My latest "taste and see" review took me to St. Giles, WC2. St Giles is a little area hemmed in by Soho to the West, Bloomsbury to the North and Covent Garden to the South. St Giles itself is a bit of a hodge podge and compared to the illustrious areas that surround it, you could be forgiven for thinking that it lacks any identity. Fortunately, the same cannot be said of Kanada-ya. This ramen shop specialises in the southern Japanese speciality Tonkotsu ramen. There are 3 branches in London, St. Giles, Islington and Piccadilly - St Giles was the original outlet and opene in 2014. I visited the St Giles branch on a Friday at around 1.30pm. There was a queue outside - always a good sign although maybe not surprising as the interior is tiny - cramped, you might say. Three narrow, single side only tables in the middle of the shop with three counters set up around the walls - seating for 18 people max.
We didn't have to wait too long to get inside - about 5 minutes. Inside Kanada-ya was fairly plain. This is not a ramen shop you would visit for the visual experience. On the plus side, the chef was right there, front and centre in front of his diners, preparing his noodles behind a little counter - just like in Japan.
The table service was polite, attentive and informed. Once we had decided on our order, the waitress asked us, "how did we want our noodles? Extra hard, hard or soft. Hmm, I thought, that's a good sign. The waitress recommended hard, so we both went with her recommendation. Did we want a hanjuku egg with our ramen? Oh, yes we did. Hanjuku in Japanese, translates as semi-ripe although in terms of a soft boiled egg, it means semi-soft, ie soft but not oozy soft, if you know what I mean. Any ramen shop worth its salt should serve a proper pickled hanjuku egg with its signature brown colouration from pickling in a soy marinade. Would Kanada-ya pass the test? We'd have to wait and see.
Would there be anything else? Yes, I said, a side serving of pork gyoza. This is another of my acid tests for the ramen shops that I visit - are they serving the real thing or something machine made several months ago that really should never see the light of day from the freezer? Let's see what
Kanada-ya serves up.
What did we eat?
We ordered the following dishes:
Tonkotsu X ramen
Extra Hanjuku egg
We sat back and waited for our bowls of ramen to arrive. In the meantime I mused with my co-diner about our visit so far. There were some nice touches. We both order tap water and it arrived at the table very quickly in rather cool looking black mugs that matched the black hardwood spoons and chopsticks that the waitress brought to the table at the same ime. No disposable chopsticks here however - these chopsticks were
beautifully made right down to the knurled ends that make it easier to pick up slippery ramen noodles - very clever. Looking around us, the place was full. Most of the diners were Chinese. With Soho right next door, this place must be doing something right if it can lure all these Chinese youngsters away from Wardour St, I thought. It wasn't the decor for sure, although as my co-diner reminded me, this is what most ramen shops look like in Japan - cramped little kitchens and people hunched over small tables - it might not be glitzy but it was certainly authentic. In Japan, these little places attract a loyal clientele who return month after month, year after year. Was that Kanada-ya's secret, I wondered?
How did the food score?
Tonkotsu X ramen + extra hanjuku egg Score 8/10
The ramen dishes arrived together after an acceptable wait of less than 10 minutes. My co-diner's first impression was that the serving was on the small side. There's no denying that the bowls are on the small side but you can order an extra serving of noodles if you wish. Quality not quantity, I hear you say. So, was the quality there? I'm happy to say it was - it really was. First, the hanjuku egg - this was a true hanjuku egg - marinated to a deep brown on the outside and with a soft yoke on the inside. We were off to a great start. My co-diner's only criticism of the egg was that it was very cold, ie straight out of the fridge. Eating a cold egg isn't much fun but the problem is that it also cools the ramen broth too quickly - Kanada-ya, please take note. Talking of the broth - this is advertised as a pork and chicken bone broth. It was very good. It had the right balance - rich but not overpowering and it tasted just as it should, a smooth, meaty flavour but light and hardly oily at all - was it just a little too salty? - maybe but that could just be my co-diner's personal preference. The noodles had the right amount of "bite" for a hard noodle and were cooked perfectly. The sliced pork loin was tasty and nice and lean. My co-diner's only criticism was that the wood ear fungus advertised as being part of the dish, didn't appear to have made it to the bowl. In any case, he emptied his bowl and sat there with a "cat that got the cream" look of satisfaction on his face.
Conclusion: The bowl was emptied. My co-diner had a big smile on his face. What more can I say? But for the cold egg and the missing fungus, this could have been a 9/10...
Cha-shu men Score 8/10
My cha-shu men noodles came in the same Asian appetite sized bowl. While my co-diner thought the standard serving a little on the small side, for me it was just the right amount. First, the tonkotsu broth, which is advertised as a pork only broth. I compared it with my co-diners pork and chicken bone broth - yes, there was a difference. my broth was a tad darker and just a little richer in taste and consistency - as broths go, this was really quite a pleasure. The seaweed and spring onion servings were generous and both tasted fresh. The slices of cha-shu pork collar were tasty and pleasant to eat. The "hard" noodles were just right. This is exactly what I would expect from a bowl of cha-shu if I were to buy it in Japan. One minor criticism - where was that wood ear fungus? Like my co-diner, I couldn't find any either - perhaps it was hidden in the seaweed...anyway, its absence didn't spoil my bowl of cha-shu men one little bit.
Conclusion: The best bowl of Japanese noodles I have eaten in London in a long time.
Pork gyoza 9/10
The side order of pork gyoza arrived a few minutes after the bowls of ramen. We were both already in a fine fettle from the ramen we were enjoying and the gyoza only improved our mood. These little pork parcels were nicely fried, if perhaps a little overdone. Inside, there was pork, a little garlic - I found myself thinking, when was the last time I found myself actually being able to identity the contents of a restaurant gyoza? The soy vinegar dip was fine but I could have happily eaten these without any dressing.
Conclusion: Very good gyoza and worth every penny.
Tonkotsu X ramen £11.00
Extra Hanjuku egg £ 2.00
Cha-shu Men £13.00
Pork gyoza £ 6.00
Total £32.00 + service
Summary: When I began writing this review and remarked about the uninspiring interior, it reminded me of that old Bill Clinton election slogan, "It's the economy, stupid!" Maybe Kanada-ya should hang a similar banner outside saying, "It's the food, stupid!" Because this place is all about the food. If you go to a restaurant (as I have to admit I do) with the objective of enjoying the cooking, not the ambience or the decor, then this is, in my humble opinion, one of the absolute best places to eat ramen in London. I've written in other reviews that a lot of the ramen sold in London sits in a broth that is overly rich and too thick. If that's what you like - fine. But it isn't, to my mind, an authentic Japanese ramen dish. The broth at Kanada-Ya tasted absolutely authentic. When I had finished the meal and paid, I asked whether the chef had worked in Japan. He hadn't - in fact, he was from Hungary. My point? You don't need to be Japanese and and you don't even need to have trained there to produce excellent Japanese food. Both of us left Kanada-ya as very happy eaters - there's something about knowing you've eaten very well that puts a spring in your step, isn't there?
Food: ★★★★☆ Ambience: ★★☆☆☆ Value for Money: ★★★★☆
You can find Kanada-ya, St Giles at 64 St Giles High St, London WC2H 8DA. No reservations but you can check seat availability and waiting times via their Walk-In app. Click and Collect via the Kanada-ya website.
(PS: the restaurants I review are unaware that I am reviewing their fare and service. I pay for what I eat. My opinions are honest and unbiased....)
Or why not make it yourself?
We all love to dine out. But don't forget you can make Japanese food at home which will not only taste as good or better than what you eat out (or order in) and for a fraction of the cost too! I've listed two recipes below for items I ordered during my review. Just follow the links to the written recipes and Youtube tutorials.
Recipe #1: Kanada-ya's eggs were pretty much spot on (apart from being rather cold.) If you want to discover how to make them yourself, you need look no further than my recipe Hanjuku Tamago. If you just wish to see the Youtube tutorial, you can find the link to that Hanjuku Tamago. Remember, you don't have to do "hanjuku" (semi-soft), just boil the egg for the full 6 minutes if you prefer a harder boiled version! Either way, once you steeped your boiled eggs in their soy marinade, they'll have the proper brown colouration and you'll earn some serious cooking cred points from friends and family for your authentic looking Japanese noodle dishes.
Recipe #2: Kanada-ya's gyoza were a pleasant surprise. I've eaten some, frankly awful gyoza, at other restaurants I've visited. Gyoza might look a little daunting but they are not at all difficult to make - a little fiddly perhaps, but I find making them is quite therapeutic! Once you've got the hang of wrapping, you can turn these little potstickers out at a cracking rate! If you want to try them out, you can find the Youtube tutorial by clicking Gyoza. If you want to take a look at the written recipe, you can find that here.
About the reviewer.
Hi, I'm Kurumi, a cooking writer and blogger. I'm Japanese but I have lived in London for the last
30 thirty years. Back in the days before the internet (and Youtube), I was a food writer. My first book published in English was called Japanese Cooking for Two which I wrote in 1994. It has become the 9th best selling Japanese cookbook ever… yippee!
My other books were ‘The Noodle Cookbook”, “The Soy for Health Cookbook” and “Healthy Noodles.” I also published a book in Japanese “English Home Cooking”. Then I had children and my life changed!
By the time my children had grown up, the world had changed quite a lot too! Internet, Youtube, Insta etc. So, these days, instead of books, I publish recipe and articles on my website and on my Youtube channel. I hope you'll check out my recipes - they are all tried and tested (some more times than I care to mention!) until I think you will get them right first time when you make them and enjoy eating them.
If you’d like to read more about me or my books, then follow the link here:
Happy eating! Kurumi XXXX.