ramen seto: impostors to a modest throne
If Taro is hipster London’s noodle-slurping mom and pop alternative to McDonald’s, then Ramen Seto, literally down the street and around the corner, is Soho’s Burger King. From its outward appearance to its noticeably like-minded menu of shoyu and miso ramen variations and gyoza, it’s a basic assari-kei noodler in both state and name, no less and no more, minus the sushi counter ambitions of its competitor and its antecedent.
I’m not sure then, whether it would be possible to assess Ramen Seto in any truly impartial light, knowing that it’s a knockoff of another ramen joint, and one that arguably isn’t even worthy of a reboot. Taro is fine for London, an earnest effort by a Kumamoto native to serve up some of the comfort foods of Japan, though the place’s noodles are no benchmark in artistry, not by any means. That Seto would copy the joint, from its two-syllable name right down to its facade, a uniform wash of bright color peeking out through an edifice of Old World browns, is rather shameful, even if the food were any good.
And truth be told? It’s ok, but the fare is about as legit as well, any Sino-imitation of Japanese product can be. Yes, though I haven’t officially confirmed it, all the evidence points to the obvious: that Ramen Seto is yet another Chinese or Taiwanese knockoff of a mid-tier Japanese ramen shop, albeit one that’s a little more cleverly disguised than the rest. Trust me, white people. Us Asians, we can just tell, even if we don’t always care.
But I do. Discount notions of authenticity for a moment; there’s many a fine “fusion” bowl of noodles to be had in the world. But when ramen is made inaccurate due to the carelessness of the chef or worse, a simple cultural ignorance of what goes into the thing, that’s a whole different matter altogether. Take, for instance, my order of “wonton ramen” at Seto one grey afternoon. In taste and composition, it was little more than Chinese wonton noodles of the sort you find in Cantonese jook joints hawking roast duck and charsiu from anise-scented hooks.
There was soup yes, and there were noodles. And although the angel-hair thin strands of Chinese egg noodles most commonly found in Cantonese wonton mein had indeed been replaced by something resembling generic imported strands, the smoking gun was literally, everything else: an overabundance of girthy wontons and nappa cabbage, and a soup that had nothing to do with shoyu. Am I saying it was bad? Again, no. It was just, not really ramen.
Even more than the Mandarin-speaking waitresses, of which there were definitely a pair at Ramen Seto, I’m beginning to think that the best way to spot a Chinese-owned impostor in the house of ramen is simply to look at the restaurant’s opening hours. I typically take late lunches, and my search for actually finding a decent Japanese restaurant to dine at more often than not ends in growls and tears; I think I’m at a conversion rate of but sixty-percent once I’ve pulled the handle on the door. Real Japanese businesses close for that damned two and a half hour siesta between the lunch rush and the evening shift. Ramen Seto stays open all afternoon.
|if you ever get the hankering for cantonese-style wonton noodle soup that's allegedly "shio," ramen seto might suit you well. just, don't call it the real thing.||5.5|
|famed japanese exporters such as JFC and the Mutual Trading Company must be shipping generic ramen noodles worldwide, as this is the same stuff you find in many a ramen shop in places like new york and los angeles.||5|
|round, robust and fragrant wontons are the hallmark of cantonese won ton mein. so is napa cabbage.||5|
|ramen seto does a plump, juicy gyoza with a thicker skin than japanese ramen shops typically do. maybe because... it's not japanese at all??!? o.O dun dun duuun.||6|
|a little shop without much in the way of decor, but a decent halogen lighting treatment. i actually rather like the burnt orange paint job on the outside of the restaurant, but it's such a bite of Taro that it's not even funny.||5|
|stop pretending already.||2|
19 Kingly Street
tel: 020 7434 0309
mo-tu 12p - 9:30p (last order)