12 Jan 2020
15th October 2019
Yamagoya, Waterloo: restaurant review
The pitch: Tonkotsu ramen from its Fukuoka heartland
Review: Tonkotsu (a stock made from pork bones) continues to be, by a distance, the most popular style of ramen in the UK. Yamagoya is another chain, like Ippudo, Kanada-ya and others, with roots in Fukuoka. Reportedly, back in 1969 founder Masatoshi Ogata "was a lorry driver with a dream of opening his own ramen shop" – a story that's basically the plot of the classic 'ramen western' Tampopo!
Given this, among the bare bones mostly wooden decor of its Waterloo branch, it seemed only right to try their signature Yamagoya Ramen. Frankly, this was a little below par compared to other chains in the UK. Despite an enticing whiff of garlic coming off it, the tonkotsu broth felt a little thin and lacked real depth. The noodles had decent bite (although I was disappointed not to be asked how hard I wanted them). Of the toppings – fairly standard bamboo shoots, nori, chashu, kikurage mushroom, marinated ramen egg – none especially stood out, other than the spring onion: whether it wasn't particularly fresh I'm not sure, but it had a very bitter taste. An extra helping of noodles was popped down rather unceremoniously and already starting to coagulate. The vegan Tofu Miso Ramen, however, received rave reviews, described approvingly as "buttery" and "creamy" by my flexitarian friend. The only criticism levied was over the rather dainty three pieces of fried tofu. Our less hungry companion made good noises about the chashu-don (£5.50) and a shared plate of kara-age certainly had crunch (and value at £4). While maybe not London's best joint for Tonkotsu, Yamagoya is, at least, a couple of quid cheaper than its rivals.
Point of note: While we didn't try it, a 'raindrop cake' is on the dessert menu – a transculent (yes!) pudding with a cult-like following in Japan
Cost: A reasonable £10/head without drinks
Locations: Two restaurants: one on The Cut near Waterloo, and one on Shaftesbury Avenue south of Soho