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Ramen mania! Kanada-Ya London review

As you will all know by now, I am obsessed with Japanese ramen and in particular tonkotsu, the rich, milky pork broth version. In the sizzling hot debate going on at the moment between people who think sugar is the evil and swear by eating fat, and the old guard still standing by the low-calorie mantra…why choose? You can have a steaming bowl of carbs drenched in (animal) fat and “epater les bourgeois” on both sides. Aaaaaaah. Like every true indulgence, tonkotsu comes with a drizzle of rebellion in it and not a leaf of green in sight – if you don’t count nori.

So, ramen. In search of the best tonkotsu in London, I have eaten at a fair share of the city’s ramen restaurants, although I am struggling to keep up with new openings (blame the expanding waistline, I can’t run fast enough). Two new places have opened in August only – Kanada-ya and United Ramen in Islington, and more are bubbling away (see what I did there).

When I got to St.Giles High Street, I almost rejoiced in seeing that a previous fairly horrid restaurant had closed (wonder why British pizzas did not fly)…and then I noticed the MASSIVE Ippudo “opening soon” banners just in front of the diminutive, blink-and-you’ll miss it Kanada-ya shopfront [Ippudo is probably the most internationally renown Japanese restaurant brand and it specializes in ramen]. Woah, brave location choice for sure. They must be crazy confident (or crazy, period) to open in such a place, as it really looks like a David and Goliath situation. Founded by Kanada Kazuhiro in Yukuhashi, Japan, back in 2009, Kanada-Ya has won a number of awards in its home country but only has two locations abroad, London and Hong Kong.

kanadaya vs ippudo ramen

Kanada-ya London is a very simple space of glossy white tables and walls, with wooden touches here and there and a cascade of light globes from the mirrored ceiling. As far as Japanese places go and in very pop terms, it’s more manga than Memoirs of a Geisha.

The menu is printed on the paper table mats and could not be more straightforward: three types of ramen (all tonkotsu broth, no vegetarian option), a handful of toppings, and only one other food item, onigiri (rice balls) plain or with salmon. A few fun drinking options like “Japanese lemonade” – cue fluo bottles with a dropping cube making the drink fizzy – and Calpis, which my waiter describes as a “Japanese Yakult”.

Kanada ya london menu

But I am here for the love of pig, so no amount of kawai drinks will distract me from the main event. I go for the Original ramen (priced at a reasonable £10) and my friend goes all deluxe with the £12.5 Chashu Men version that also features bean sprouts (technically, NOT greens) and pork collar meat slices instead of pork belly.

Kanada-Ya’s signature ramen consist of alkaline noodles (handmade on the premises, I am told, and cooked to your liking), tonkotsu broth, secret sauce (imported from the original restaurant, and hand-made by Mr. Kanada), wood ear mushroom (kikurage), spring onion, chashu pork belly and a sheet of nori. I add the tamago egg and don’t regret it as it’s perfectly done, tasty and creamy.

kanada ya ramen review

Left: Original ramen (with added Anjuku Egg); right: Chashu Men (with added Beansprouts)

The “porky” smell is so heady I am almost drooling into my bowl (no points for image prettiness, I know) while I grind the sesame over the broth and taste the “Spicy Miso” sauce.

Verdict: I found Kanada-ya broth really outstanding for its balance – tasty but not overly salty, meaty but not too greasy, almost creamy and with the perfect density to cling to the noodles. The ramen itself is good, if not exceptional – I had mine cooked “hard”, or al dente, maybe next time I’ll go for medium as I would prefer a bit more of a chewy bite. Meat is sliced thin but there is a quite generous amount of it. Lovers of heavier flavours and chilli freaks like me can add Black Garlic Sauce (warning: very garlick-y) or Spicy Miso. I try it on the second half of my ramen, a dollop is enough to lift off the broth, although the effect is more salty than spicy for my liking.

“While most ramen is created by boiling pork bones over a long period of time, Kanada-Ya washes all stock bones meticulously before boiling, while constantly skimming the soup during cooking in order to remove any impurities. While time-consuming, this process results in a clarity of taste and appearance” (source: Kanada-Ya)

The size of the bowl is perfect for me, a satisfying portion that does not leave you stunned in carb-and-fat coma, maybe even ready for a little dessert.

Kanada ya london prices

Kanada-Ya London has around 25 covers on communal tables, an open kitchen and a modern feel

Off-menu, we get a couple of dainty mochi cakes filled with very good lemon and matcha icecream, the sharpness of which is a welcome palate-cleanser from the pork fat orgy (sake works just as well if you ask me).

All in all, Kanada-ya looks like an excellent proposition – uncomplicated, honest, focused on doing a few things very well (= a damn tasty bowl of noodles). I hope the enthusiasm and efficiency of the staff carries on beyond the launch and that they carve a niche of loyal customers- which will be needed once the crowd-magnet Goliath..erm Ippudo – opens a few steps away. I certainly will be back, although of course I will also have to try Ippudo’s version in my quest for the best ramen (life gets harder and harder) …there’s always space for more great food so bring on the ramen invasion!

If you are slightly ramen obsessed or just curious, here’s my impressions on other ramen joints in (rough) opening order: Cocoro, Tonkotsu (Soho), Bone Daddies, Shoryu, Tonkotsu (East) – plus a bonus ramen in Paris feature.
Kanada-Ya on Urbanspoon

I was a guest of Kanada-Ya on a press event. Opinions, tastebuds and brains are mine.  

 

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