[This venue is now closed]
Japanese food is becoming more popular. There have long been very smart Japanese restaurants in London and they have been serving the most delicious and most intricate dishes to customers who appreciate refined cuisine. Now we see a veritable rash of more reasonably priced Japanese noodle restaurants, but there are differences.
Restaurants are not created equal and neither are noodles. The two most common styles of noodle are Udon and Ramen, although in Japan soba noodles are also popular. The origin of ramen is lost in the mists of time but it’s mostly agreed to be of Chinese origin. The name ‘ramen’ is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese Lamien. These are the same noodles that one can find in packets, dry and frilly. They are made from white flour and are often thin and delicate. Ramen restaurants offer their own battery of soup bases, as do Udon restaurants.
Udon is a thick wheat-flour noodle with a chewy and soft texture. They are less often sold dried as the texture is affected. They are, these days, sometimes found fresh in Chinese supermarkets, although restaurants offer noodles with excellent broths that would be too time-consuming to make at home. Udon is served hot as a noodle soup in its basic form, as kake udon, and that’s exactly what one finds at the top of the Den Udon menu. It’s as much about the broth as the noodles and this restaurant offers a light soup, a dark one and a vegetarian option. They are all made in the traditional way with dashi. The main ingredient is seaweed but don’t expect this to taste of the ocean. It’s aromatic and full of umami which is the trendy word for savoury deliciousness.
Short walk from Kings Cross
We snuggled in this Den which is just a short walk from the new and impressive Kings Cross station. A big change from the station I knew so well in my youth. That was a place where even the smartest woman could be accosted if she dared even to slow down to look at the timetable! The area now seems to be on the up, and the diners on adjoining benches all seemed like young city types.
A former pub provides the home for this restaurant. The clues are in the classic corner door and the words ‘Prince Albert’ carved above the aforementioned entrance. Zen white walls and the décor in general could be described as minimalist. The pine benches and box stools are plain with the tables being set with paper menus which act as place settings, and a jug of paper serviettes and chopsticks. All work in perfect, clean, fresh harmony, although I would have preferred better quality chopsticks.
The starters or side dishes here are well worth ordering. The Kara-age Chicken was crispy and flavourful, but the Sizzling Beef Steak stole the show, presented in its own little frying pan. The Pork Belly looked delicious, and there are vegetarian options too.
But Udon is the focus of this restaurant. I ordered the thick vegetable gravy with mixed vegetables. This was a substantial bowl-full and although the broth was described as thick it was just pleasantly silky rather than solid enough to trot a mouse on. The flavour was mild and agreeable although there was a pot of ground chilli on hand for those of us who prefer some heat.
My guest ordered a manly portion of belly pork and cabbage in black broth. The soup was not exactly black but rather a darker version of that which I was enjoying. It’s a non-vegetarian base with the addition of soy sauce. He pronounced it hearty, delicious and warming on such a cold evening.
Den Udon works perfectly in this rising neighbourhood. It’s already popular and attracting regulars with its reasonably priced menu and dishes that suit vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. Yes, perfect, but do change those chopsticks.
2 Acton Street
London WC1X 9NA
[This venue is now closed]
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018