I have long dreamt about going to Japan. Since I was about 6 or so, and first saw silk kimonos, sake flagons and cups and other paraphernalia at the now long-gone Mitsukikku shop in South Kensington, I've been fascinated by the art, food and culture of the land of the Rising Sun.....
I nearly had the chance to see it for myself. Him Indoors and I had booked everything; digs in Tokyo and Kyoto, a pass on the Shinkansen... flights... All was ready. And then the terrible and tragic events where Japan was hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake, its subsequent tsumami which caused terrible damage to the now infamous Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant meant that the Home Office deemed it unsafe for UK nationals to travel to Japan. So sadly, we had to cancel everything.
I've long been hearing about the new wave of authentically Japanese eateries taking off in London; Bone Daddies, Tonkotsu, and Shoryu have been leading the way. Serving typically “everyday” tasty, real food rather than fine dining, this is the food of Japan you might struggle to find on a holiday. I have been keen to try it for some time.
So I recently decided to visit Shoryu with Him Indoors. We decided this due to the hearty recommendations I've received from friends. There is a strict no reservations policy, which I completely understand given the small size and sheer popularity of the place. We arrived at 12:30 on Saturday, and found ourselves queueing! Reservations always means a risk that punters may not show, and with this small a number of tables, that is not really an option.
In fairness, we did not have to wait for long to be shown to a table, so I have no complaint whatsoever. The atmosphere on arrival was one of informal, warm friendliness. The other customers happily nibbling, chewing or slurping away in the manner of people having food they are genuinely enjoying.
Shoryu's speciality is soup noodles, specifically Tonkotsu. The Japenese word “Tonkotsu” means “pork bone broth ramen”. The stock has to be made over many long hours of slow simmering, to concentrate its flavours.
What did we have to eat? Let me tell you.....
Chicken Kara Age (crispy deep fried soy, garlic and ginger marinated chicken) £5.00
Chunks of chicken which have been battered and deep fried. Sounds familiar, right? Please dispel any ideas that these are chicken nuggets! These morsels were marinaded before being battered and fried. The result is spicy chicken, with crisp batter on the outside and moist, yielding chicken on the inside. The flavoured mayonnaise dip added sweetness to make this a very pleasant nibbly starter, perfect to share.
Tezukuri Smoked Salmon Okura Rolls (Isle of Ewe smoke salmon with Ikura wrapped Okura with sweet vinegar and yuzu dressing) £7.00
I will confess, I had expected a sort of sashimi sushi dish when I ordered this. I was very surprised when it came out. Thin slices of salmon wrapped around okra, garnished with microherbs and topped with ikura (salmon roe), served with a special soy-based dipping sauce and spirals of daikon gratings. I don't think I have ever had okra which has ever been so fresh. Bright green, without any of the fibrey toughness you can sometimes get with okra, and no slime! It was a pleasure to eat it raw with the salmon. An intriguing surprise of a dish which was a delight to discover.
Hirata Buns 2pcs £6.00
You can choose one each of either belly of pork, chicken, salmon or prawn tempura, the Hirata being steamed buns filled with shoryu spicy meat or fish, greens & qp mayo.
We chose the chicken and pork belly buns. The bun itself is steamed, yet fluffy and light.
The filling generous for the price. Both meats were marinaded before cooking, investing them with bags of extra taste. I personally preferred the pork, but the chicken was also very good indeed. Forget burgers, this is meaty and satifsying finger food worth travelling across town for. Watch out, these buns frequently sell out!
Those were the starters. Onto the mains.....
I ordered the Shoryu Ganso Tonkotsu for £10.
This was described as "our signature ramen; a tonkotsu & miso broth with added spinach". Bearing in mind that Shoryu say that their "tonkotsu ramen (excl. Naked Tonkostu) comes in a rich tonkotsu pork broth with bbq pork, nitamago egg, kikurage mushrooms, beansprouts, spring onion, sesame, ginger, nori & mayu (caramelised black garlic oil)", this meant I was going to have lots of interesting textures and flavours in my dish. I was not disappointed. Mouthfuls of noodles and both with the varying flavours and textures of sour pickled ginger, crispy nori, crunchy beansprouts, and tasty, toothsome pork made this a satisfying main course both for belly and tastebuds. If you've had insipid noodle soups in noodle bars or elsewhere, don't be shy, give this a go. It is not what you are expecting at all, this is a big flavour experience.
Piri Piri Tonkotsu £10.90
As the name suggests, this is a tonkotsu soup with a spicy chilli kick. This dish was not my choice, so I was only able to try a small amount. The heat made itself known but was not overpowering. The result, a highly enjoyable variation on the regular tonkotsu.
To drink, you can have beer, Sake, Shochu, Umeshu, cocktails, whisky, wine, soft drinks or tea.
Him Indoors elected for the Kirin Ichiban Shibori beer £3.70.
I was initially indecisive and then decided to go for broke!
I started with a glass of chilled Kobai Umeshu plum wine by Geikkekkan, Kyoto, £3.70. This was smooth with ripe, fruity sweetness. A wonderful aperitif, with my only complaint being that it went far too quickly.
Geikkekan, who made the Umeshu, are more famous for their Sake production. Founded in 1637, Gekkeikan has been producing royal warrant sake for over 350 years in Fushimi, a district of Kyoto. Having had their basic grade Sake hot in restaurants and at home for many years, I was eager to try their other Sakes, including their chilled varieties.
I chose the Nigori Sake bottle, 300ml, £8.90. This was a chilled Sake served in a glass flagon in its own ice bath.
The Sake had a fruity aroma, and its flavours were skilfully balanced making it very easy to drink.
We had a great lunch at Shoryu. If you don't go crazy and order copious starter and have only a noodle soup and tea, you could have a lunch which represents excellent value for money and leave with tickled tastebuds and a full belly. As it was, we were happy to pay for what was interesting food we would have struggled to find made with such quality in mind elsewhere. The vibe of the place is friendly, with staff providing kind and professional service without being in your face. I have read that other reviewers have experienced poor or indifferent service. That was not our experience at all.
One of my favourite little things about the place is how the staff beat a little drum when each customer leaves. It's little flourish which makes each visitor feel valued after they pay their bill.
I would recommend Shoryu as a great place for informal lunch with family or friends or a sneaky lunch on your own to refuel in style.
Him Indoors and I gladly paid in full for our meal.
9 Regent St
(No telephone number owing to the no reservations policy)