Tonkotsu : The award winning Japanese gem hidden in an East London railway arch
By Carolyn Owlett
Hidden away under the arches close to Haggerston station lies one of east London’s most delicious restaurants, Tonkotsu. In an area densely overpopulated with gastro bars and up market pop ups this little Japanese gem makes for a welcome change.
Tonkotsu specialises in Ramen soups and the restaurant is named after the lip-smacking, creamy ramen typical in Kyushu, Japan’s most southern island, but found all over Japan. Tonkotsu ramen’s smooth, silky consistency is created by cooking pork bones for up to 18 hours, which allows collagen and other porky goodness to be emulsified into the stock. Fresh noodles are essential for the best ramen experience and must be bouncy, soft and perfect for slurping up with a tasty stock.
To ensure the authenticity of their ramen, the owners shipped over a traditional ramen noodle – making machine, complete with the cogs and gears representative of Japanese mid century industrial design. The beautiful and fully functional machine now takes pride of place at the back of the restaurant so diners can witness it in action.
In fact upon entering the restaurant the machine is the first thing that you are drawn to. The surrounding décor is simple and minimalistic but cosy. The brickwork within the arch has been left untouched and simple dark wood tables line the floor space next to an open kitchen. Large round lanterns hang above diner’s heads and dim light combined with the sounds of the train overhead make you feel as though you are in Tokyo. It’s actually quite romantic!
The menu is simple offering 6 different ramen options, a variety of freshly made gyoza and few other Japanses dishes – but don’t expect much sushi, this is very much a ramen specialist. Looking around the packed restaurant almost 90 per cent of diners had opted for the steaming bowls of soup and the rich smell fills the room. I did the same, deciding upon a Shimeji, Shiitake & Miso Ramen. This contained Miso-based, konbu and shiitake stock with shimeji mushrooms, medium thick noodles, a handful of bean sprouts and bamboo shoots and half a seasoned, soft-boiled egg. It was absolutely delicious and tastes like it has been a labour of love for a number of hours. It really is the ultimate comfort food.
In addition, I ordered prawn gyoza – which were probably the best gyoza I have ever eaten. Despite being fried the hand made casing remained light and crispy and like all of the food I sampled, tasted extremely fresh.
As well as being a restaurant Tonkotsu also doubles up as a bar and they offer a wide variety of cocktails, sake and beers from both the UK and Japan. The staff were friendly and only to happy to make suggestions if you can’t decide what you fancy.
Tonkotsu won the best cheap eats category in the 2013 Observer food monthly awards and it is clear to see why; prices for a main course ramen area capped at just £11!
Eating ramen is almost impossible to do politely so the best option is just do dig in and slurp away. For that reason it is probably the last place you would want to take a first date in, but certainly a fantastic dinner venue for any other occasion. I would highly recommend checking out this cosy haven over the next few months as the weather gets colder.
1a Dunston Street
Tel: 020 7254 2478