Words: Lawrence Hunt
Ramen is the simple dish on which no one can agree and everyone has a strong opinion.
Some ramen lovers stop when they find a specimen that ticks their boxes, and never go anywhere else. Others are still out there, trying everything in their quest for noodle nirvana.
In London’s battle to satisfy the ramen heads, Yamagoya might be a new contender but they aren’t new to the game. Southwark is but the latest outpost of their sprawling ramen empire, long a household name in Japan.
Yamagoya talk a very good game. The story of their founder, Masatoshi Ogata, adds to their legend: a lorry driver who spent years travelling, tasting and perfecting his ultimate recipe before ‘..using scrap wood from a local school, he built his first ramen shop with his bare hands in 1969.’
These humble beginnings are paid tribute in the bare canteen-style interior. Though not exactly made from scrap wood, the plain wooden tables and metal stools feel cold and bracing in winter. I also have to step out into the rain to use the bathroom – but that’s no big deal.
The fridge offers a range of colourful Japanese soft drinks and juices, but unadventurously I opt for an Asahi. I start with the fried breaded chicken Kara-Age, which have a rich orange colour and deliver a satisfyingly good crunch, accompanied by a delightfully tangy yuzu mayonnaise dip.
Slightly more disappointing are the pork gyoza: a bit thick and starchy for my liking.
The ramen options include Yamagoya’s signature noodles, which come in a tonkotsu pork bone broth cooked for twelve hours. You can also go for a chicken version, or if you’re vegetarian there’s a tofu ramen and a selection of cold ramen salads. If you don’t like ramen and are just here to humour someone, there’s also a very fine katsu curry on offer.
But I’m very much here to gauge the ramen, and I go straight for the signature. Though perhaps lacking some of the creaminess of other broths I’ve tasted, it has a good balance of flavour and, when mixed with some extra yuza paste, has just the kick I’m looking for.
The chashu-marinaded pork hits the spot too, and the springy ear fungus one of many classic ingredients which add texture. The noodles are done with the authentic Japanese ‘bite’ to them – though some may prefer to ask for them a bit softer.
What really stands out though, unexpectedly, is the boiled egg, marinaded in a secret soy sauce recipe. It has a smoothness and a richness of flavour that I genuinely didn’t know eggs could have.
If you still have room after that, you’ll struggle to resist the temptation of the raindrop cake. Looking 100% like a silicon implant, it’s definitely an experience, albeit a bewildering one. Wobbly and absolutely flavourless, the molasses syrup and soya flour on the side don’t really do enough to make it palatable. But your Instagram followers don’t have to know that as they heave with jealousy.
So – is Yamagoya the one that’s going to end your eternal search? Probably not. Though the outstanding things here, the egg and that super weird raindrop cake, certainly made it worth the trip.
Better yet, the prices are cheaper here than elsewhere. All dishes are under £9. Although lacking in atmosphere, if you’re passing by for a quick pre-theatre or lunchtime hit of ramen, Yamagoya’s got what it takes to cure your winter blues.
49 The Cut
Tel: 020 7928 1093