I’ve been visiting Shoryu for their tonkotsu ramen since the first branch opened in Regent Street in November 2012. It was diagonally opposite Japan Centre, though that’s now moved a couple of hundred yards to the South West end of Shaftesbury Avenue. There are now additional branches of Shoryu in Denman Street (a few steps from the current Japan Centre site), Kingly Court off Carnaby Street and Broadgate Circle just behind Liverpool Street station or a short walk from Moorgate. There’s also Shoryu Go, a delivery and takeaway only branch, and even a Wagon from which Shoryu sell their wares at street food market locations and festivals.
I mention Japan Centre because Shoryu, like Japan Centre, was founded by Tak Tokumine and the brands are both operated as a family-run business. Like Japan Centre, Shoryu has a strong focus on presenting real Japanese food to its customers, and certainly based on my two visits to Japan, it does a great job.
Of course, there are other purveyors of ramen in London these days – indeed it’s a niche that’s exploded in the last few years. I am also a big fan of Kanada-Ya – their ramen is fantastic but they fall down on lack of sides – onigiri is not, to my mind, a side I associate or want to eat with ramen; and these days there’s often a queue to get in. Tonkotsu are good too – it took me a long time to finally visit a branch and I enjoyed their menu when I did. There are many others too, some of which I like far less than others seem to, some of which I have never visited because I’m not a fan of queuing or waiting in a bar before I’m seated for my meal and some which have a very different slant on ramen which is cool but not for me. Shoryu is the one I keep going back to – the Dracula version of their tonktusu is a garlicky porky delight and their sides are always excellent.
Recently, I heard about the extended robata menu – food cooked over a charcoal grill – in Shoryu’s newest Liverpool Street branch, and was keen to try. Pete and I headed down after work one evening, determined to allow no ramen to pass our lips – tonight’s visit was all about the robata, with a few additional dishes for balance.
Our visit was on a warm Monday evening in August and revealed the one big downside of the location; Shoryu sits at the lower level of Broadgate Circle – a two story development housing a slew of food and drink venues – and on a warm summer’s evening the outdoor courtyard area is rammed with office workers grabbing a drink and, more crucially, a cigarette; with the glass frontage of the restaurant completely open to the courtyard, anyone sat on a table near the front of the restaurant had better not be bothered by the stink of wafting cigarette smoke, not to mention the surprisingly loud volume of all that collected chatter!
Luckily for us we had a table at the back – tables extend in a ‘U’ shape around a central kitchen area that houses the robata grill at the front, the ramen station to one side and the rest of the kitchen on the other side and towards the back. I quite like the open kitchen approach and staff seem pretty good at keeping an eye on all the customer tables.
First to arrive was not from the robata but an old favourite that’s also available at the other branches; Black Sesame Tofu (£6.50) with sweet miso sauce and tenderstem broccoli. Someone ranted about this dish on twitter recently and I wanted to check whether it was as delicious as I remembered – it was. Both of us loved this dish of sesame-flavoured wobby tofu in a sweet miso dressing; still a firm favourite.
You can also see my cup of Nigori Sake Cloudy Sake. A 120 ml serving is £4.80 and comes in a gorgeous wabi-sabi jug. I am a huge fan of nigori sake; if you’d like to learn more about what sake is, how it’s made and the different types available, read my recent Beginner’s Guide to Sake post.
Very reminiscent of those often offered in Japan, the Yakitori Beer Set (£12.50 / £11) offers a discounted price for a skewer each of Yotsumi Chicken Thigh (usually £3.00), Negima Chicken Thigh (usually £3.00), the Kurobuta (usually £3.50) and either a pint or half pint of Kirin Nama draft (£5.20 / £3.10). Bought separately, these would come to £14.70 / £12.60.
The Yotsumi Chicken Thigh with teriyaki glaze was superbly grilled; the meat tender and moist and yet the surface had that pleasant texture and flavour from a touch of charring.
Likewise, the Negima Chicken Thigh with spring onion was expertly cooked and delicious.
My favourite, which I adored so much I order another skewer later, was the Kurobuta berkshire black pork belly, a skewer of succulent pork meat with generous layers of fat, grilled until the fat was melty inside and gorgeously browned on the outside.
Pete’s beer, by the way, was offered regular or frozen; the latter came cold in a chilled glass with a super cold head of foam.
We’ve had some amazing wagyu in Japan. On our first visit, we went to a restaurant in Takayama specialising in Hida beef, and even the non-premium grade blew me away. Since then I’ve had the good fortune of enjoying more wagyu not only in Japan but here in the UK, where I tried some superb imported New Zealand wagyu.
The Shoryu wagyu skewers are pricy but that’s to be expected since wagyu is not a cheap ingredient; we gave the Wagyu Beef (2 pcs £11.00) a try.
The meat was glazed with teriyaki, though only lightly – the flavour of the beef came through clearly. And the flavour was certainly excellent, really distinct and delicious. The problem was that the texture didn’t resemble at all the highly marbled melt-in-the-mouth wagyu we’d experienced before, indeed this beef was chewy – moist, juicy, excellent flavour, but chewy rather than melt-in-the-mouth. I’m not sure that £5.50 per skewer of this is justified.
Served joined by their crisp bottoms (formed by the starch and liquid in the pan creating a lacy pancake of sorts), the Hakata Tetsunabe Gyoza (3 pcs £4.00) were light and tasty, served immediately when ready in a hot cast iron pan. Whenever Pete and I ordered ramen in Japan, we could never resist a side of gyoza to go with.
Kushikatsu (2 pcs £7.00) – generous pieces of belly pork coated in panko breadcrumbs and deep fried – were served with katsu sauce drizzled over; also known as tonkatsu sauce, this is based on British brown sauce. Again, the pork was perfectly cooked, tender and juicy and full of flavour.
The Ginger Salmon Tatsutaage (£6.50) was not only a great dish but a great bargain too given the generous portion for the price. Oily salmon flesh works well with the zing of ginger, and is not at all dried out by the frying. Served with shichimi tōgarashi (a Japanese spice mixture) and mayonnaise, this is a classic dish and if it’s made traditionally (I didn’t ask), tatsutaage uses potato starch rather than wheat flour, so may be a good choice for those on a gluten-free diet.
When asked if I like brussel sprouts (one of those universal Christmas-season questions), I usually say no but after trying Shoryu’s Brussel Sprout Tempura (£6.00) I will have to change my response. Baby sprouts were cooked to perfection inside a marvellously light and crisp tempura batter with a heady aroma and flavour of truffle oil, heightened by judicious use of the black pepper dipping salt. These really were a revelation and one of the star dishes of the meal.
In the foreground is a dish of Goma Kyuri Cucumber (£4.50). I am sure I’m not alone in occasionally fighting the urge to dismiss a dish because it’s so darn simple, and made with such inexpensive ingredients to boot, that it surely doesn’t merit my paying good money for it. But having tasted this simple dish of sliced cucumber, sesame oil and a generous topping of shichimi tōgarashi on a previous occasion, I knew it would be a refreshing balance to all the rich meat and fish dishes we ordered. Simple, sure, but a lovely balance of textures and taste.
My second order of Kurobuta (£3.50) was also a delight. The flavour of this pork was just phenomenal, and the cooking of flesh and fat perfect.
The Yuzu Rolled Cake (£6.00) was decent though surprisingly bland – the Japanese are so skilled at creating patisserie with elegance and flavour that I found this example a little disappointing.
But the amazing Sorbet (2 scoops £6.00) made up for it! The scoop of yuzu packed a huge flavour punch (everything the rolled cake lacked) and was refreshing, balanced and delicious. But the winner was the plum wine sorbet which not only had an incredible flavour but a strange tacky, almost chewy texture about it that I found utterly compelling.
I finished with a small pot of Gyokuro Green Tea (£3.50), a lovely shade-grown green tea with wonderfully rich umami flavours.
The menu at Shoryu has certainly grown since the launch of the first branch, and it now offers far more than a traditional ramen-ya alone – more akin to a ramen-ya-cum-izakaya (a casual Japanese pub or snack bar). Of course, the ramen is super and hard to resist, but I would urge you to give some of the other items on the menu a try, and do visit the Liverpool Street branch for the robata grill items.