Does an average diner reach the same conclusions about restaurants as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Tom Parker Bowles and reader Mark Moulding compare notes on Bone Daddies.
Tom Parker Bowles is a food writer and restaurant critic for the Mail on Sunday. His latest cookbook is Let’s Eat Meat.
Mark Moulding is a senior press officer from Balham in London, he likes to eat out around twice a week and rates Apsleys at the Lanesborough Hotel as his best eating-out experience. His guilty pleasure is a McDonald’s breakfast, after a boozy night out.
Tucked away on a side street in London’s Soho, Bone Daddies is a buzzy new Japanese ramen bar. The name comes from the rich bone stock that forms the base of this classic dish, and unsurprisingly there isn’t anything in the way of veggie main courses. Bone Daddies is the first solo venture from Aussie chef Ross Shonhan, whose impressive CV includes being head chef of Zuma London, and Nobu in Dallas. Décor is simple, but with rock ‘n’ roll touches; tall wooden tables and stools and a classic rock soundtrack. The small menu is made up of eight starters and eight ramen dishes, and a drinks menu offers beer alongside sake cocktails.
When it comes to service, there’s a fine line between attentive and annoying. But at Bone Daddies, it’s judged just right. OK, this ramen joint is at the more laid-back end of the dining spectrum, but this was my fourth visit.The first two were quickies, I was in and out within 20 minutes. A longer lunch came next. In every case, service was swift and smiley. Staff are keen without being cloying. *I was recognised, as I know Ross, the chef/proprietor.
A warm welcome awaited us on a cold night in this lively Soho diner, where the décor is modern Japanese, and the soundtrack is rock. We were seated on stools at a high, communal table and soon had drinks in front of us, with the food not far behind. Our waiter was friendly and knowledgeable, even warning us off a somewhat experimental cucumber-based drink. Before long, the small dining room was almost full, but the service didn’t suffer at all.
A few months back, ramen bars were all but unknown in the UK, despite being more religion than food in Japan, available in myriad form on every street corner.They’re the ultimate booze food and you’ll find wobbling salarymen slurping up these noodles (which are actually Chinese) before stumbling for the last train home. Now, though, there are three very decent ramen shops in the capital, and London is the richer for it. Good ramen is all about the broth; chicken or pork bones slow-cooked until the resulting, silky liquid seduces the taste buds and coats the mouth.
Of course, fresh noodles; thin, pert and springy, are important. But mess up the broth and all is lost. Luckily, owner Ross Shonhan knows a thing or two about Japanese food. His tonkotsu ramen is blissfully rich, the pork bones simmered for 20 hours. The chashu pork is soft and fatty in the best way, the whole thing made just the right side of obscene by an extra pipette of pure pork fat for 50p.The boiled egg has an oozing yolk while various vegetables provide crunch.This is a bowl filled with class, contrast and comfort.
The soy ramen is a little lighter – it’s made with chicken broth but it has serious depth and a flavour that resounds around the mouth, while the tantanmen is sweeter and scented with sesame but still possesses that all-important meaty heft. Starters are simple, but show Shonhan’s experience – fresh yellowtail with jalapeño and crisp, grease-free soft shell crab.
We started with a big plate of homemade pickles and a little bucket of succulent fried chicken, which were great value. However a smallish plate of – albeit nicely marinated – salmon sashimi was less so. There are eight ramen dishes to choose from; noodles with assorted meats and veg in broth.We didn’t quite have the bottle to try the T22, which comes with the intriguingly-named ‘cock scratchings’, and instead went for the tantanmen sesame, chilli, pork mince and bok choy in broth and a dipping ramen juicy pork and veg with a small bowl of broth on the side.
Both came with a deliciously gooey boiled egg.The tantanmen was spicy but full of more subtle flavours, and the broth was nice and thick, which made eating it a less sloppy affair than previous ramen experiences. To drink, we chose a non- alcoholic passion fruit, mint and orange juice cocktail and a small carafe of hot sake.
Both were lovely and the sake came in a clever little contraption to keep it warm.There’s an extensive list of sake, but there are plenty of much cheaper options, including Asahi beer on draft. Desserts come purely in liquid form. We rounded things off with a refreshing apple shochu, served on ice and a green tea. Bone Daddies is more than a cut above.
the bottom line
If you worship ramen, then Bone Daddies will feed your yen. And if you’re a first-timer, prepare for conversion. Everything works, from the pared back decoration to AC/DC blaring out of the speakers. The broth is beautiful and the service slick. In short, I’m in love.
FOOD 9/10; ATMOSPHERE 9/10; SERVICE 9/10; TOM’S TOTAL: 27/30
A place with all the buzz of Soho – loud, lively and loveable. With great food, decent value, and service that’s friendly and attentive even when the place is packed – I’ll definitely be returning. They’ve won me over so much that I might even give the cock scratchings a go next time.
FOOD 8/10; ATMOSPHERE 9/10; SERVICE 8/10; MARK’S TOTAL 25/30
Bone Daddies Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) rating:
Bone Daddies has a wide selection of fish on the menu, so it’s a shame that they source only around half of it from within UK waters. Equally, Bone Daddies doesn’t assess the species of fish it serves, meaning that fish from vulnerable stocks can appear on the menu.
The SRA would recommend that Bone Daddies implements a sustainable sourcing agreement with their fish supplier. The pork and poultry is sourced directly from the UK, although there is no guarantee that it will be free range, and no welfare initiatives have commended the restaurant. Always look for British meat that has been produced to free-range standards. All the eggs served are from free-range hens from a reputable farm.
Written March 2013