Thursday, 3 July 2014
Ramen Sasuke, Soho
I didn't want to leave that whinge about chicken restaurants as my front page story for long, so today I'm happy to spread much more positive vibes about London dining. The truth is, for all there is to moan about in the lack of originality in some sectors of the London restaurant scene (and there's plenty), innovation isn't hard to find either, and for that reason we can boast some of the very best restaurants in the world.
But it's odd, isn't it, that in some styles of cuisine (largely, but by no means exclusively British and/or modern European) relentless innovation and idiosyncrasies are the sign of Things Being Done Right, in others adherance to form and tradition is seen as a massive benefit rather than a sign you're out of ideas. With most Asian cuisines, here at least, boasting strict authenticity to the way it's done in Beijing, or Seoul, or Tokyo, is a selling point. You wouldn't see anywhere shouting about how their food is "British-style Chinese" or "Westerner-friendly Thai" and yet anywhere daring to serve traditional French food is all too often seen as stuffy and old-fashioned.
Well, I don't make the rules. And given that what I know about the infinite complexities of Japanese cuisine could be written on the back of a Wasabi loyalty card, all I can do is tell you that whether Sasuke offer London's most, or least authentic ramen, or most or least innovative, it is absolutely lovely, not to mention very good value.
The lunch deal involves choosing a ramen of your choice, and getting for £1.50 extra a choice of three sides, and as much rice as you can fill up on after that. Sounds generous, as indeed it is, but if you're anything like me the bottomless bowl of rice is rather surplus to requirements - we could barely finish our noodles.
Extras were good; certainly considering the price. Karaage was bubbly and moist, piping hot and served with a blob of thin mayonnaise. Gyoza also had a good texture, although they didn't seem particularly generously stuffed and I would have liked to have seen 4 instead of 3 on that plate. Still, as I say, you can't really complain for £1.50.
But the ramen is why, before too long, they'll be queueing down the street for Sasuke; by golly it's good. My shoyu style broth (£9.50) came with two huge slabs of chashu pork, which split apart into jellied fat and soft salty flesh at the merest prodding with a pair of chopsticks. The noodles themselves, bouncy and gently coloured, were amongst the best I've tried in my hardly exhaustive sampling of ramen here and in Japan - only Tonkotsu's can compare, and they make their own. Perhaps Sasuke do as well? Also in the bowl was half of one of those salty/creamy eggs (ni-tamago?) so good it made me want to do a Cool Hand Luke job, and a pretty square of nori seaweed which I always tend to think is there more to add colour and geometry than flavour but which I polished off nonetheless.
A friend's spicy miso chashu (£12.40) was a price point above but was so loaded with goodies (pork, noodles, miso, corn, various other vegetables raw and stewed, and a cute little pestle & mortar on the side containing roasted sesame seeds to add as required) that even our combined efforts couldn't make visible the bottom of the bowl. It displayed a deeply complex and addictive creamy broth, hot certainly but not eye-wateringly so, that has taken a true expert's palate to perfect. Very impressive.
And for all this, including a drink each (my orange juice was out of a carton, but that's a minor complaint), the bill was £16 a head including service. So not only is Sasuke serving what is surely some of the best ramen in London, they're doing it cheaper than pretty much everyone else, in a lovely bright clean room and with a smile on their faces. As for authenticity, well, you're asking the wrong person. But I have a sneaking suspicion that if there is, indeed, a correct way of doing ramen, Sasuke have it down pat.
Thanks go to Lizzie for the hot tip on this restaurant, and many others like it. Without her I'd still be thinking Wagamama was the bee's knees.