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Chicken Kara Age

London, Restaurants

Dinner at Den Udon – Kings Cross, London

2014 was undoubtedly the ‘year of the ramen’, but our waistlines will be thankful for the next Japanese soup trend – the healthier, simpler udon.

The team behind new restaurant Den Udon describe themselves as ‘udon evangelists’, which seems accurate as udon is the only type of noodle served.

Den is situated in a mostly residential part of Kings Cross, within walking distance of the train stations yet secluded enough to qualify as a hidden gem.

Its former life as traditional London boozer The Prince Albert is still evident, but the inside is minimal-chic with wide bench seating, sleek white walls and low-hanging statement lighting.  It has the shiny, bright feel of a brand new restaurant and the interiors are warmed with a sunny soul and jazz soundtrack and lovely, friendly staff.

While staff in many London Japanese restaurants bellow ‘irasshaimase’ (welcome) in unison as you walk through the door, Den’s welcome is more subtle and personal.  We sat at a table close to the window and ordered some drinks – mine was a fragrant Cold Oolong Tea (£2) while Steven went for a potent Ginger Vodka made with vodka, ginger beer with tonic water (£6).

Before our small plates and udon soups arrived, we grazed on Udon Pretzels with a creamy miso and sesame sauce.  The crunchy, curly deep-fried udon noodles were a tasty snack and the thick, velvety smooth dip was sweet and cooling.

If there’s Chicken Kara-Age (£5) on the menu, I’m always guaranteed to order it (well, who can resist Japanese fried chicken?) and Den Udon’s offering is one of the best I’ve tasted.

Juicy, succulent chicken thigh was infused with plenty of soy and garlic and coated in a crispy, golden coating.  The portion size was generous and the Japanese mayo topped with fresh chives was a perfect dipping sauce.

Another highlight of the meal was the heavenly Red Wine Stewed Pork Belly (£6).  The chunky pieces of slow-cooked pork belly were smothered in a sticky, rich and slight sweet glaze, topped with a touch of cream.  The pork was tender and satisfying and the layer of fat absorbed the flavour of the sauce, making it particularly scrumptious.

Prawn and Vegetable Tempura (£8) was a simple yet moreish classic.  The selection included king prawns, sweet potato, aubergine, Brussels sprouts and cherry tomatoes. The tempura batter was light and subtle, allowing the flavours of the prawns and vegetables to shine through, with a touch of pink salt to season.

I really enjoyed the tempura, but it would’ve been even better with a punchy dipping sauce – although we had plenty Japanese mayo left from the Chicken Kara-Age.

I was a little unsure whether udon would hit the spot in the same way as ramen (especially since it’s claimed to be healthier), but happily it was just as comforting and full of flavour.

I ordered the Duck and Mixed Leaves Udon with black dashi (£10).  The plentiful udon noodles were thick and springy and served with pieces of lean, slow-roasted duck breast in umami-rich dashi.  I quite liked that the soup only had the key ingredients and not packed with too much ‘filler’.

Steven tried the Pork Belly and Cabbage Udon with white dashi (£9).  The pork belly was soft and tender with a generous layer of silky fat and complemented by wilted cabbage.

The white dashi had a clean taste, allowing the seaweed flavour to come through, however I personally preferred the depth of the black dashi.

Den Udon doesn’t serve dessert, but I kinda wish it did, as I have a sweet tooth and can’t resist finishing my meal with a piece of green tea cake or my favourite mochi.

However, we still ended on a sweet note with a glass of deliciously sticky plum wine and expertly-brewed hot matcha green tea.  We were offered a second glass before braving the cold and the caffeine hit really perked me up, but in a calm and focused way.  I’m definitely going to pick up some matcha as a potent coffee replacement.

Den Udon is a fantastic spot for an udon fix with affordable prices, excellent cooking and a calm atmosphere.  It definitely has the potential to expand into a small group of restaurants, if that’s what the owners have in mind.

For more information, visit: www.den-udon.uk.com

Chérie City was invited by Den

Photos by Chérie City and Den

Den on Urbanspoon

London, Restaurants

Shoryu Ramen Carnaby, London

Shoryu Ramen, the small Japanese restaurant chain from the people behind the Japan Centre, is known to offer some of the most authentic ramen in London.

Its new Carnaby branch opened just a few months ago in Kingly Court and is in a prime spot (a few steps from Liberty and Regent Street) to enjoy some warming tonkotsu ramen and hirata buns pre or post shopping.

We visited on a quiet evening and sat at one of the high tables with a good view of the open kitchen.

While deciding which dishes to order, we sipped on some Japanese-inspired cocktails.  I loved the refreshing, zesty From Cuba to Japan (£9) – lime and shiso leaves muddled with sugar, white rum, honey umeshu and aloe juice over crushed ice (a zesty Japanese version of a Mojito).

Steven’s Umeboshi Smash (£9) was a more complex, strong cocktail.  It included a potent mix of plums muddled with Rebel Yell Bourbon whiskey, orange curacao and egg white.

We visited on a Monday when hirata buns are 2 for 1, so of course we had to try a few.  The large Hirata Bun with chicken kara-age (£7 for two pieces) featured a fluffy, springy steamed bun filled with a tender piece of well-seasoned chick in a crispy coating, garnished with a slice of cucumber, lettuce and spicy mayonnaise.

The Hirata Bun with belly pork (£7 for two pieces) was just as satisfying, with a generous slice of succulent, marinated belly pork with a thin layer of fat.  We could have easily grazed on these all evening, testing all of the different fillings, but there were more dishes to try…

I couldn’t resist ordering one of my favourite Japanese side dishes – Chicken Kara-Age (£6).  The marinated, tender chicken was covered in a golden, crispy coating and had subtle flavours of ginger and soy.  The portion size was very generous and the tasty fried chicken was topped with spring onions and served with a spicy mayonnaise dip.

Tiger Prawn Tempura (£7) is another must-order dish.  Five large, succulent tiger prawns were deep-fried in a light, crunchy batter and served piping hot.  They came with slices of cucumber and carrot ribbons and a soy vinegar sauce that I found a little watery and weak.

For my main dish, I tried the Tori Kara-Age Men (£11.50).  I’m not sure how I managed to order three different varieties of chicken kara-age, but it’s a testament to how good they are at Shoryu.

The enormous bowl of Tori- Kara-Age Men included a shiitake and konbu soy broth with gluten-free aka miso, fried chicken, nitamago, kikurage, nori, kelp, mushrooms, spring onion, fish cake and menma bamboo.

The broth was less creamy than the signature tokotsu broth that I’ve become used to, but it worked well, as it balanced out the richness of the plentiful chicken kara-age.

I loved the springy noodles and the freshness of the mushrooms and spring onions, althought I didn’t detect any fish cake.  Many of the ramen dishes on the menu can be spicy, but this is a great one to order if you want a delicious, comforting broth without the heat.

Steven went for the brilliantly-named Dracula Tonkotsu (£11.90), which came highly recommended.  The rich, creamy pork tonkotsu broth came with the typical fixtures and additional caramelised black garlic mayu, balsamic vinegar and garlic chips.

The dish lived up to its name, as the broth had a full-bodied garlic flavour and was peppered with big chunks of garlic.  It was strong but pleasant and not at all overpowering – still, not to be ordered on a date.

A Japanese meal should always end with tea, so we ordered a delicate, fragrant Jasmine Tea (£3.50), served in an elegant glass teapot and cup.  Shoryu has an excellent Japanese tea menu including Hoji Cha, Genmaicha, Soba Cha, Matcha and lychee iced tea.

Although we were feeling very full, I couldn’t resist a light dessert and ordered a Raspberry Milk Chocolate Truffle Mochi (£4.50).  Hand-made in-house, the fruity, glutinous rice cake was densely filled with silky milk chocolate ganache and doused in raspberry syrup.

I often pick up a mochi or two from the Japan Centre, but this home-made mochi was the best I’ve ever tasted and the raspberry chocolate flavour was more interesting than the regular red or white bean fillings.

Shoryu Ramen continues to delight with authentic Japanese food and the Carnaby restaurant is a lively addition to Kingly Court, particularly with its outdoor courtyard tables.  Prices are reasonable and there are also a number of deals and loyalty cards available – even more of a reason to keep going back.

For more information, visit: www.shoryuramen.com

Chérie City was a guest of Shoryu Ramen Carnaby

Photos by Chérie City (interiors by Shoryu Ramen Carnaby)

Shoryu Ramen on Urbanspoon

London, Restaurants

Tonkotsu Noodles At Shoryu Ramen – London

The Japanese ramen trend has truly taken off in London (via New York) and we are now spoilt for choice, with a number of ramen joints popping up across town within just a few months.  One of the most talked-about places for authentic ramen is Shoryu Ramen, a stylish yet casual tonkotsu noodle bar just a few steps away from the Japan Centre on Regent Street.

Earlier in the summer, I visited the Japan Centre for tonkotsu ramen and the manager Nari, who also oversees Shoryu, told me that it was the next big food trend to hit London.  Boy, was he right about the ramen invasion and cleverly the Japan Centre was there to meet demand with Shoryu.

Judging by the frequent queues and high number of Japanese guests, Shoryu has already become a big hit.  Ramen varies between regions in Japan and Shoryu specialises in Hakata ramen, expertly made by Fukuokan-born Head Chef Kanji Furukawa.

The restaurant is petite and has a walk-in only policy so there’s a good chance you’ll have to queue at peak times.  Whenever a guest walks in, all of the staff shout ‘Irasshaimase!’ – an honored tradition of welcoming customers.  The design of the restaurant is contemporary, bright and unfussy and tables are squeezed quite closely together.

We began with Edamame with hakata yuzu and British sea salt (£3.50) to snack on.  The steamed edamame pods were infused with fragrant, citrusy yuzu and very fine salt, served cold.  The large beans were plump and full of flavour – edamame perfection!

The Matcha Orange Smoothie (£2.90) wasn’t quite what I was expecting.  On a positive note, it was filled with lots of detoxing matcha powder, but it was unfortunately very bitter, possibly made with concentrated orange juice instead of freshly squeezed and had the thin texture of a juice – not really a smoothie at all.  Steven fared better with a simple Diet Coke (£1.50), although notably they also serve Chegworth Valley Apple Juice, Gekkeikan sake and Asahi beer.

We’re both gyoza fiends and could easily wolf down dozens of those little parcels, but spotting the size of the ramen bowls leaving the kitchen, we shared just one portion of Gyoza Dumplings (£5 for 6).  They were quite possibly the best gyoza I’ve ever had – thin steamed skins lightly fried on each side and filled generously with beautifully-seasoned pan fried pork, vegetables and herbs.

The six gyoza dumplings were served piping hot and came with a delicious soy vinegar dipping sauce.  Gyoza dumplings must be one of Shoryu’s most popular starters, as almost every table ordered a plate of them, and rightly so.

I love miso-based soups, so I chose the Shoryu Tonkotsu (£8.50) – tonkotsu pork broth with miso, bbq pork, nitamago, kikurage, red ginger, nori, bean sprouts, spring onion, sesame.  The bowl was enormous and filled with meticulously placed fresh ingredients ready to be mixed into the mild, creamy and not overly oily tonkotsu broth.

The bbq pork is already cooked and sliced, so it lacks somewhat in tenderness, but it’s hearty, lean and goes well with the ramen.  My dish had around four medium slices, so there is a reasonable amount without the pork being the main feature.  The plentiful hosamem noodles at the bottom of the dish are thin,  springy and hold their own in the broth (thankfully not over-cooked).  The nitamago egg, boiled and marinated in a soy sauce mixture, was an authentic addition and added richness to the ramen.

Steven was slightly braver and went for the Piri Piri Tonkotsu (£9.90) spicy tonkotsu pork broth with miso, bbq pork, nitamago, kikurage, red ginger, nori, bean sprouts, spring onion, sesame.  This fiery bowl of ramen had a serious kick to it, with spicy seasoning in the broth and slices of super hot piri piri chili.  This is definitely one to order to blast away winter colds!

The ramen was so filling and warming, but there’s always room for dessert, especially if they are bright green!  We were told that the desserts are made by a very good local Japanese bakery and all contain matcha.  I went for the Matcha Sponge Cake (£4.50), which included layers of deliciously vanilla cream, a centre of sweet plum jam and a generous dusting of matcha powder.

Steven’s Matcha Cheese Cake (£4.50) had an intense matcha flavour and the biscuit base was crumbly and heavenly.  To finish the meal, we were advised to try Hoji Cha (£2) – a roasted green tea that is almost caffeine-free.  It had a subtle, nutty flavour and was very easy to drink.  The manager told us that they use the finest quality Hoji Cha and import it straight from Japan.  I later found this particular type of Hoji Cha in the Japan Centre and it really is the very best you can find.

Shoryu is the perfect place for hearty, authentic Hakata ramen and is very reasonably priced, considering the generous portion sizes and high quality of the food.  They tempted us with some dishes that were ‘coming soon’ on the menu, including my favourite Chicken Kara Age, so I will definitely be back as their menu expands.

Best of all, if you feel inspired to recreate the dishes at home, Japan Centre is just across the road.  We were sold on the health benefits of Hoji Cha and matcha, so we picked some up on the way home, as well as some adorable little chocolate mochi and a matcha brownie for the next day.  A delicious dinner with a bit of shopping afterwards – what could be better!

Chérie City was a guest of Shoryu

Photos by Chérie City and Shoryu

Shoryu on Urbanspoon