London's recent embrace of ramen has concentrated mainly on soup noodle dishes served with tonkotsu, a pork bone-based broth. However, there is one exception: Ittenbari, a utilitarian Japanese joint in Soho. According to the menu, its eponymous signature dish, Ittenbari ramen, is served with 'a clear soup made with chicken and vegetable blended with a very rich seafood extract (mussels, scallops, shrimps and bonito)'.
In some ways I wish they hadn't built up my expectations. I was looking forward to a rich broth packed full of flavour. It wasn't. It was quite clean tasting, but it didn't leave much of an impression. Of the toppings, the pork slices were very high quality. So it was a bit of a shame the eggs were just bog-standard rather than the nitamago eggs found in the other ramen shops. And nor was I impressed by the bamboo shoots; they weren't the fermented ones known as menma, just normal bamboo shoots. Like the soup, I can't remember much about the noodles, so I guess they must have been decent enough.
The toppings were quite generous but that's only because I went deluxe, which cost £10.90 compared to £8.90 for the regular (the difference between the two being an extra couple of pork slices and an extra half egg). Come to think of it, with a single slice of pork and half an egg, the regular is a bit of a piss take. Being a growing lad, I also ordered some gyoza (6 pcs/£5). These dumplings were a tad greasy, and didn't seem to be freshly made. That said, I've had worse and they were generously filled.
Now you might be thinking that I'm not a massive fan of Ittenbari, but for all its faults I see myself returning. Why? The ambience is the best of the various ramen bars that have opened in London in the past year. I can't quite put my finger on why I like it so much, but I think it's because it actually reminds me of Japan. So while much more has been spent on the design of Bone Daddies and Tonkotsu, neither of them has quite the same atmosphere Ittenbari has. Mind you, the next time I'll give the noodles a miss and go for some sushi or a chicken katsu curry, instead.
Ittenbari, 84 Brewer Street, London, W1F 9UB (Tel: 020-7287-1318)
Nearest tube: Piccadilly Circus