I wasn't alone in these feelings though. Tsuru, the popular mini chain of Japanese restaurants famous for its signature chicken katsu sandwich, started up Tsuru Ramen; a sporadic ramen Saturday, offering different ramens in two sittings in advance of opening up a ramen shop. They take this stuff seriously, with a 5 day ramen slurping research trip to Tokyo scheduled imminently. Their events have been selling out.
I managed to nab a ticket to the Tonkotsu event. Tonkotsu (not to be confused with tonkatsu) is a speciality of Kyushu and it translates to 'pork bone'. The broth is milky from simmering the pork bones over a long time. It gets its appearance from the fat and collagen and what you're left with is an intensely porky broth for the springy noodles to swim in. Topped with a slice of tender, fatty pork and half a soft boiled nitamago (soy seasoned egg), this was an excellent and hearty bowl of noodles. You can keep up to date with events by following them on Twitter and checking out their blog.
More of a permanent fixture is Shochu Lounge's Ramen Mondays. Bizarrely it isn't advertised at all, even their website doesn't say they're open on Monday lunchtimes but this tip came from the ever excellent Mr Noodles. Underneath Roka on Charlotte Street, this sleek and expensive-feeling bar is usually the den of the well-heeled, sipping on shochu cocktails before dinner upstairs but come on a Monday lunchtime and you find instead a vat of bubbling water in the middle of the bar, with a chef dunking balls of noodles into nets to get lowered into the water.
Only two options of ramen are offered; Shoyu ramen has a clear, light broth and is flavoured with soy sauce. Again topped with a soy-seasoned egg, this was a touch more cooked, resulting in a fudgy consistency. Toasted nori went well with the broth, being crisp above surface and slimy below. Slices of pork are plentiful, the noodles a pleasing consistency - I value bouncy springiness firstly and foremost.
The miso ramen is an altogether richer affair. A thicker broth seasoned heavily with the flavour of miso, this one is definitely for the winter months. The broth is borderline on the salty front and was more of a slurpable one combined with the noodles than on its' own. Sweetcorn bobbed about for some welcome sweetness and the strong flavour of sesame was prevalent. This was a gutsy bowl which worked well with the chewy noodles.
I decided it was high time I made my own. I followed the recipe for the ramen noodles from Lucky Peach issue 1 (top photo) which involved cooking baking soda in the oven and a lot of faff with the pasta machine but they weren't quite right; too mushy and not springy enough. Shop bought were better so I will omit the recipe until I get it right. But the broth of the noodles and the accompaniments were pretty damn good so it's here instead.
I based this on a tonkotsu-esque idea, but as I didn't have a huge amount of pork bones I supplemented it with oxtail for an even bigger whack of meaty flavour. To balance this out, I added some Chinese preserved radish which helped cut through the richness nicely. This kind of broth takes minimal fuss but a lot of time, so set aside at least a couple of days to make it. This recipe makes enough for about 6 bowls. It's rugged, but rich and comforting.
Oxtail & Pork Broth
1 oxtail, sectioned (into pieces...)
1 pork shank
3 large slices of ginger
Bring a pan of water to the boil and add the oxtail and pork shank. Boil for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse in a colander and clean the pot out. This is to get rid of all the horrible grey scum that will make your broth weird.
Add to a fresh pan of water, enough to cover and simmer very gently with the ginger for 10 hours with lid on in the oven at 100 degrees. It seems a lot but you can do this in a slow cooker. Drain, strain through muslin and chill overnight. Skim the fat off once it has solidified on the surface. there is a heart-stopping amount. Bring to the simmer.
500gr piece of pork belly
1.5 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp salt
Rub the salt and sugar all over the pork belly. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Drain the liquid out and pat dry, then roast for half an hour on full blast and then turn it down to 140 degrees C and roast for an hour. Remove, leave to cool and chill. (This last bit is only necessary if you like neat slices.) To serve, remove the skin if you have it on and slice into inch-thick pieces to serve on top of your ramen.
Nitamago (Soy-seasoned eggs)
1 clove of garlic
1 slice of ginger
60ml light soy sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
Bring the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sake and mirin to the boil in a small saucepan. Once it hits boiling remove and place in a container to cool. Carefully lower the room temperature eggs into a pan of boiling water and cook for 6 minutes. Remove and rinse under cold water until cooled. Very carefully peel and place in the cold soy sauce mix. Marinate overnight, turning once.
1 sheet of toasted nori per person
A handful of beansprouts, blanched
1 spring onion, slivered finely
A handful of rinsed preserved turnip or radish
1 tsp miso per person
So the rest is assembly really. Make sure the stock is bubbling heartily and assemble the cooked noodles in the bowl. Attach the toasted nori sheet to the side of the bowl (a smear of miso did this well) and ladle the broth into the bowl. Top with beansprouts, pickled veg, slivered spring onion and the tsp of miso so that it dissolves into the broth, and finally split an egg in half and settle on top. Serve immediately.