Ippudo is the latest ramen restaurant to open in London, as the ramen craze shows no sign of abating. Up until now we’ve mainly seen small, dedicated operations with a personal commitment to top class Hakata ramen, but Ippudo breaks new ground with a snazzy new 80-seat restaurant in the glitzy new glass skyscrapers of Central St Giles. So what’s it like?
Ippudo has an impressive pedigree. It was founded in Hakata by Shigemi Kawahara, who has apparently been dubbed ‘the Ramen King’, according to Ippudo’s website. (It doesn’t say who by). He’s opened eighty restaurants in Japan and is now expanding around the world, with a presence in New York, Australia and Singapore and more. What’s the secret of his success?
Pizazz, that’s what. The Ippudo concept is to turn a meal into a theatrical experience. Kawahara says a restaurant should be a stage where ‘each employee plays a role like an actor. From cooking to serving, every move is choreographed to perfect timing, even down to the moment when the staff bids a customer goodbye.’
That’s what you get with Ippudo in London. From the outside it’s shiny and glittery; inside it’s all low lighting and black leather seating with a balcony-like feel to the first floor that enables diners there to look down on to diners below.
There’s a brightly lit kitchen on the ground floor and a smaller one on the first floor, with a mural of well-muscled Japanese workers along the corridor that leads to the upstairs seating area.
They’re clearly trying very hard to give the experience a Japanese feel. All the staff, who are a typically London ethnic mix, speak a least a little Japanese. (I didn’t test them out to see how far it went – I’m not cruel). So you’re greeted with loud cries of irassahimase (welcome) as you arrive and arigato gozaimasu (thank you) as you leave, plus, when food emerges from the kitchen, the staff call the table numbers to each other in Japanese too. Nice touch, though they have to compete with American big band crooners on the sound system.
There’s a short ramen menu and an a la carte menu offering teppanyaki, chirashi sushi or wagyu tataki among other dishes, but my feeling is that you go to a ramen house for the ramen.
I ordered hojicha (roasted tea), gyoza dumplings and the shiromaru Hakata classic ramen with boiled egg.
I found the ramen a bit over-salty, but tastes vary and judging by the popularity of the place there are plenty of people who like their ramen that way.
The bill is nicely presented in a wooden sake cup.
Ippudo is open daily from 11pm to 3pm and from 5pm to 11pm.