Page 0079

squaremeal.co.uk

77

RESTAURANTS + FOO D

J

apanese people really do seem to

like queues; Tokyo is full of them.

Maybe that's why when the first

Wagamama opened in 1992, we

thought waiting in a long line for a bowl of

noodles was the height of chic. �e variety

of Japanese dining options in London has

since blossomed, and so the queues

remain. Now, West End choices include a

rockin' ramen bar with a permanent line of

prospective punters, a Japanese fusion

restaurant where you have to queue, and a

£300-per-head, nine-seater sushi bar with

a months-long wait for a booking.

From that first Wagamama,

with its Japanese-inspired interior

and big bowls of ramen, to the

present ubiquity, here we trace

the highlights and evolution of

Japanese food in London.

THE RAMEN BARS

Wagamama wasn't the first, but it

has become the UK's best-known

noodle bar and is now an

international chain. Restaurateur

Alan Yau created one of the most

influential restaurants of the

1990s, with its clean, minimalist

lines courtesy of architect John

Pawson. Bowlfuls of ramen egg

noodles were lavished with

South-East Asian flavours you'd

never find in Japan, while the

shared tables and no-bookings

policy were years ahead of their time.

Copycats came and went, but Wagamama

remained the noodle king - until some

noodle maestros from Japan took a chance

on whether the gaijin (foreigners) of

London could cope with the real thing.

�e capital's first properly gastronomic

Japanese noodle bar was Koya in Soho,

which served not ramen, but udon: fat

white wheat-flour noodles. �e toppings

and flavours included house-made walnut

miso, and such attention to detail made it

the hit of 2010. �e original Koya closed

after five years when the chef returned to

Japan, but a similar operation called Koya

Bar continues next door on Frith Street.

Bone Daddies caused the next big splash

in the ramen world, opening in 2012 and

run by a white Australian. �e horror of it

- except that chef-proprietor Ross

Shonhan makes great ramen, and turns up

the volume and flavours to 11 in his Soho

hangout. Branches followed.

�en, like London buses, another two

great ramen bars came along together:

Ippudo and Kanada-ya opened across

the street and just days apart from each

other in 2014, and were an instant hit with

East Asian students who appreciated the

more purist, properly Japanese styles of

ramen dishes on offer.

NOBU AND ITS KIN

While ramen was conquering budget

dining, it was one restaurant - Nobu

- making modern Japanese dining

fashionable with the jet set. �ere's little

doubt that Nobu's pioneering style of

Japanese fusion food has had a huge effect

on London's dining scene since 1997.

Black cod with miso, once a Nobu

WAGAMAMA'S SHARED

TABLES AND NO�BOOKINGS

POLICY WERE YEARS

AHEAD OF THEIR TIME

KOYA BAR'S UDON

LEFT: KOYA BAR IN SOHO

FAR LEFT: A DISH FROM

FITZROVIA'S ROKA

NOBU BERKELEY

ST IN MAYFAIR

BONE DADDIES' RAMEN

ABOVE: BONE DADDIES'

CHEF�PROPRIETOR

ROSS SHONHAN

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