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Ramen Resolution: Karaage Setsuna

Ramen Resolution: Karaage Setsuna

After a long flight and a quick trip to Kerry Park to snap the picture (below) of Seattle’s iconic skyline, I was ready for ramen!

After being mesmerised by the view for a while, I turned to trusty Google Maps to find the nearest place that took my fancy and set off in the direction of the hipster-lite Belltown district.

I initially walked past Karaage Setsuna, I paused briefly to look at the menu, but decided to see what else might lie around the corner, but I soon doubled back. I think it was the smell of fried chicken that did it.

This is not a fancy place. The kitchen storage is in the restaurant, brooms and mops are scattered about. This is an authentic neighbourhood restaurant.

Karrage Setsuna roughly translates as “a moment of fried chicken”. Therefore it was a given that the signature chicken dish would be my starter, I added a side of spicy mayonnaise and chose the Ra-Min noodles (which I assumed to be a typo).

The noodles arrived first. A little on the watery side, rather than the thicker tonkotsu broths that I’ve come to prefer, but still very tasty, and the paper-thin slices of red onion added a crunch and a sweetness. My only comment was there was slightly too much coriander, which made it feel a bit more like pho than ramen.

That said, this restaurant pitches itself a Japanese-Hawaiian fusion, so a bit of a twist was to be expected.

The chicken arrived and was piled high. The chunks of thigh meat were a little larger than bite-sized, which made eating them tricky, but perhaps that says more about my chopstick prowess. The coating was salty and crispy, with the spicy mayo adding a good amount of heat.

There were other lone diners in the restaurant, which made me feel less awkward, and there is something very normal about eating ramen alone.

I have to also commend them for the addition of Narutomaki into the noodles. I always see the white and pink swirly fishcake always as an indicator of quality (even if I don’t know what it;s made of!).

I award Karrage Setsuna a grand total of RAMEN (4 out of 5), a thicker soup and this would have tipped into a 5.

Oodles of Noodles

Oodles of Noodles

Osaki Hiroshi, the author of The Secret History of Ramen in Japan, claims to eat 800 bowls of ramen per year. At a measly 14 bowls, I haven’t even come close to 10% of that in the last 12 months.

However, I think it’s safe to say that I’m a big fan and whilst I couldn’t claim to be an expert, I do have a well-developed sense of what I like, and what I would steer clear of.

Based on what I’ve learnt during 2017, I present my perfect ramen…now I just need to work out how to make it!

  • Broth – thicker/meatier ones have the edge over thinner soy or miso versions
  • Noodle – on the slightly hard end, and ideally the straight ones rather than curly ones
  • Toppings – Egg, swirly fishcake, seaweed, sweetcorn, cabbage and add cheese if available
  • Spoon – call me weird, but I prefer a ramen ladle to a rice spoon

There are still ramen joints I haven’t gotten around to trying (and I’m always open to recommendations!). I’m not done with blogging about this just yet, but take a look back at all of the blogs so far, or skip right to my faves Bone Daddies and Monohon.


Ramen Resolution – Nanban

Ramen Resolution – Nanban

It’s been a couple of months since a ramen review. I did go somewhere not so long ago, but work has been crazy busy and I didn’t get chance to post about it; now I feel like it’s too late.

However, conscious that there were only two days of 2017 left, I wanted to squeeze in one last ramen adventure!

I took myself to Nanban in Brixton.

There were four factors which influenced this decision:

  1. It’s only about 20 minutes from where I live
  2. I have walked past it previously and always thought that it needed to be subjected to my pointless reviews
  3. One of their dishes was recently voted THIRD BEST DISH in London
  4. The restaurant is the product of former Masterchef winner Tim Anderson

I arrived at a half full restaurant at lunchtime. This time of year it can be difficult to decide if that is a sign to avoid, or that people still have leftover turkey to eat. I was shown to a bar stool and provided with an extensive menu, additional seasonal extras and special’s of the day.

I ordered a cocktail to sip whilst I waited; a plum bramble. I wouldn’t recommend this, I usually love a bramble, but the addition of plum wine was overpowering.

I think the first thing I noticed was the eclectic music choices. A fusion of Carribean and Radio 2 soft rock. As an aside, why don’t restaurants take a leaf out of Joe and The Juice’s book and curate Spotify playlists?

After a brief glance at the menu (I’d checked it out online first) I plumped for the Winter Chicken Karaage to start, followed by the Lamb Tam Tam Ramen. I also added an Onsen Egg.

A brief interlude to talk more about Onsen Eggs…

The Japanese eat a lot of eggs. It’s estimated each person eats 320 eggs per year, which is almost an egg a day. With that many eggs to eat, they have a variety of ways to prepare eggs which go beyond the standard fried/boiled/scrambled options.

Onsen Eggs are cooked in their shells at 67 degrees. This soft-sets the yolk and turns the white into a delicate custard. Traditionally they would be cooked suspended in baskets at the hot springs (onsen) but a similar technique can be used at home.

All the items arrived at the same time. The ramen broth smelt strongly of aniseed or sambuca.

I have no idea how they managed to get chicken as crispy as this. The only possible explanation is some sort of Christmas miracle. I didn’t really get much of the herby flavour, but there was plenty of yuzu mayonnaise which added a citrusy kick.

The broth was delicious. Creamy, thick, slightly spicy, deep meaty flavour. Heaven. I got to the bottom of the aniseedy flavour – a lone star anise lurking at the bottom of the soup, which blended perfectly with both the minced and sliced lamb.

This being my first Onsen Egg, I wasn’t really sure how to eat it. I tipped it into the broth. I’m sure that’s some kind of sacrilege. What was surprising was that the yolk was cold – I’m not sure if that’s intentional or not.

At just over £33, it was on the expensive end of the scale, but I justified it with the ‘it’s Christmas’ excuse that I typically employ between November and February.

I’m giving Nanban a solid RAMEN (4/5). It was a great way to complete the Ramen Resolution, and will definitely go back. Until then, I’ll be drooling over their food porn on Instagram.

RamenResolution has reached the end of its year…

It’s been fun having a project and I’m sad it’s over. What’s surprised me most is that the process of writing has actually taught me quite a lot.

Writing food reviews is difficult! I have new found respect for food critics, who have to find different ways of saying things are delicious!

I also think I should have thought about my rating system more at the start. Just a score out of five is hard. It should have been more nuanced, but if I’m honest I didn’t really know what I was doing!

Have you enjoyed my reviews? I genuinely would be interested in feedback. I’m not doing this for any particular reason, other than to document my adventures, but it’s always interesting to know how it comes across and if there are ways I could make it ‘better’.

There is every possibility that, in the absence of any other resolutions for 2018, I’ll continue blogging about ramen, and might branch out into other things. Whether you’ve read this or not, Happy New Year, all the best for 2018, and in the words of Bridget Jones…follow me on Twitter.

Ramen Resolution – Tonkotsu

Ramen Resolution – Tonkotsu

A long time ago a trip to London’s glittering soho used to mean luminous cocktails named after popstars and wristbands for free entry to Heaven.

These days if I find myself in that part of town it invariably means I’m seeking out a noodles.

How times change!

Tonkotsu is a place I have walked past loads, but only just gotten around to visiting. From the outset the signs were good: no empty seats when we arrived and windows fogged up by ramen steam. They’re also the proud as punch about their made-in-store noodles.

Weplumped for the ‘eat the bits chilli wings’, steamed brocolli with Japanese mayonnaise and the signature Tonkotsu ramen. (One of the many motto’s which guide me is that you should always sample dishes with the same name as the restaurant).

The chicken wings were delicious. The chilli sauce was fantastic, not the punchy heat that I was expecting, more of a slow burn, lingering in your mouth.

The ramen was ok. On the downside, the egg was too hard and the pork chewy, to the point where Adam left his. But on the upside the broth was silky-smooth and salty, and the bamboo shoots were incredible – tiny little sponges which had soaked up the broth.

I think I’d probably built Tonkotsu up in my head. They have a great menu, and it’s got a modern yet really authentic vibe. If only the food had been cooked to perfection, it would be up there in the leaderboard. As it is, with regret, I award it a RAMEN (2 out of 5).

Oh, and check it out…I now have a leaderboard, I just need to work out how to hyperlink the entries to the blog posts. That that can be a project for another time!

#RamenResolution Leaderboard

1Bone Daddies - Old St5/5
4Bantam King4/5
5Koi Ramen4/5
6Okan Brixton4/5
7Bone Daddies - Soho4/5
9Shoryu - Kingly Court3/5
11Tonkotsu - Soho2/5
12Hare and Tortoise2/5
14GoNot Ramen!
Ramen Resolution – Mamalan

Ramen Resolution – Mamalan

Confession: This is not actually a ramen review.

It should have been, but we panic-chose where we were eating and assumed (incorrectly) that an asian resturant in trendy Brixton Village would be purveyors of ramen-y goodness. We had spotted a free table, which at 7.30pm in London is not insignificant, so we plopped ourselves down before we had really studied the menu.

Instead, Mamalan is full on Chinese. We’d already gotten this far, and needed to be at a friends house soon, so we ordered the closest equivalent – noodle soup.

Obviously we also ordered a starter (and I think my new thing is getting a starter to share that I don’t fell quite so full afterwards).

The mama wings were spicy and tangy, with juts the right amount of heat for me. There was a strange vinegar on the table and we whacked a bit of that on too.

This was not ramen. The soup was far lighter and fresher. The noodles were different in texture. There were different vegetables lolling in the soup. There were wontons.

It was delicious, and it felt very nutritious, and like it was probably far healthier than ramen. But alas, ramen it was not, so sadly I have to rate it RAMEN (1 out of 5, and that’s just for the wings and the cocktails).

FYI, there is something to do with free noodles on their Instagram at the moment.

Ramen Resolution – Hare and Tortoise

Ramen Resolution – Hare and Tortoise

I first visited Hare and Tortoise long before Ramen Resolution become my thing. In fact, long before I even really knew that ramen could be more than the little packets of salty ‘chicken’ noodles at all.

On my last visit, which I think would have been in 2012, I had a Katsu curry. I remember it being tasty, but as it’s been five years, it clearly wasn’t somewhere I was clamouring to return to.

I didn’t get to see much of this summer due to a variety of work things, but obviously there was time for some noodles here and there!

One of the warm evenings we took a stroll from Adam’s swanky crash pad to the Blackfriars branch of Hare and Tortoise. We were early and there was only one other family in there. We were outnumbered by staff by a ration of what felt like 12:1. I always find that a bit awkward.

The situation was improved when the sake arrived – unusually in a small bottle rather than a carafe.

We ordered our food. Hare and Tortoise seems more of a ‘typical Japanese’. It sells more than just ramen, and specialises in sushi and sashimi. I’m a fan of both, but that is not what RamenRevolution was all about! Our katsu prawns and ramen arrived simultaneously. The downside of this is that the broth keeps on cooking the noodles so once you get to them they were a bit too soft.

I opted for the Tantanmen ramen which had the added ingredient o peanut paste. This gave it a good mouthfeel, but part of me felt it was a shortcut rather than the long-boil broths which achieve the same effect.

Watch out, here comes the science…I discovered that the silken broths get that when the collagen in the animal bones starts to breakdown. I warned you, once you know the science it suddenly seems less delicious.

Overall Id say Hare and Tortoise was ok, but I think you can get better ramen, cheaper and in less formal surroundings. They might not be factors that you’re looking for, but ramen is essentially street food and I’m wary of places which try and pretend otherwise.

I give them a RAMEN (2 out of 5) which is my lowest score so far. It might be great for other things but in the ramen race both the Hare and Tortoise are trailing behind others.

Yes, I did just weave in an Aesop’s fable reference. That’s how I roll!

Ramen Resolution – Kanada-Ya

Ramen Resolution – Kanada-Ya

As I rushed from Tottenham Court Road station to Kanada-Ya last Friday I realised how much this part of town has changed in the last 10 years. Where once stood The Astoria lies just a big empty space 😢.

There use to be a little row of asian food restaurants around Denmark Street which were always packed, sadly most of those have now closed to make way for the Elizabeth Line 😢😢.

Kanada-Ya is a small restaurant just a little further towards Holborn and but having seen Giles Coren had waited outside (there’s a no-reservation system) there for a bowl of soup, I thought it was probably worth popping in.

As seems to be a running theme, I was late, but having already looked at the menu online, I knew I would be choosing the karaage (because: fried chicken) and the tonkotsu x (because: exclusive to London). With unlimited access to pickled ginger, this place was already looking to be a serious contender before any food arrived!

I actually forgot to take the picture before I started because I was so excited to get stuck in, hence the ‘floaters’ in the tangy yuzu mayonnaise. The chicken was juicy and crispy on the outside, but the texture was a bit weird, sort of stringy.

As the server placed it down she rotated it so the logo was at the top. Having been to a traditional tea ceremony in Kyoto I know the significance they place on simple gestures such as this.

The broth was alright, a bit thinner than I had expected. I re-read them menu and realised it was a combination of pork and chicken, so I assume that’s the issue. Nearly every time I’ve chosen a chicken option I’ve been disappointed. I think the lesson from this year will be that chicken-based ramen just isn’t for me.

A great thing about some ramen joints is the ability to order extra noodles if you have excess soup. the second helping of noodles was firmer, which I preferred.

The egg though. Let me tell you about the egg. The Tonkostu X doesn’t come with an egg as standard, but google pictures of ramen and there is invariably egg. I’m no purist, but there should always be an egg. This egg was perfection.

I’m a bit sad that I didn’t try an onigiri rice ball. The lady seated next to me had one and it looked great.

The overall bill came to just over £51, which I thought was pretty average value for London, and good considering it’s the first time we’ve had kaedama (the noodle refill). Overall I liked Kanada-Ya, but feel a little let down by my choices, which just means I’ll have to go back!

On this occasion I’m rating a middle of the road RAMEN (3 out of 5), but really any points taken away (other than the stringy chicken) are my fault rather than theirs.