it comes to flavour, what I ate in Japan came incredibly close to this (or the other way around), but here it’s arguably more intense.
But look, this blog needs to assume that you won’t be heading to Japan anytime soon. Chances are you just want a bowl of excellent ramen within the confines of the M25. And for what it’s worth, I’m firmly of the opinion that you won’t get a more pleasurable experience anywhere outside of Bone Daddies.
It’s safe to say that Japanese cuisine does, on the whole, favour more subtle tastes; and that’s great, if it’s your choice. But personally I like my dishes to pack a punch, and Bone Daddies does that more so than any other ramen restaurant in London. Do you prefer delicate flavours and mild seasoning? Maybe go somewhere else. Do you enjoy meaty chunks of tender, juicy chicken; a rich, creamy tonkotsu broth; or tantamen with the perfect kick of chilli, tang of garlic, and sesame sweetness? Then Bone Daddies is where it’s at.
I’ll put it into context. Despite Grant‘s assertions that we Brits have an inbuilt adoration for it, I really hate to queue. There are so many restaurants in London, why would you waste your time in crocodile fashion on London’s dirty pavements?
Well, when this place opened, queues stretched around the block. In fact it’s been around for a couple of years now and if you pick the wrong time (Friday evening at 6pm; lunch time, occasionally) then you may still find yourself waiting for a good ten minutes. But I don’t care. I stick my Kindle in my pocket and I grab my place.
You could be forgiven for wondering if it’s possibly worth the wait. But, good people of London, I am here to tell you that it is. On my first visit, I stood in the cold night air for well over half an hour (after which I got through the door and then hung around for another ten minutes), freezing off my poor little food-starved fingers, wasting the precious moments of my life on one of Soho’s less salubrious backstreets. But then we were greeted with cool music, a friendly vibe, fantastic 1950s-Japanese-rockabilly-themed walls, offers of drinks to be brought to us in the queue, and all this without the ramen itself . . . oh, oh, oh the ramen.
For my first visit I obeyed the waiter’s suggestion and went for the tantamen with extra pulled chicken. Wowzers Mr Waiter, you know your product. A fantastic mixture of thick, flavoursome broth with tender meat, gooey egg and spicy, peanutty toppings. The noodles had the perfect bite; springy, textured, delicious. Even from my plebian viewpoint, I couldn’t possibly have imagined how it might get any better.
Except it did. I went away and tried London’s other ramen joints and I tell you what, they were pretty flipping good. We Brits are all over the ramen scene right now and there is some stiff competition. But I kept coming back to Bone Daddies and I was never disappointed. The tonkotsu is fantastic, rich, and oh so comforting. I had an extra pipette of fat when my arteries felt in particular need of clogging, and it was worth every heart-stopping mouthful. The hilariously-named cock scratchings (I’m a child) add a surprisingly pleasing texture. The pulled chicken may not be a traditional Japanese addition but it works remarkably well. Their eggs are always cooked to perfection.
And then there’s the extra touches which elevate this place to truly heart-warming. The pictures of Yoyogi Park Elvises in the toilets. The sesame seeds in their own little grinders. Whole garlic cloves on each table with a handy crusher. A pot of hair ties for those of us who prefer not to drop our split ends in our noodles. The impressive range of drinks, including a whole bunch of whiskeys and sakes (the latter both warm and cold), and genuinely good mocktails which don’t just feel like an afterthought (try the Red Rocket).
You know what else, though? The staff are just so lovely. And that’s a rarity around here. On my first visit, our waiter knocked 10% off the bill “because people should be nice to each other and it’s good to share the love”. Bless you, nameless waiter! You not only made our night but guaranteed my repeat custom, not that getting a few quid off our meal would have been the defining factor. That would be the phenomenally tasty bowls of deliciousness. Indeed, I was back for more with my colleagues four days later, and I’ve since lost count of my repeat visits, so it clearly worked.
And then I went to Tokyo and ate ramen and it was amazing, no question, but I couldn’t help thinking: I prefer it at Bone Daddies. Does that make me a noodle heathen? Or just a happy British person who enjoys Bone Daddies’ carefully and very slightly Anglicised versions of Japan’s delicious comfort food? Who knows. Who cares?! All I can say is that when I return to Bone Daddies I won’t just be thinking “Gosh, this takes me back to Japan”. I’ll be thinking “This is why I love London”.
Noodles: Invariably firm and tasty but in a spirit of total honesty, they don’t always have the perfect bite
Soup: Rich, intense, warming, silky: everything a ramen broth should be
Toppings: Excellent and varied. A little bit haphazard in presentation, depending on the dish, but generous and easily customisable
Egg: Gooey, delicious, AND you get a whole one – none of this half-egg rubbish
General Happiness: Regardless of my mood when I enter the building, I consistently leave Bone Daddies radiating joy and contentment with the world.
Noodles: ★★★★☆ Soup: ★★★★★ Toppings: ★★★★☆ Egg: ★★★★★ Happiness: ★★★★★
31 Peter St, London W1F 0AR