太郎 taro: is a light that should never go out
I went the wrong way. These past months, the “rameniac” has been spending a good amount of time abroad, across the Atlantic rather than the Pacific, and slurping ramen has taken something of a backseat to munching on pies and bangers. The hiatus has probably cost me some page hits and perhaps even a bit of press, as the ever-swelling ranks of ramen bloggers have been all too ready to fill the void with their own stabs at the genre. And yet, were these guys not around to hoist the mantle of what has increasingly become a global noodling trend, the world would be a less tasty place for sure.
Take London, U.K., a city as far removed from Tokyo as one can get, the seat of British Parliament and every (only partially deserved) stereotype about bland English cooking. A goodly number of ramen shops stand even now in the shadow of towering Anglo edifices, and Japanese restaurants line Soho, serving up fair examples of a cuisine from six thousand miles away. But it’s the 21st century after all, and distances are fast becoming as relative as the speed at which your MP3s and AACs now download.
Ramen Taro has been in operation for over a decade, certainly long enough to have earned itself a steady clientele and mini-franchise status on the London dining scene (there’s another branch on Old Compton street, just down the road towards Leicester Square. The original joint sits nestled on a Japanified stretch of Brewer near Piccadilly Circus. There’s a Japanese imports market and several ramen shops in the area, some of which are of decidedly questionable origin, yet if London had a Little Tokyo, this would be the place.
Taro then, is a welcome reprise for both tourists and locals hankering for something soupy and noodly after one too many doner kebabs, and it satisfies in that down-home way that Wagamama, the U.K.‘s most ubiquitous noodle chain, simply can’t do. Yes indeed, it’s an authentic old-school, greasy spoon assari-kei, with cries of “Irasshaimase!” filling the air and an oddly synthetic-tasting yet forgivable shoyu soup that might as well be water in a desert full of the stuff white people eat.
Taro doesn’t serve the best ramen in town by far. In fact, you couldn’t even call it the best ramen within a stone’s throw of itself (that honor goes to either Ryo or Ten Ten Tei depending on your preference, but Taro dishes out a serviceable bowl, and is about as authentic as you’re likely to find around these parts. The shoyu soup is light with a wafu seafood flavor and an oddly salty, yet not entirely unpleasant tang; the curly chirimen noodles are spongy and somewhat insubstantial, slightly analogous to some whole grain, alternative pasta in texture if not in calories. The chashu is flavorful and generous, fairly tender and thick but… hey, what’s up with the red ginger? I have a sneaking suspicion that Taro-san, who hails from Kumamoto and moved to London in 1978, is simply trying to get away with the sort of recipe-flouting nonchalance that would be met with crossed eyes back home.
One has to be thankful for a place like Taro, though you might not look twice at its odd caricaturized logo (a drawing of the chef himself) were it doing business in Los Angeles or New York City, it’s a mighty find by London standards. Stick to curry and kebabs if you must, but once in a while, a little deviation from the norm can’t hurt.
|light, wafu, and just a touch strange where it counts, Taro's shoyu ramen soup is a reasonable facsimile of the stuff you'll find on the other side of the world. is it great? not by a longshot. will it do? most certainly.||6.5|
|squiggly white chijirimen noodles have an odd, spongy texture to them, yet i daresay this lends itself to a rather good chew, old chap. *tips hat, doffs monocle*||6|
|3 generous and flavorful slices of chashu make for a good buy, and the wakame seaweed and scallions do their job. but red ginger doesn't belong in shoyu ramen under most any circumstances.||6|
|a nicely grilled order of gyoza rounds out most any meal. taro does a decent dumpling, and gets the skins browned to a nice, even crisp.||6|
|a spartan, greasy-spoon-style interior is a fine way to appreciate a mid-level bowl of assari-kei shoyu ramen. no nonsense with a nice vibe. there's even a small stretch of counter seating, towards the back of the restaurant. one can at least pretend.||4.5|
|taro is practically an institution, or at least it's one of the safer choices available for anyone in London looking for a some no-nonsense, authentically Japanese ramen. sure, it's not the greatest slurp in town, but it's been around long enough to matter. here's hoping it stays put. the city needs it.||6|
61 Brewer Street
020 7734 5826
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