Ah, what a joy to wander around on a sunny Sunday morning in streets full of people out having a good time - good riddance to coronavirus and lockdown - let's hope that's permanent!
I rarely venture into the City - the financial centre of London - but as I wanted to try out one of the Marugame Udon branches recently opened in London, we took the train to Moorgate and then took a leisurely 10 minute stroll to Middlesex Street in the Spitalfields district to Middlesex St.
You might not know much about Marugame Udon but it is one of Japan's biggest restaurant chains with over 800 branches the length and breadth of the country. That's quite an achievement since Marugame opened its first outlet there only in 2000. Marugame is owned by a Japanese company - Toridoll Holdings - listed on the Tokyo Stock exchange - interestingly, the company also owns the Shoryu Ramen chain of ramen shops. I've reviewed Shoryu and really quite liked it so I was hoping for more of the same from the company's udon offering.
There are other Marugame Udon outlets in London. In fact, since opening their Middlesex St shop with much fanfare in April 2021, Marugame have opened 3 more London outlets in Canary Wharf, the O2 Centre and St. Christophers Place, just off Oxford St W1. Marugame is also planning to open a further 4 outlets in London within 2022. I've read a good few gushing reviews about Marugame Udon's London restaurants. I have to admit, I find that a bit strange as Marugame in Japan is a fairly run-of-the-mill fast food operation - decent food, fairly priced - but certainly not a high end eating experience. So, I was intrigued as to what I would find.
So what exactly is Marugame's offering? As you would expect, the menu at Marugame Udon heavily features - yes, you guessed it - udon, or to be more precise, sanuki udon, which is a famous variety of udon from the island of Shikoku. Marugame Udon operates a counter service, meaning that you walk in, take a tray and then select your udon at the main counter where it is served to you. You can either order prepared bowls, such as Curry Udon or Tonkotsu Udon or you can order a bowl of Sanuki Udon noodles in a choice of dashi stocks and then add a choice of tempura or other side dishes such as gyoza. 30% of Marugame's menu is vegan / vegetarian friendly. They also serve children's portions at a reduced price. To my mind, these are both good things. Marugame also claim they make all their noodles on site so I was on the lookout for their noodle machines and, lo and behold, there they were behind the counter - a dough machine and a rolling machine. Neither was in use and I wondered how long it must take to produce enough noodles for several hundred or
more daily diners using just these two machines - but there was certainly a lot of bags of flour in evidence like the one in the photo on the left, so I have to assume they manage it somehow.
Anyhow, for an early Sunday lunchtime, Marugame was doing a pretty brisk trade. The restaurant has seating for around 100+ diners on the ground floor (with more seating in the basement) and the place was already easily more than half full. As you would expect for a self service operation, the service was quick and efficient. The kitchen behind the counter was well staffed and everyone seemed to know what they were doing. Overall, the ambience of the place was just right for a fast turnaround outlet - the service was pleasant and quick, the surroundings were attractive and clean and the seating just comfortable enough for a quick meal.
What did we eat?
We ordered the following:
Two Pork Tonkotsu
Asparagus, Prawn & Courgette Tempura
As Marugame Udon operates a counter service, we didn't have to wait for our food. We had chosen and been served our dishes, paid and were seated within 5 minutes of walking into the restaurant.
How did the food score?
Kake Udon with Asparagus & Prawn Tempura, Pumpkin Korokke & Gyoza. 7.0/10
I ate bowl of Kake Udon - this is a very simple dish which contains only a serving of udon noodles in a fish dashi broth served with a little chopped spring onion. Both the noodles and broth were very good - my one compliant was that by the time I got to my seat, the bowl was tepid - sorry, but I like my noodles to be hot. I understand that with counter service, a restaurant might be reluctant to be handing over piping hot food to its patrons but I like to eat my noodles hot not cold! The Pumpkin Korokke was perfectly pleasant (it's hard to get too excited about a Pumpkin Korokke!). The high point of the meal was the tempura - in particular the Tempura Shrimp. This had just come out of the fryer so it was in perfect condition and honestly, quite delicious.
Conclusion: The noodles were good and the broth tasted fine - if only it had still been hot!
Two Pork Tonkotsu, Chicken Karaage, Courgette Tempura & Gyoza. 6.0/10
Unfortunately, the Two Pork Tonkotsu was the most tepid of the 3 bowls we ordered. That was a shame because it tasted fine, the noodles were good and the bowl was brimful of toppings - sliced char-siu pork, miso flavoured minced pork, egg, seaweed and spring onion. My co-diner was unhappy with both the chicken karaage which he felt was overdone (and cold) and the courgette tempura which he thought was undercooked.
Conclusion: This could have been a lot better had the bowl of udon been hot!
Chicken Paitan & Gyoza 6.5/10
The Chicken Paitan was an interesting dish. If you are wondering about the term "Paitan," it simply means a white broth. A Paitan broth can be made using either pork or chicken. The broth used in this dish was fine although no more than fine - my co-diner would have preferred the broth to be a little thicker and richer. Like my co-diner, it could have been a little hotter. The udon noodles were very good, soft, slippery and with the right amount of "bite." There was plenty of chicken pieces and a nice soft poached "Onsen Tamago". For the price, this was a satisfying bowl of udon.
We all ate a gyoza just to try them out - if you read my reviews regularly, you will know that gyoza and miso soup are two of my acid tests of a good Japanese restaurant. Marugome didn't appear to have any chicken gyoza at the counter - perhaps they were restocking - so we all ate vegetable gyoza. The unanimous conclusion was that Marugame's offering was OK but nothing more than that - we all liked the fact that they were deep fried and had a nice crunchy skin - the flavour and filling left something to be desired though.
Conclusion: This was a decent bowl of udon and good value for money.
Kake Udon £4.75
Two Pork Tonkotsu £8.95
Chicken Paitan £7.95
Gyoza (each) £0.85
Pumpkin Korokke £1.65
Courgette Tempura £1.25
Asparagus Tempura £1.45
Shrimp Tempura £2.25
Chicken Karaage £1.95
Total £31.05 + VAT
Summary: We all quite liked Marugame Udon - it does what it says on the tin as they say. The food was good - not outstanding but certainly good and reasonable value for money - and the service and ambience were certainly better than you might expect from a fast food outlet. On the whole, Marugame is a welcome addition to London's foodscape. Reading some of the corporate blurb about Marugame's outlets in London, they view their offering as on a par with Greggs or Macdonalds. Honestly, I think they are underselling themselves - Marugame is certainly a step up from a Macdonalds and as for Greggs, absolutely no contest IMO. The walk in, self service philosophy might be similar but the eating experience was much superior. On the other hand, that is reflected in the cost of the food - I doubt any of you have ever spent £33 in Greggs, have you.... But don't be fooled by some of the other reviews you might have read about Marugame Udon - don't come here expecting (as some reviews imply) something outstanding. Marugame Udon is - and makes no claims to be anything other than, a fast food outlet - the food is tasty and probably a lot better for you than Macdonalds or Greggs. The value for money proposition is pretty good too . But udon Nirvana, it is not!
Minor criticisms: None of the bowls of udon were really hot. I appreciate the potential health and safety issue of hot bowls of food for a counter operation, but there must be a way to solve this - Marugame Udon, the ball is in your court!
Food: ★★★☆☆ Ambience: ★★★☆☆ Value for Money: ★★★★☆
You can find Marugame Udon's Liverpool St branch at 114 Middlesex Street, Spitalfields,
London E1 7ES.
Other current branches in London are:
Upper Floor, The Atrium Kitchen, Cabot Place, Canary Wharf, E14 4QT
Unit 2.03 Entertainment Avenue, The O2, Greenwich, SE10 0DX and,
Oxford St branch at 14 - 15 Barrett St (St Christopher's Place), London W1U 1LT
Click & Collect via the website at https://order.marugame.co.uk
(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....)
And what about making it yourself?
We all love to dine out and you certainly won't be disappointed by Abeno's offering. But don't forget you can make Japanese food at home which will not only taste good but for a fraction of the price too! I've listed two recipes below for items I ordered during my review. Why not give them a try? Just follow the links to the written recipes and Youtube tutorials.
Recipe # 1 Udon Noodle Soup
Making a dish of udon noddles in a broth at home really could not be easier. It makes for a cheap, healthy meal and you get to decide what other goodies you add to your broth. If you would like to try this out, just click Udon Noodle Soup with Spinach & Egg.
Recipe #2 Chicken Karaage
Making your own deep fried Chicken Karaage is not as difficult as you might think. Just click on Japanese Deep Fried Chicken Nuggets to go to the recipe. If you would like to try making your own Karaage but you don't want to do any deep frying, then check out my oven baked method. You can find that by clicking Oven Baked Chicken Karaage.
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: