Ichiryu Hakata Udon House is from the same stable that brings you Japan Centre and the chain of Japanese restaurants, Shoryu. Ichiryu is a well-placed eatery on New Oxford Street, and even after just a couple of months it’s enjoying a loyal following of office workers, shoppers, and I hear it’s been discovered by a chef or two!
This is a light and contemporary restaurant and it pays creditable attention to detail. It’s the little things that one notices front of house that indicate how a restaurant is run. Chopsticks are uniformly parallel to the edge of the table. Serviettes are paper but they sport the company logo indicating an element of pride. The high bar table has handbag hooks which are a thoughtful touch; but there are more regular tables for those of us with no balance skills. Service is friendly and periodically animated with shouts of welcome and farewell punctuated by drum beats.
Tak Tokumine, who founded Japan Centre in 1976, has a passion for the food of his hometown of Hakata in Fukuoka prefecture. In fact this town is famed for noodles. As the name suggests, Ichiryu Hakata Udon House specialises in handmade noodles. Those noodles are indeed handmade as one can watch hands actually making them. Surely noodles don’t get fresher than that.
The noodles in question are Udon. These are celebrated for their chewy texture. All Udon are not created equal but of all those I have tasted recently, these are most to my taste. Well, perhaps the word taste isn’t quite correct: I really mean that they are to my texture with the preferred degree of bounce.
Showcase the noodles
Ichiryu sells noodles but they do need to be floating in something, and in this case it’s a light and well-flavoured broth. Even this varies from restaurant to restaurant and from company to company. I have had delicious noodles that are coated by a much thicker white soup made from simmered bones and that’s wonderful, but the Ichiryo broth showcases the noodles and the garnishes rather than filling one with a soup as thick as sauce.
We started our meal with matcha tea to which I have become addicted over the past few years. Here presented in the largest tea bowls I have ever seen. This vibrant green liquid is becoming more popular worldwide as it offers greater health benefits than does regular leaf tea. One ingests the whole leaf rather than just drinking the liquor resulting from the traditional tea-brewing process.
My guest ordered Udon noodles with a garnish of Niku Beef. The marinated shaved meat was deliciously savoury and tender. Courgette tempura was our choice of side dish. It offered a light crunch from the batter enrobing the quarters of vegetable that still retained their form and natural flavour.
I grazed on Gyoza which are pot-sticker dumplings and well worth trying. There was the usual soy condiment, but this time with yuzu paste which was outstanding with deep citrus tang complementing the rich filling of the dumplings.
Hakata buns are here with various fillings. These, I believe, originated in Taiwan and are an Asian sandwich. The fluffy folded bread held, in our case, some fresh and flaky cod. One of these would make a substantial nibble with drinks but three would constitute a full meal. Chicken Cutlet is a simple dish elevated to the memorable by the associated spicy sauce. The coating was crunchy and the meat moist.
Dessert of mochi filled with ice cream is undoubtedly Japanese but is becoming popular internationally. It’s that agreeable combination of chewy ricecake surrounding an ice-cold filling. At Ichiryu the dessert arrives as a trio of sesame, matcha and yuzu-flavoured mochi. Kids will love this.
Ichiryu Hakata Udon House doesn’t put a foot wrong. The food is comforting, the ambiance relaxing, and it offers value for money.
Ichiryu Hakata Udon House
84 New Oxford St
Visit Ichiryu here
Mon – Sat: Noon – 22:30
Sun: Noon – 21:30
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018