ryo: a shimmer of hope
Let it be known. Ryo serves one of the better bowls of ramen you’ll find in London. Sure, it’s still a dish transformed by distance, as garam masala became curry powder en route from India to the British Isles. Ryo’s shoyu ramen, spongy noodles bathed in a light, delicate liquid, likely came about its resemblance to the aotake teuchi ramen of Sano, Japan by pure coincidence. But who cares, when it’s the results that count. Leagues above Ramen Seto, more cohesive and considered than the oddball assemblages at Taro just down the street, Ryo is that most Japanese of overseas noodle joints, an izakaya that happens to specialize in ramen, a place for expats and exchange students to congregate for few beers and an ephemeral whiff of home.
There are at least a half-dozen ramen shops in London’s Soho, yet only a pair of them exude that downtempo Japanese vibe that you would find in Tokyo. Ryo doesn’t try too hard; it doesn’t play to sophisticated Londonites with porcelain welcome cats and Oriental trinkets, nor does it ape the modernism of Wagamama as many an EU noodle shop is wont to do these days. Ryo is a little haphazard and a little bit wrong, as if the owners of the place simply designed it with the best of what was available, formica tables and spartan, tasteful furnishings, by ex-pats, for ex-pats. Arty photos of English street life line the walls of the restaurant’s upper deck, the prints are all for sale and, given the Japanese names attached to them, I suspect a few of the waitstaff (or at least their friends) tote digital SLRs on their days off.
But I’m sure you’re less concerned with the scenery than with the actual bread and butter of the izakaya at the western end of Brewer St. The shoyu soup is suspiciously righteous. Light with a barely there hint of soy sauce and a patina of salt, it is indeed reminiscent of Sano-style ramen soup, the polar opposite of murky brown stuff you find at standard ramen joints. If only the remaining components were as good; the menma are jarringly sweet, almost too sweet for the bowl, and again, what’s with the snow peas? Local, seasonal, whatever the case, they’re just not my bag, baby, so take them for what they’re worth.
Finally, there are the noodles. Unfortunately, they’re the same spongy, airy strands that Taro uses; these guys must be ordering from the same noodle makers. Curly, insubstantial, and a bit strange, there must be something in the English water that prevents ramen from firming with a proper koshi or spine. Invertebrate ramen culture, now there’s a thought.
|a startlingly effective broth, light, slightly oily, and with a barely there hint of shoyu, ryo's soup is reminiscent of broth found in sano, one of japan's great ramen destinations.||8|
|alas, the curly, chewy strands at ryo lack substance. it's a problem that appears to plague many of britian's ramen shops, there must be something in the english water.||5|
|i forgot to mention the decent chashu, flavourful but not too soft. the bamboo shoots hew on the sweet side however, to the point where they disrupt the delicate broth. and i'm going to have to vote no on the snow peas. you already know that.||6|
|i kept it simple with a beer and a bowl. asahi, bottled in the UK, according to the original japanese recipe.||NA|
|ryo has a casual elegance about it; it's neither swank like wagamama nor down home like ten ten tei or taro. it's japanese without trying too hard, which puts it at just about right for a mid-afternoon sit down.||6|
|where did they come up with the soup? i'm willing to pin it on accidental awesomeness. a few repeat visits would do to confirm its consistency, but ryo gets high marks by london standards. let's keep it on the downlow.||7|
84 Brewer Street