It’s Thursday night, and I’m in London with Mr GFB for a bit of a break.
We’ve spent the day at galleries and museums, walking off the huge breakfast we enjoyed hours earlier (topping it up occasionally because, well, a body needs fuel).
We arrive back to where we are staying, where that evening we’ve been invited to a bit of a do. We get in, we get tidied up, and walk down the stairs.
I see the crowd being ticked off on the list.
I know it’s going to be a lot of talking, drinking and schmoozing. But there’s one problem. I’m on a break away from all that and, much as getting to know a new gin is tempting, the rest of me isn’t enthusiastic. And in addition, there was no follow up to the initial invite, so much as I could push it and check…
So we escape.
We don’t go far. We’d spotted Tonkotsu earlier in the day – a small chain primarily based in London, with a single site in Birmingham within Selfridges. The Notting Hill site is tiny (a couple of tables at the back, a couple outside and the rest of the seats are around the kitchen), and the wait was 20 minutes, but no matter. Noodles are my comfort food, and the smell of that broth, and the freshly made noodles, meant we knew we were onto a winner. So we crammed ourselves into a tiny corner and ordered a cocktail while we waited.
One Kimchi Bloody Mary (for him) and one Cherry Smoked Negroni (for me) later, and I was edging my not unsubstantial fancy dressed arse onto a bar stool to order food and watch the chefs cook.
With a kitchen this small, it’s clear that plenty of prep work is needed – there’s barely enough space for the two chefs working side by side, and watching them work was like a piece of choreography. They’re obviously used to doing so, their movements made use of the space, but didn’t overcrowd each other – it gave people watching a whole new dimension. Aside from the stock for the ramen, the gyoza were pre-prepared, and the noodles are freshly made on site too. And your tastebuds can tell.
We ordered the chicken, shiitake and bamboo shoot gyoza. They were light, soft – but with a tickle of umami that left me debating about a second round. Thankfully our ramen arrived, along with the pickles and stopped me overindulging myself on the best gyoza I’ve had in quite some time.
The ramen itself was just what the doctor ordered. I opted for the Tokyo ramen, a clarified chicken broth and soy sauce base, noodles and braised pork belly, bamboo shoots, spring onions and seasoned egg. The broth was rich, but clean, the pork soft as butter, the noodles just having that little bite of texture. Despite my pretty dress, I slurped with the best of them.
Mr GFB opted for the Tonkotsu ramen. A pork broth and sea salt base is enriched with lardo, layered with slightly thinner-cut noodles and this is all topped roast pork belly, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, spring onions, burnt garlic oil and seasoned egg.
That broth is essence of roast pork – lipsmackingly rich and creamy, he couldn’t finish it and when I tasted it, I understood why. Whilst mine was light and clear, this was like drinking pork scratchings – and I kept finding myself dipping back into his leftover dish. It’s a little bit addictive, especially when laced with their inhouse chilli oil (which you can buy, and I did, because it’s bloody good).
We wandered back to our hosts, the party still in full swing, and wandered up to lie on the bed, tummies full, heads sleepy, wondering if we can somehow create a pipeline of that enriched broth up north where it’s needed to counteract grey skies and rain.
Sooo… Tonkotsu. Any chance you’ve considered making the move up north?