One great thing about Japan (of many), which I touched upon in my numerous Japan posts here, here and here – is that notion of specialism and the contentment to be achieved by doing one thing to perfection.
This quest for perfection isn’t just in terms of food (the amazing woodblock prints, handicrafts and ceramics attest to this dedication too) but food is certainly an area where it applies. Check out Japan's burger and coffee 'scenes' for more obsessive niches - both touched on in my second and third posts above, respectively.
Soho has always been quite the focal point for Japanese food. The western end of Brewer Street has always had a cluster of restaurants and stores, but they are more generalist. But now radiating off Old Compton Street are three examples of that determination to do just one thing well. First came Bincho Yakitori, and then Koya and its foot-stretched udon, and now Tonkotsu.
Tonkotsu is a type of ramen. It’s not even a ramen-only joint as the relatively limited menu illustrates. A ramen joint might as well be John Lewis Oxford Street in the modern Japanese food world.
It's in fact a very specific broth made from boiling pork bones and bits for 18 hours (in this case) and building the noodle soup from there.
At £11, I didn’t find it brilliant value but it was pretty good. The broth is indeed very heavy on meat flavours, but it also carries a fair bit of fat too. The slices of pork were few and far between, and again rather fatty, contributing to the oily stock. The ramen itself retained bite which was good. But on the whole, it was a tad anticlimactic.
By the way, the Tokyo Spicy is also a different pork noodle soup. So it's those two, or a veggie one (which I bet was extremely reluctantly added). And that's your choice.
Fear not though, for at Tonkotsu, they have a solid range of sides and bits to broaden the scope.
Kara age must be one of the best snacks invented (£6). It’s faithful here – with fat left on and made of thigh – and heavily seasoned. I’m glad they haven’t Anglicised it somewhat by using breast, but it may not be to everyone’s tastes.
Pork gyoza (£5) were fine too. They’re very plain in terms of spicing which again is correct and traditional, but some may be more accustomed to Wagamama’s gyozas with as many ingredients as spring rolls. You get five too, which was plenty.
Drinks here are fantastic. Draft Asahi in the proper glasses, and a very extensive list of craft beers by the bottle and some more Japanese treats.
So on balance, I did like Tonkotsu but ironically their headline dish was actually their weakest link for me. It wasn’t bad in any way, it was fine – but was quite forgettable compared to the accompaniments and the fun atmosphere. And sorry but I have to go there: it just didn’t give me the wholesome, healthy, comforted feel of a massive bowl of udon from Koya. Not a patch.
But it’s a great new opening to have nonetheless, and anything which is authentic, and both diversifies and educates us in terms of Japanese food is always a plus in my book.
Food – 6.5/10 (bizarrely our party all thought of 6.5, even though I don't usually do halves)
Drink – 9/10
Service - 8/10
Value – 7/10
Tap water tales – 3/10 (none offered, none requested - 3 is for not hawking bottled)
Staff Hotness – 8/10