One couldn’t think of a better location for this latest Ippudo. I have visited one other branch, the one in St Giles Piazza, but I have never had the opportunity to review. The new Ippudo is just along from Embankment Underground station so it couldn’t be more convenient.
Villiers Street connects the Strand with Victoria Embankment, forming the edge of the River Thames. The street was built by Nicholas Barbon in the 1670s on the site of York House, the property of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, from whom it takes its name. These days the street is largely pedestrianised and fringed with casual restaurants and eateries. It’s a thoroughfare which throngs with people from early to late.
Ippudo specialises in Tonkotsu ramen, which was originally an affordable fast food for workers at fish markets. Today, it is prized for its flavour and creamy texture and for the time it can take to properly prepare the authentic broth. The broth has a base of pork bones and other ingredients, which is typically boiled for hours. The resulting soup is traditionally served with ramen noodles that are cooked to remain hard in the centre. The topping is, classically, sliced pork belly. In Fukuoka tonkotsu ramen is referred to as Hakata ramen – Hakata being a neighbourhood of Fukuoka.
Ippudo might be very new at this location, rather new to London, but has been well-known in Japan, its country of origin, for a very long time. The company was founded by Shigemi Kawahara back in 1985 as Hakata Ippudo in Fukuoka City in Kyushu. In 1994 Ippudo opened its first Kanto-region Ippudo ramen shop in the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum. This must be a Mecca for any ramen-loving tourist who wants to try a number of different varieties of ramen …and there are a considerable number in Japan! 2008 saw the opening of the first overseas Ippudo ramen restaurant in New York. That was followed by many others around the world, such is the growing appreciation of this delicious Japanese staple.
The restaurant is small and warmly welcoming. There is bar seating near the entrance where one can watch the chef at work. There are tables at the back of the restaurant and these were popular on this cold London lunchtime. This branch has only been open a couple of weeks, but they have already garnered regulars, it seems. There are lunch specials which help to make Ippudo a great-value yet great-quality lunch. That’s not always easy to find in this city, despite plenty of choice.
Ippudo have evidently chosen a range of Sake which reflect the European palate
But there is Japanese Sake here too! Ippudo have evidently chosen a range of Sake which reflect the European palate. They are light and refreshing, and perfect pairings with the starters and soups. Denshin Yuki Junmai Ginjo is fresh and perfect for pre-dinner sipping. Try Isojiman Yamadanishiki Junmai Ginjo Sake for a non-challenging introduction to the Japanese national beverage. Ippudo also have a selection of popular Japanese beers.
We began with a couple of starters, and both were good. Hakata Yaki Gyoza – pan-fried chicken and vegetable dumplings – were well flavoured with ginger. They were perfectly formed, with a great crunch from their searing. Hirata Pork Buns are stuffed with Ippudo’s signature Chashu pork. Those buns are soft and cloud-like, and come with several fillings. The Hirata Chicken Bun of deep-fried battered chicken thigh with a garnish of fresh and crunchy iceberg lettuce is also a winner. Chicken thigh is more flavourful than breast meat.
Shiromaru Classic is the original noodle dish offering tonkotsu pork broth with thin noodles, with an array of toppings including chashu, kikurage mushrooms, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots and a vibrant helping of spring onions for both flavour and aesthetics. This must surely be the noodle bowl of choice for the first visit to Ippudo.
My guest chose Niku Ton Ontama which offered the Ippudo broth with thinly sliced pork and a poached egg to enrich the already rich broth. This was pronounced as deliciously comforting and if that diner still had room (that’s unlikely) then he could have ordered Kaedama!
Please, Kawahara-san, could you open the next branch in Twickenham?
Kaedama isn’t another dish; it’s not a side dish, but more of an extension of one’s already partially-consumed main dish. He could have eaten the meat, the egg and the garnishes, and requested more noodles with which to finish his soup – that’s called ‘Kaedama’. Ippudo will likely become the go-to restaurant for discerning rugby players when word gets out. Please, Kawahara-san, could you open the next branch in Twickenham (home of international rugby)? Yes, for hungry rugby players, and also because I live there!
Dessert was Matcha Parfait which was a sweet confection of matcha ice cream and thick rich cream. The top was decorated with a dusting of the green tea and some berries to endeavour to convince the diner that this was a health food rather than a supremely delicious and thoroughly indulgent end to a fun, tasty and convivial meal.
Ippudo Villiers Street
31A Villiers Street
London WC2N 6ND
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018