London’s first outpost of Japanese ramen chain Yamagoya, with counter service ramen, cold ramen salads and an Instagram-famous rain drop cake.
Yamagoya ramen review
Back in the ‘60s lorry driver Masatoshi Ogata travelled all over Japan, tasting ramen wherever he went, noting the varied styles from each region. In 1969, he gave up the day job and set up (ramen) shop in Fukuoka, Western Japan. Masatoshi’s little ramen shack was built from scrap wood, and the recipe tweaked from years of daily tasting on the road. The recipe was so popular that Yamagoya became a ramen empire, now boasting dozens of outposts across Asia.
The Ogata family brought Yamagoya to the UK in late 2016, with a six-month pop up above hot pot restaurant Shuang Shuang on London’s Shaftesbury Avenue. A permanent restaurant has now opened (in October 2017) on The CUT, between Southwark and Waterloo stations in South London.
Within walking distance of the BFI IMAX and the Old Vic Theatre, this stretch was in need of another restaurant to join gastro pub The Anchor & Hope to cater to cultured punters. Yamagoya, however, has more of a takeaway feel, with an automatic sliding door, counter service, and a help-yourself drinks and snacks fridge. Considering the restaurant’s origins and family-focused history, we’d have liked to see a few more homely touches (such as the photographs and certificates displayed in the trophy cabinet in the window, along with plastic replicas of Japanese dishes) to make the place a bit cosier and offset the bright lighting. However wood panels and pine stools are very slick, making this a perfectly pleasant spot for ramen slurping.
We started with a selection of snacks, including a crunchy wakame seaweed salad with popping edamame beans and toasty sesame notes, and knobbly, lightly fried kara-age chicken. The latter had a pleasant soft crunch (with no hint of grease) and a punchy green spinach and yuzu dipping mayo.
The signature dish is namesake classic Yamagoya ramen, a pork bone tonkotsu broth cooked for six hours. The broth didn’t have as much depth as some other ramens we’ve tried in London, but the salty-sweet chashu marinade really came through from slices of tender rolled pork belly. Noodles were thin and springy, while earthy wood ear fungus was slippery with a good bite. We fished out and slurped up other classic ingredients such as crunchy bamboo shoots and intense orange-yolked Burford Brown eggs marinated for 48 hours in the Ogata family’s secret soy-based sauce.
You can ramp up your ramen with spicy yuzu kara paste (a real umami hit of yuzu and chilli) in the yuzukara variety, or try the oyako ramen’s lighter chicken bone broth with rolled chashu-marinated chicken. There’s a tofu ramen option for vegetarians and a small selection of cold ramen salads, swapping mushrooms and broth for cherry tomatoes, rocket and shredded cucumber.
Choose from the range of cold drinks in the fridge, from glass bottles of sparkling yuzu juice to homemade concoctions slurped from milkshake-style plastic cups. We tried Japanese soft drink calpico, described rather accurately to us as a milky lemonade. This fermented water and condensed milk drink is much more pleasant than it sounds, with a yogurt-like acidity that cuts through the ramen.
This is a decent ramen joint and with low prices, quick counter service and minimal interiors, it’s suitable for a quick pre-theatre snack or a slurp-and-go lunch.
Yamagoya has become known on Instagram for its rain drop cake, a staple in Japan to cleanse the palate after an intense hit of daily ramen. The family wanted to keep the recipe true to the original, so Western palates might struggle with the lack of flavour in this clear wobbly drop. It’s seasoned with sticky molasses syrup and powdery soybean flour (and comes with a cute wooden spoon), but we suggest sticking with the creamy mochi ice creams that come in toasted sesame, mango, green tea or raspberry flavours.
The bathroom situation is also less than idea, as you have to nip out the back through a courtyard. The sink is outside so if it’s raining make sure you take an umbrella with you!
Price-range: competitive compared to other London ramen joints (all ramens are under a tenner).