Cheap is chic. Who knew that London – one of the most expensive cities in the world – would latch on to the trend for low-cost dining so readily. Shoryu Soho is the latest restaurant by Japan Centre Group to make the most of our desire for cheap eats with their selection of sub-£10 tonkotsu ramen.
Shoryu Soho is the second Shoryu restaurant to open following the successful launch of their nearby Regent Street branch. From April 2013 until later in the year, the Soho branch is a temporary pop-up, located next door to the site of where the permanent restaurant will appear soon. Not that you will really notice the difference as there’s no feeling of transiency here. The space is incredibly well designed with sleek black walls contrasting nicely with warm yellows, oranges and beiges. Modern silver lamps hang low overhead and the simple black-topped tables are surrounded by low-slung leather cube stools.
Given the walk-in only policy, it’s good to see that Shoryu Soho hasn’t been too greedy, and has avoided going with the ‘pack ‘em in, get ‘em out’ philosophy common with this type of place. Instead, you are given some room to breathe and turning tables, although it happens, isn’t obvious and doesn’t stress you out. Sure, this isn’t the sort of restaurant you visit to meander through a meal for a few hours, but then it was never meant to be.
Tonkotsu ramen – this is what Shoryu is all about. It’s a richer, thicker ramen than you may be used to from the likes of Wagamama, and it’s a dish that comes from Kyushu in southern Japan. And as you might expect from a place like this, the menu is tiny with just a few cheap dishes done really well and a focus solely on ramen, except for a few sides like tempura, edamame and gyoza.
The tonkotsu ramen served here is made with a pork broth, barbecue pork, egg, mushrooms, bean sprouts, spring onions, ginger and nori, so if you’re a vegetarian your luck is out. There are six versions available, priced between £8.99 and £11.50 for a huge bowl of thick ramen – more than enough to fill a rumbling belly.
The cutely-named Dracula Tonkotsu is well worth the premium as the most expensive dish on the menu (at £11.50). It’s served with caramelised black garlic, balsamic vinegar and garlic chips for a deep, rich flavour that will make people avoid you for some time afterwards. The garlic flavour is strong and works well with the barbecue flavour of the pork. The chunks of egg and veg make this feel more stew-like than soupy, and if you’re usually against having light lunches, this will change your mind. It’s certainly not the light choice. The flavours are bold, the pork broth thick and rich, and the garlic only adds to the depth.
If you have the room it’s worth enjoying with a side of gyoza dumplings (£3 for three) if only to sample gyoza done right. Reminiscent of the authentic Japanese article, they are light, delicate and perfectly seasoned. You may just end up ordering another portion… and who cares when the prices are this good?
It’s great to see that Shoryu Soho has stayed true to the Japanese theme and opted for authentic Japanese drinks. Their menu is dominated by sake and shochu with the more unusual addition of Umeshu plum wine. In addition to this are some Japanese beers, including Kirin Nama on draft. If you don’t want to go Japanese then they also serve Meantime London lager and one each of white, red and rosé wines for £18 a bottle.
The Last Word
Shoryu Soho is a great example of a restaurant fulfilling high demand with a pre-launch pop-up that doesn’t feel rushed or temporary. Well worth the visit, whatever your opinion of the pop up trend might be.