This autumn London’s love affair with ramen reaches a new intensity with two new ramen restaurants going head to head on St Giles High St. The first of them, Kanada-ya, opened this week and I went along to see what’s on offer.
First of all, Kanada-ya has nothing to do with Canada. It’s named after its founder, Kazuhiro Kanada, a former bicycle courier who taught himself to cook ramen in his back garden in his home town of Yukuhashi. Yukuhashi is in Fukuoka, the home of Hakata tonkotsu ramen, and it’s tonkotsu (pork bone) ramen that Kanada-ya serves.
Every ramen restaurant has its own secret way of boiling the pork bones and making the stock that gives their ramen its signature flavour. Kanada-ya wash their pork bones before boiling them and skim the soup during the boiling process to give it clarity of taste and appearance.
A special feature is the option to choose the way you noodles are cooked; soft, regular, hard or very hard. Hard is what you might call al dente; very hard is probably a step too far unless you want your noodles seriously challenging. We opted for regular which was the Goldilocks option – just right. Japanese noodles are made from buckwheat flour and don’t include egg like Italian pasta, giving them a chewier texture.
The menu is admirably concise; three noodle dishes; original, moyashi (bean sprouts) and char-shu, where pork collar takes the place of the pork belly in the original ramen, plus a short list of additional toppings and a small selection of onigiri rice balls, in the unlikely event that you’re still hungry.
I had the original ramen with the addition of Hanjuku egg because I don’t think a bowl of ramen is complete without a marinaded, soft-boiled egg. All ramen bowls include wood ear fungus mushroom (kikurage), finely sliced spring onion, char-shu pork belly and a sheet of nori (seaweed).
My companion had the Moyashi ramen and gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up. I was impressed with my ramen too, delicately flavoured and really delivering on the promise of clarity of taste.
Kanada-ya is only small; it seats twenty four and when we went at Saturday lunchtime there was a queue to get in. But that’s a sign of its popularity as much as its size, and as word gets round it can only increase, so go now while you’re ahead of the pack.
It will be interesting to play the comparison game when Ippudo opens directly across from Kanada-ya later this month. Ippudo is a giant compared to Kanada-ya, with over a hundred restaurants in Japan and abroad. They’re based in the new Central St Giles building, with a shiny glass restaurant seating eighty. But I’d be inclined to say that Kanada-ya, David to this Goliath, will hold their own. Sometimes all you want is a little corner place where they cook the noodles the way you like them.
Kanada-ya is at 64 St Giles High St. It’s open Monday to Saturday 12 pm to 10 pm and it doesn’t take bookings. I was a guest of Kanada-ya but my opinions are my own.