The food scene in London is utterly phenomenal right now and you don’t need to be a local to realise the boom going on at the moment. When you have websites sending you weekly emails on the latest new openings and as many gourmet burger and ramen joints as Pret outlets, you know it’s a good time to be a restaurateur! We all remember the burger wars of 2011, when each burger outlet tried to outdo another through stacking as much meaty creation into each layer between the buns as possible. Now, we are seeing the same rife competition with ramen noodle shops in London. Chefs are judged on the strength of the handmade noodles, the yolk-wobble of one soft-boiled soy egg versus another, and how long does one actually simmer those porky bones in one’s tonkotsu broth.
I have gone mad for ramen long before this trendy dish knocked on the doors of London eater establishments. It was a soul-warming dish that defined my trip to Tokyo. As a fresh graduate who just started her pre-professional-career soul search journey through this popular East Asian region, after 4 punishing years of American university, I remember slurping its nourishing goodness almost 3 times a day during my trip.
As with all things Japanese, the standards and attention to detail were second to none, despite ramen chains popping up like mushrooms all around the urban metropolis. Whether you were into a bowl of clear and flavoursome broth with thin curly creations, or its chewy chunkier cousins in a rich and salty broth, there were something for every bite.
Back in London, since the rise to fame of ramen noodles across major cities around the world, I have enjoyed trying the various ramen establishments around the city, such as Shoryu, Bone Daddies and Tonkotsu.
So what does this latest ramen offering in London called Muga deliver over the other established noodle contestants?
Near Piccadilly Circus, Muga is just a short skip away on Panton Street. This side of London is somewhere I rarely venture to for a meal. Perhaps a hidden gem I didn’t know about?
As with most ramen establishments, Muga had an unassuming exterior. Its interior presented diners with white washed walls and simple wooden bar stools along each side. It exuded the kind of unintended minimalism that made me fall for the popular stripped-back homeware store Muji in a very similar way. More importantly, it offered peace and tranquility from the hectic post 6PM commuter traffic, which is a rare quality on this side of London.
We were offered a seat at the bar. These narrow counters formed a 90 degrees display of a visible kitchen that is just as stripped back as the dining area.
On the menu, Muga has an expected variety across shio, shoyu, tonkotsu, and miso. But let’s be honest, my love resides with the ultimate tokotsu. This type of broth is rich and flavoursome, as bones have been cooked for up to 18 hours until it melted into the soup with a shadow of its former self.
An inviting bowl of freshly made ramen appeared before us. It was packed with multi-coloured herbs, temptingly displayed alongside black fungus, flavoured ginger, respectable pieces of charshu (pork belly) and just a gentle tap of sesame seeds. With the house-made noodles providing a springy bite, the broth held up its flavours wonderfully.
I also welcomed the sight of grilled yaki-gyozas. These crescent shaped little silk parcels have a crunch when they touch your lips and oozed aromas of the chicken fillings inside.
Tori (chicken) kara-age was constructed with tender moist white pieces of the bird covered with a golden layer of deep fried batter. The perfect companion to our light and refreshing Sapporo beer. Does this dish come in a full-size deluxe version?
Mr. New Yorker was bitten by the hunger bug that evening and decided to go for the tonkotsu ramen with “Muga charshu max”. We weren’t sure how much is actually “max”, but the description stated that it was “highly recommended for the charshu lover”, so he ordered and hoped for the best.
He knew his dish was coming as the chef applied layer upon layer of toppings and finished off with a dizzying height of pork belly on this Himalayan peak style of ramen. At just over £11, this could go down as the best value ramen dish in London.
When it arrived, I secretly rejoiced that I did not opt for this meaty option and wished him good luck in finishing this.
Even for a serious eater with a large appetite, Mr. New Yorker found it hard to stomach it all. Other than the unusually large size, which he admit was the ultimate charshu lover’s dream, it lacked the flavoursome broth in my tonkotsu ramen. If executed correctly with the right balance of flavour and size (perhaps less vegetables), this could be a contender for the next Instagrammable dish in London.
After both of us stuffed ourselves with the content of our ramen bowls, we were glad to see that desserts included ultra light options such as the matcha (green tea) ice cream. To be honest, any Japanese restaurants with matcha ice cream in the desserts menu is a big win for me. Enough said. 😀
Two scoops later, we both agreed that it hit the right spot in all the right places. Given London’s dizzying hectic speed, this was exactly the kind of casual dining we wanted on a weekday evening before happily strolling on to another event for the night.
What is your ultimate favourite ramen spot in London?
Address: 5 Panton Street, London SW1Y 4DL
Opening Hours: Mon-Thu noon-14:30, 18:00-22:00 / Fri-Sat noon-14:30, 18:00-24:00