It is with rare delight that I get to revisit Japan’s splendour here in the UK and I am honoured to be invited to Kanada-Ya to taste the dishes of the Far East, that I miss so much, right here in the heart of London.
Kanada-Ya is a small yet fantastically busy eatery just off Piccadilly Circus where Ramen has been recreated from the Japanese recipes that our eastern friends love so much. It was my pleasure to be given the opportunity to try some of these delicacies.
As you approach Kanada-Ya you can get the familiar feel of Japan that I experienced while visiting the country because very much like the ramen restaurants in Japan there is a queue outside the building awaiting entry for the popular meal.
In Japan ramen is considered a fast food much like the UK’s Mcdonalds but far superior in my opinion. In Japan it usually takes 4 minutes to receive your order and so it is considered a favourite due to being both delicious and fast.
Upon entering in Kanada-Ya you are welcomed to the sound of irasshaimase, a Japanese welcome. Inside is comprised of two floors with a small kitchen in the back.
Ramen restaurants in Japan can be quite small due to space issues and though Kanada-Ya isn’t anywhere near as small as its Japanese counterparts it feels nicely cosy.
The walls have pictures related to Japanese dishes and small daruma dolls on shelves give it a nice modern far eastern feel. The faces of other customers are a mix of both East Asian and Western showing a worldly love for Ramen.
HISTORY OF RAMEN
So what is Ramen? Quite simply it could be described as a bowl of noodles with a variety of tasty toppings in a broth but there’s far more to it than just that. Not only has it got a variety of tastes and textures but actually has quite a history to it as well.
Like many great things in Japan it in fact originates from China, it was during the second half of the 17th century when Zhu Zhiyu, one of the greatest scholars of Confucianism brought with him to Japan a dish of Lamain noodles, it is believed the name Ramen is derived from Lamian.
The ruling Daimyo Tokugawa Mitsukuni was the first of the Japanese to taste this dish and then to distribute it to his people, and from records kept from that time we know the dish consisted of noodles, shiitake mushrooms, pines nuts, berries, a selection of vegetables and a salt cured ham broth.
The problem was at this period of time in Japan Buddhism was the national religion and eating meat was a taboo so the locals weren’t accustomed to the taste of the cured ham broth and the dish was somewhat abandoned.
In the late 19th century Japan was beginning to build large communities of Chinese that enjoyed the noodle dish but it wasn’t until the early 20th century that the Japanese realised that in adding Soy sauce to the broth it made it more palatable and the nation took to it in no time.
In the 50s instant ramen was invented and distributed around the world where it became popular in other countries, which has of course developed to Ramen restaurants worldwide from the enjoyment of this delicious dish.
VARIETY OF RAMEN
The main variants are usually a difference in broth, a difference in noodles or a difference in toppings.
The broth can either come as a clear liquid that is comprised of either chicken bones, pig bones, seafood or vegetables, or as a milky liquid called Tonkotsu that is made from pig bones that have been boiled for hours causing the collagen to breakdown giving it the milky colour.
The noodles can either be a straight noodle that is easily slurped down, which is the custom in Japan, or a crinkly noodle that absorbs more of the soup giving it more flavour. Depending on the variant of soup the noodles can have a difference in thickness for either straight or crinkly.
The toppings as standard are usually bamboo shoots, green onions, vegetables, seafood, seaweed and boiled eggs, but variants exist as different regions of Japan have produced different bowls of ramen as the toppings had to be comprised of the available items in that region.
So less about what there is out there and more on what is in Kanada-Ya.
Kanada-Ya was founded in 2009 in Yukuhashi of Kyushu by Kazuhiro Kanada who in 2014 expanded the business by opening restaurants in Hong Kong then London.
This is the second London branch of Kanada-Ya. The premise is simple (and efficient) enough to ensure lightning fast service and generous portions.
The other, original branch of Kanada-Ya is sandwiched between Seven Dials and Tottenham Court Road. You’ll have noticed it because there is always an enormous queue outside – but you’re in luck because the new Haymarket branch takes reservations. It sits in a gastronomic vacuum just south of Piccadilly Circus, counting Planet Hollywood, an Aberdeen Angus Steakhouse and a Pizza Express as its neighbours. You can’t miss it – since it’s definitely one of the best restaurants in the area.
Kanada-Ya Haymarket flourishes with a long queue of largely Asian clientele to be found standing patiently outside, waiting for a taste of its signature bubbly, creamy soup described as cappuccino ramen. Apparently, the key to their broth is that they wash their pork bones before boiling.
Fans of Japanese design and minimalist décor should love this industrial interior, with its wooden booth tables and low lights. The interior is simple, relaxed, stylish and fun, with Japanese touches.
The air hangs thick with the rich scent of Tonkotsu – slowly simmered pork bone broth – and the truffle that differentiates Kanada-Ya’s latest menu from the rest of London’s flourishing ramen scene.
There is the Original Ramen which is served with pork belly chashu, wood ear fungus, seaweed and fresh spring onion.
Chashu-Men which is finished with Chashu pork collar.
Chicken-Paitan. Corn fed chicken bone broth, secret sauce, chashu pork collar, and shredded leak.
Gekikara served with spicy ‘tan tan’ style minced pork, pork belly chashu, wood ear fungus, seaweed and fresh spring onion.
Moyashi Ramen, which is Original Ramen served with blanched beansprouts.
Truffle-Ramen. 18 hour pork bone broth, chashu pork collar, spring onion and porcini truffle paste.
Vegetarian Ramen. Porcini-soya milk broth, secret sauce, white asparagus and avocado sashimi.
And the Haymarket London Special: Tonkotsu x. A chicken and pork mixture broth with wood ear fungus, seaweed and pork belly topping.
To go along side these bowls of ramen is Onigiri, a ball of rice that can have different fillings such as sour plum. And to wash it all down is a range of Sakes and plum wines.
OUR RAMEN MEAL AT KANADA-YA HAYMARKET
Both Kanada-Ya branches serve onigiri with the option to be ordered in one or two pieces. There are three different flavour to select from – Original (£2/£3), Sake (£3/£4.24) and Ume (£2.50/£3.75)
Onigiri are Japanese rice balls and they’re incredibly popular as a simple meal or snack. Even if you haven’t eaten them before, you’ve probably spotted the onigiri emoji – it’s the white triangle (rice) food item with a tiny black square (seaweed) at the bottom. Onigiri are ubiquitous in Japan; walk into any convenience store and you’ll find a wall of triangular (and round) onigiri just waiting to be eaten.
As my side, I ordered an original onigiri that consist of boiled rice, seaweed and purple salt. The rice was soft and easy to eat with the salt adding a nice nip to it.
This is the first time I actually ate a warm home-made onigiri and I must say I much prefer to its convenient store counterpart.
Katharina, on the other hand, ordered Chasu Don. A bowl of fluffy white rice, which was moist and nicely seasoned, topped with shredded pork chasu and spring onions.
Chashu comes in all shapes and sizes, probably because the Japanese adapted it from char siu, Chinese barbecue pork. They don’t look anything alike because they aren’t: char siu is roasted, whereas chashu is braised.
The meat in this dish was lovely and subtle. And the spring onion added just the right amount of zest.
If you have a relatively small appetite, this side dish might very well fill you up, so only order it if you are starving.
The Tonkotsu x dish is a Haymarket exclusive that as described before has a unique broth of a combination of chicken and pork bones. The broth is thicker than western broths as is the way with tonkotsu style and adds flavour to the noodles by clinging to them.
The noodles in themselves are soft and quite thin which makes them slurp-able, very tasty especially when taken with a piece of the pork belly and gulp of broth.
There is the opportunity to request how hard or soft you would like your noodles but the restaurant will give a recommendation suited to the person. This is a standard question in Japan when you sit down at a ramen shop. How hard would you like your noodles? Here, the same as Japan, you get to choose between very hard, hard, regular and soft. I do love hard and very hard, which I would describe to a Western audience as al dente.
The pork belly melted like butter in the mouth, so soft and with a hint of sweetness that when eaten with the noodles makes a delicious combination in the mouth.
The seaweed that clings to the side adds a slight saltiness to the dish as well. Over all the combinations of flavour make the dish delicious.
You smell the truffle-ramen before you see it. It smells strong and gives you a quick preview of what your about to eat.
The broth is thick with umami and literally lip-smacking, though there isn’t much variation as you navigate through it. It’s strong truffle taste is not for the faint hearted, so make sure you know you like truffle before you pick this choice. The truffle certainly resides in the foreground, whilst other flavours play a secondary role. It also adds some welcome additional texture to the broth.
The pork collar is meatier than the pork belly but still very delicious. The mushroom toppings are slightly salty and bitter which compliments the truffle.
I highly suggest ordering an additional boiled egg. It was beautifully runny in the centre, cured and slightly salty. In fact it tasted a lot like brown sauce and was in fact slightly brown in colour.
DRINKS AT KANADA-YA HAYMARKET
Kirin Japanese beer is very refreshing, Katharina always has one if it’s available. She drunk Japan dry of the stuff while we were there.
For me though it was the momoshu, a deliciously smooth drink, almost tastes like a soft drink. It would be very easy to finish off a whole bottle, though to my dismay it is served by glass not bottle.
WHY GO TO KANADA-YA HAYMARKET?
At £10-£12.5 for a bowl of ramen Kanada-ya is priced reasonably alongside its competition.
Service is brisk and friendly but you’re not exactly expecting a long, relaxing sit down meal either by going to a Ramen restaurant.
I would highly recommend Kanada-ya for ramen in London. It is probably one of the best one’s in the city.
So wether you are looking for an authentic delicious Japanese favourite or a fast food that can be quickly enjoyed, Kanada-Ya should be definitely on your list for a visit. I know that a return visit is required for myself to try the other items on the menu and since I miss Japan everyday being able to relive a little of that experience here in London is always a plus. So next time you’re in Haymarket why not pop in to Kanada-Ya and get slurping.
ARIGATOU AND SAYONARA
This blog was written by a guest writer, my ever loving and present boyfriend Gary, who a self-proclaimed japanophile greatly enjoyed visiting the Ramen Bar Kanada-Ya.
If he’s not lounging about in a Yukata reading literature related to Japan then Gary can usually be found trying to recapture his time in Japan with exhibitions, movies, documentary’s or just looking over old travel photos.
Perhaps it’s time to plan our next visit to the land of the rising sun.
Kanada-Ya Haymarket 3 Panton Street, Soho, SW1Y 4DL London
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 12pm-3pm and 5pm-10.30pm Sunday 12pm-8.30pm Telephone – 0207 240 0232 Reservations: Book a table at our Haymarket restaurant. Click here
Disclaimer: We were provided with a complimentary meal at Kanada-Ya in Haymarket for the purposes of this review. But as always all opinions stated are entirely my own.