In London, we're lucky that we can get virtually any cuisine under the sun, and with varying degrees of authenticity. Ramen is one of the new trends that I welcome with open arms; sure, I've never been to Japan, but I know what I love and that's a noodle soup. Bone Daddies is probably the furthest from Japan one might get - I seem to remember cheese being a feature on a specials ramen some time ago - though this is no bad thing. Their premise is based on the traditional ramen, but they pimp it to maximum effect. Though I know many fans of it, I can't take the tonkotsu broth; it's too much for poor little me, too rich for my delicate self. Instead, I usually opt for their kimchi seafood offering, or the spicy tantanmen if I'm feeling really hungry.
Shoryu Ramen, from the Japan Centre, is closer to its homeland; they've expanded to three sites pretty rapidly and they have a vast range of ramen available. Carnaby Street's yuzu tonkotsu is pleasantly citrus in flavour, but ultimately, over-whelmingly salty.
Of the lot, Tonkotsu's noodles are king. Bouncy, springy and chewy, they're only let down by slightly unimaginative toppings, and on my last visit, chashu pork that was far chewier than it should have been. But those springy noodles! Every noodle-lover's dream.
My latest discovery is Ramen Sasuke; hidden down a Soho street, it feels even more Japanese than Shoryu does. As you enter the staff greet you in Japanese. Wooden benches and tables are pared back in detail, no fancies or fripperies. The menu is limited to a few ramens, some katsu curry options and on the back page, the lunch deal offers your ramen of choice, a slightly smaller-than-usual side dish for a £1.50 charge, and a free bowl of rice should you want it. It reminded me of Ippudo, where alongside your ramen you get rice with a topping for an additional $3.
With my order of spicy miso ramen, I was given a surabachi - a traditional Japanese pestle and mortar - in which to grind the toasted sesame seeds to garnish my noodles with. It was a nice touch; some were ground to a fine powder, others I left whole for a little texture contrast.
The spicy miso ramen came in a deep bowl, piled incredibly high. Beansprouts, marinated bamboo shoots, spring onion and sweetcorn come as standard along with a slice of incredibly tender pork. For an extra £1, I added the option of a sheet of nori and half a marinated egg, nitamago. The soup was sweet with miso, rich and flavoursome - I thought it could have been a little spicier, but easily solved by the chilli oil on the table.
Crucially, the soup wasn't too rich and it didn't become a struggle, as I've experienced with other overly piggy broths. The noodles were in abundance; thick, yellow and appropriately springy. I didn't manage to finish them, much to my own astonishment. My friend's shoyu ramen (opening picture) was more demure, a clear broth sitting lightly on the stomach.
My side of gyoza, reduced down to 3 dumplings for the £1.50 charge, were good value. Crisp bottoms and delicate pastry up top, the filling could have done with more seasoning.
My friend's chicken karaage was a great example of it. The batter was crisp, bubbled and light, encasing juicy chicken. The mayonnaise it was served with proved superfluous, though I enjoyed the wedge of lemon squeezed over it.
I really loved Ramen Sasuke; it's a calm, peaceful place and on our visit was populated by only a couple of Japanese men in suits, slurping quietly away. They don't have the flamboyance of Bone Daddies, nor the variety of menu of Shoryu, but what they do have is a really good quality bowl of noodles, for a great price; all that with a drink set me back £15.
32 Great Windmill Street
London W1D 7LR
Closed Mondays, no reservations