I remember the dark pre-ramen days of London. I’m a sucker for noodles in soup – laksa, pho, wonton soup noodles all float my boat. So, when I first tasted ramen at Ippudo in New York, my mind was blown. I specifically love tonkotsu ramen where the pork bones are boiled for 18+hours to get a super-rich, creamy soup base – soup noodles are all about the soup for me.
As pointed out in Vicky’s review of Bone Daddies (one of my other favourite bowls of ramen in London), it’s not really practical or fun to make at home. Only one of my friends has been foolish enough to try (step forward, my foodie friend and Boozy Buncher Andrew) and he said his flat stank of pork for 3 days. Best part of the story though is what happened to his precious soup – I’ll let him tell you in his Ramen Wars review.
Fortunately, London now lives in more enlightened times and in a small area of Central London, there are now no less than 10 ramen restaurants. Some are home-grown but large international chains like Ippudo have also set up shop here.
Kanada Ya was founded in 2009 by Kazuhiro Kanada in the small city of Yukuhashi on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. Its first international restaurant opened in Hong Kong in April 2014 with London’s first branch following suit in Covent Garden in September 2014.
Despite being located opposite the road from a large Ippudo ramen restaurant, Kanada Ya flourished with a long queue of largely Asian clientele to be found standing patiently outside, waiting for a taste of its signature bubbly, creamy soup described as cappuccino ramen. Apparently, the key to their broth is that they wash their pork bones before boiling.
Kanada Ya opened their second branch in Haymarket, just off Leicester Square a few weeks ago and I was glad to see no queue when I visited yesterday. The new premises are bigger than the original restaurant and they even take reservations for parties between 5 and 7 dinners. They’ve continued their pattern of opening near other ramen restaurants – Muga is only a few doors away.
The menu is larger than at the St Giles branch with a version of tantan ramen as well as an intriguing-sounding truffle ramen on the menu. They also had more starters and I went for my favourite karaage fried chicken.
For the purposes of Ramen Wars, I opted for the original tonkotsu ramen with the addition of a Hanjuku egg. You are asked to choose the firmness level to which you want your noodles cooked and I went with the recommended hard.
When the ramen arrived, the bowl had a great porky smell. The soup was light and creamy and not over-crowded (I’m looking accusingly at you, Shoryu, with your bowls overfilled with bean sprouts). I added some sesame seeds and a few pickled vegetables from the condiments on the table and dug in.
Firstly, the soup was heavenly. Very smooth but great depth of flavour and fatty without being oily. I lapped it all up. The egg noodles were still springy. The 5 pieces of pork belly chashu was sliced thin but thick enough to get a nice chew. Some wood ear fungus, spring onion and nori seaweed balanced out the bowl beautifully. The egg yolk was delightfully soft as you would expect in any top class ramen-ya.
The karaage was lovely too. Crunchy and juicy as it should be.
Here are my Ramen Wars ratings
Noodles: top noodles and they always ask you how firm you would like them cooked
Soup base: excellent umami depth and velvety smooth with the characteristic cappuccino bubbles
Toppings: I could do with more chashu, which is sliced thin but overall good combination
Egg: it tasted nice but you do have to add it as it’s not included as standard
General happiness: it’s great that there’s not as much of a queue as at the original branch. Service was good. Nothing to fault
Noodles: ★★★★★ Soup: ★★★★★ Toppings: ★★★★☆ Egg: ★★★★★ Happiness: ★★★★★
This branch seems to be quieter than the original and with the expanded menu, it’s definitely my destination of choice to eat chef Kanada’s cappuccino ramen. Anyone want to join me to try the truffle ramen with porcini truffle paste?
3, Panton Street, Haymarket, London SW1Y 4DL