Thursday, 18 April 2013

Shoryu Ramen

Much like Link wasting time slashing chickens, I must admit to being pretty late in collecting my final piece of the triforce. Shoryu Ramen is one of that holy trinity of current ramen hotspots; the others being Tonkotsu and Bone Daddies. Comparisons are inevitable but glib: certainly if burger joints are anything to go by, saturation point is a long way off.

I had the charsui ramen, which comes with 7 roast pork slices. No more, no less – it's so Japanese I love it. It’s quite astounding that in Japan, your meal precisely resembles the picture or the model, down to the quantity of every last item. Anywhere else it might seem parsimonious, but in Japan, it is just so. You get what you see, and pay the exact price. No surprises thank you.

The broth was a good compromise between milkier, thinner broths I have come across, and the more meaty, stock broths which have more flavour but can be overly oily. Shoryu’s had plenty of flavour, but it wasn’t like sucking crackling and even with my 7 pieces of pork, the broth wasn’t too oily.

The green accompaniments help further with that balance. Throw in a boiled egg, and it really does become a full meal in a bowl. Notable here is that only one egg half is provided, as opposed to two at Bone Daddies. It wasn’t as buttery and indulgent either (the yolk is missing that golden orange hue), but was absolutely fine.

In terms of the pork itself, it was less fatty than either Tonkotsu and Bone Daddies and for me, more enjoyable.

Overall, I rated Shoryu very highly. It was quick, easy and authentic. Half of the dining room was Japanese, and a good few of the staff too. I had a pot of green tea, and momentarily escaped the bus fumes and driving rain, and returned to the Tokyo backstreets (and their rain and fumes).

If the authenticity of Shoryu is its draw card, then what of the others?

Bone Daddies is great fun, and being Australian-run perhaps isn't too honour-bound to deliver authenticity and traditionalism. And whilst rame is the speciality, the menu features more diverse items to the point of having izakaya generalism. The boozier vibe and rock music support this idea that it’s a place to enjoy and socialism, as opposed to a functional joint to grab a bowl of ramen, and scarper.

Tonkotsu? I’m not sure – I’ve never been that impressed; their ramen is all stock (oil-slicked at that), light on the accompaniments and the roast pork is all fat. I do like the space, but it's a distinct third in this most arbitrary of competitions.

More ramen is always welcome in London, as are all things Japanese in abundance. Some izakaya openings in London could be fun, I’m excited about Koya 2.0 and finally I’d love somewhere with fancy tonkatsu like Maisen in Omotesando. 

Until then, my eye is on Kirazu to join the hype, become the fourth big ramen opening, and thoroughly ruin my Zelda jokes.

Shoryu Ramen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Crate Brewery

Crate is a micro-brewery which does pizzas. It’s good.

I should elaborate really. 

In deepest, darkest Hackney Wick (it’s weird), there are many industrial buildings which in these heady, post-industrial times are more suitable for apartments, raves and yes, now brewing. Crate is a few years old, a veritable old-timer for today’s brewing boom. They have the perfect spot alongside the canal, with views to the various carbuncles of the Olympic Park and Stratford itself.

About 50% of those alighting from the Overground beelined straight for Crate; we followed a girl (in a chivalrously non-threatening manner, I hasten to add) through the desolation and came across it easily. It was packed considering the eerie quiet of the streets outside, and full of bearded, industrious types scurrying around in their artisan's aprons for this higher calling of pizza and pints.

The oh-so-carefully placed sacks of barley and kegs reminded me of that old Science Museum room where kids could play at industry: scooping up grain and putting it through various conveyor belts and contraptions. Only a bit more grown up. And not completely pointless, as the outcome is beer.

Pizzas here are an odd bunch, but a merry one. My favourite was surprisingly a veggie option – the stilton, walnut and blue cheese, which sounds bizarre but was tangy and sweet genius. A sucker for detail, I loved the thoughtful, egalitarian arrangement of sweet potato allowing everyone to have a piece, possibly inspired by the local squats.

Pepperoni was also fantastic – a hot mess of gunk and grease. And whilst not a pizza bianca like the stilton, it was very light on the tomato base. And finally, the grim-sounding but again, very good minced lamb and pine nut. A friend once ordered a disgrace of a lamb pizza once (at the Lansdowne), which was like regurgitated doner meat from Upper Street's finest, so I was suspicious, but this was genuinely tasty. All crusts are Roman thin and the wooden sharing boards keep everything tactile and sociable.

I can be a bit of a purist bore about pizzas (and many other things) but these were smart, salty toppings which perfectly complemented the copious mead going down. In fact, the flavours worked so well that traditional Italian pizza adornments may have made the whole beer thing feel a bit boorish. Not that it stopped those vampy doyennes of Twitter Rachel Roberts and Grace Dent from sinking a few bottles of red instead – there is something for everyone.
So there it is – admirable pizza, interesting beers (they stock loads beyond their own brews, including a rarity on these shores, Bear Republic) and that canalside space. It would be chaos anywhere else, but luckily it’s so far from the beaten track, it’s practically in Leyton. But if you’re adventurous, and fancy doubling the population of Hackney Wick in one train journey, it may be the best shout…

Crate Brewery on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Monocle Café, London

So the Monocle Café has finally opened on Marylebone’s languid Chiltern street. It’s a very different proposition from the Tokyo café; the smaller space understandably brings a more slavish adherence to clean lines which is utterly on-brand. It is closer to the mould of a modern coffee shop than its department store basement cousin in Japan; itself more a stylised canteen or airport lounge.

The Tokyo original has more curves, non-standard angles, texture and fluidity, which is ironic given that it was designed by Omotesando Koffee’s Eiichi Kunitomo, enlisted due to his own impeccably lined, cubist masterpiece. Ostensibly, he out-Monocled Tyler. But then, Japan is the muse. With a dash of Nordic governance and pragmatism.

Coffee is procured from East London Kiwi outfit Allpress, served with Japanese inspired crockery and trays (for sale, naturally), and is thoroughly Antipodean in execution. Which is to say excellent. Cakes were baffling – they resembled the oversweet, glacier fruited cakes of Chinatown, but with real fruit pieces and actually pretty tasty. I look forward to the full menu, which promises more brunch items and possibly even gin. 

The staff are Monocle through and through. Really, the whole thing is. Whether or not the whole brand proposition is fanciful and aspirational beyond the stars is beside the point (of course it is, does the easily attainable sell £6 magazines?), as the delivery here is spot on.

Beyond some less-explored world commentary, bold ideas and voices on contemporary living, and its championing of print media, Monocle will be long remembered as an exquisite case study in branding. It’s unshakeable, beautiful, consistent, ubiquitous and preposterous. With a blue apron and a perfect beard.

It has shrewdly tapped in to success, vanity, knowledge and frequent flyer status as manifestations of the professional man’s raw competitive streak, and created something brilliant. I see it for what it is - as both  advertising bod and targeted punter, and I admire it even more.

Monocle Cafe on Urbanspoon