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Tonkotsu East review (soft opening) – finally, ramen in Hackney!

This review of Tonkotsu East will be very short – but having been on the quest for the best ramen in London for over a year now, I couldn’t pass on the chance to let foodie Londoners, and in particular my fellow Hackneyites, of a welcome addiction to East London dining scene- proper RAMEN! Even better, proper Tonkotsu. The homonymous Soho joint (which I reviewed in June 2012) has now branched out to Haggerston, serving ramen and other Japanese dishes to the trendy Dalston and Shoreditch crowds and to the not-so-trendy noodle nerds like me.

tonkotsu east tsukemen ramen

Where?

Tonkotsu East occupies a large vaulted space under Arch 334 on the Overground rails just behind Haggerston station – if you are looking for it on your Google Maps, search for Dunstan Street, you’ll see the arches just past a coffee shop called Curio Cabal. Like its Soho sibling, much attention has clearly been put into designing the space and the bare-bones, industrial style tempered by touches of blond wood has been retained and updated to have an East London edge. In fact, the decor (or lack thereof) reminded me a lot of  other places carved under the railway arches like Beagle and Fabrique Bakery in nearby Hoxton. The dining room has a view on the all-metal kitchen and also on the workshops where the ramen noodles are freshly made. I really like the overall vibe, feeling spacious and cozy at the same time, and I imagine the long shared table at the center to prove popular for pre or post drinks mingling.

tonkotsu east review

When?

Official opening of Tonkotsu East is scheduled for October, but I went to one of their BYO pre-opening events on Saturday September 28 as I just couldn’t contain my excitemenet at the idea of not having to go to Soho to satisfy my ramen cravings but had to check whether the offering was up to scractch. In my two visits at Tonkotsu on Dean Street, I had loved the place and most of the food but had found the ramen broth a bit too delicate for my taste.

I can imagine this venue being especially busy at dinner in the future, and probably even Saturday lunch (am I the only one to think that pork fat broth and starchy noodles are a GREAT hangover cure?).

tonkotsu east ramen

What?

At the preview event, we had a three-course fixed menu with no choice – a trio of starters, a main of noodles and a dessert. I assume the dishes we had will be on the regular menu after opening, and I hope they stay (with the exception of the dessert perhaps). Here’s what we had:

Seabass Carpaccio – excellent! Translucent, fresh slices of fish accompanied by a crunchy and punchy salad, more like a slaw but with no mayo. I whish there had  been a bit more fish…

Salt and Sansho Squid and Crab Korokke (AKA Fried Squid and Crab Croquette) – these two appetisers were an ideal bridge into the main event, full of flavour but not too much “in your face”. The squid, if not crispy, was tender and juicy with a hint of citrus added by the sansho (it’s OK, I didn’t know what sansho was either before reading this). The crab croquette was creamy inside the crispy shell, and came with a delicious sauce where I think I spotted pickle bits.

tonkotsu east review 4

By this time, our tastebuds were into overdrive and our stomachs rumbling for the signature Pork and Chicken broth ramen – it was a bit of a surprise to see that they chose tsukemen, a style of ramen where the noodles are dipped into the broth, rather than the traditional soupy noodles. I had tsukemen in my recent trip to Los Angeles and enjoyed it, but I’m curious to see what the London crowds will think – for sure, it seemed to be great fun for the few kids sitting next to us, splashing strands of noodles into the bowls and laughing at their own mess.

tonkotsu ramen london

We waited quite a bit for our mains and spied nervously as a chef made frequent trips to the noodle machine and the kitchen staff seemed slightly overwhelmed – all to be expected on dry runs, no doubt – we got drinks on the house to kill time, which was a nice touch. The shared tables also encourage conversation with the neighbours if you so fancy.

When we finally got our bowls of gleaming, springy-looking ramen and a delicious smelling broth, we decided it was definitely worth the wait. I just couldn’t dip mine fast enough. The ramen comes dressed with bamboo shoots, nice thin sliced pork belly and Tonkotsu’s famous (for me at least) nitamago egg, which had been my most distinct memory from my first trip there. The texture of the noodles was just perfect and the broth was a real treat – it tasted balanced, rich but not too fatty and clung nicely to the noodles, which is essential in tsukemen style ramen to avoid blandness. If I had to be very critical, I think the broth and the bowl could be hotter – unless you literally swallow it whole, the broth will get cold quickly in such a big room and the fat starts to congeal. As we were repeatedly asked for feedback by the cheerful, attentive staff, we told them our minor peeves and I am sure they’ll get the temperature just right soon.

tonkotsu east review 3

Dessert was a lovely looking choux filled with chantilly cream – a bit odd at the end of a Japanese menu, but I guess they wanted to avoid more commonplace options like matcha tea icecream or doraiaki cakes. I would have gladly had the obvious choice; I am no fan of  choux pastry and sweets in general, so I scooped out the cream which was not too sweet and left the rest behind. The rest of the party, though, judged the dessert delicious.

How much?

Tickets for the opening event (three starters samples, a main, dessert and a cocktail) were sold at £30, which should be a clue as to the prices for the regular menu. It is not exactly a cheap eat, especially compared to the average spend on the nearby plethora of Vietnamese eateries, but it also feels a lot more like a nice meal out rather than a MSG-laden quick fill up.

 

Why? Yay or nay

For me  Tonkotsu East it’s a big YES – first, it’s the first ramen joint Eastside and it may as well bring other places to up their game, or spur new openings. As I wrote back in 2012, I loved the concept and the atmoshpere at Tonkotsu Soho but wasn’t  blown away by their namesake dish. It looks like since then they’ve really improved the balance between keeping it delicate and authentic and making it tasty and satisfying, with some very pleasant side dished to booth – so, well done and best wishes to our new local!

tonkotsu east review location

 

 

 

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4 Comments

  1. Tonkotsu East was designed by blenheimdesign.com, same people designed Soho site.

    • Hi Robin, thanks for letting us know. I love both sites so…good job :)

  2. I love Tonkotsu in Soho – my friend reckons a piece of her was left there after we had their noodles!

    • I was not especially impressed on my first visit, but they were still on soft opening – later ones have been much better. And oh, I do LOVE the Haggerston branch. Definitely they have started a welcome ramen trend

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