Peter Morrell and his wife enjoy the décor, the food, and the enthusiastic service in this relaxed and stylish Japanese eatery
My culinary journey in life has been in a constant Easterly direction, via France, Italy, the Middle East, India, Thailand, China, and finally Japan.
So, I was looking forward to a meal at the Yokocho Ramen Noodle Restaurant, in Panton Street, just off Leicester Square. Yokocho is situated in the Japan Centre building where there is a Japanese Food Centre. The dining space is large and light, and there is a choice of window seats, high stools, and regular tables. The décor is decidedly retro, from the meticulously renovated iconic 1947 Harley Davidson Knucklehead at the entrance to the wealth of Japanese vintage posters, enamel advertising signs, and flags that adorn very inch of the walls, and even the doors to the bathrooms. To add even more atmosphere, there is a charming array of Japanese lanterns
The atmosphere was warm and cosy, and even at 7:00pm very busy, with couples and groups having a good time.
The menu is spilt into ramen, soba, and udon noodles, and a selection of grills like waygu beef and seafood. There are also street food style sides like chicken kaarage and pork gyoza to pair with any of the mains.
Our real interest was to try the ramen noodles, and in line with the retro theme, the menu lists the provenance of the ramen dishes, where and when they were invented. For example, the Hakodate ramen was created in the city of that name in 1884.
Soup noodle dishes rise or fall on the quality of the broth, and again the menu lists the base of the stock, like chicken and pork, and length of time to prepare, anywhere between 1 and 12 hours.
My wife’s choice of ramen was the flagship Yokocho, a 2020 London invention, with a 3-hour simmered chicken and pork broth. I selected the Kumamoto Tonkotsu, which dates back to 1950, and has a 12-hour cooked tonkotsu pork broth with fried garlic.
From a very tempting range of sides, we chose three. The shio kosho chicken wings, the Takoyaki, deep fried, diced octopus balls, and a bowl of edamame beans.
We started with the sides, popping the edamame beans from their shells, enjoying the crunch of the chicken wings with their delicious yielding meat, and savouring the octopus balls, which were covered in Japanese mayo. They were topped with umami packed bonito flakes, which is also an essential ingredient for a Japanese dashi stock.
The ramen bowls arrived, fully loaded with ingredients, and they both looked very appetising. My wife’s ramen had menma bamboo shoots, BBQ pork belly, spring onion, cabbage, Naruto fish cake, a marinated nitamago egg, and nori seaweed. My bowl had kikurage mushrooms, BBQ pork belly, spring onion, a nitamago egg, seaweed, red pickled ginger, and bean sprouts.
It is difficult to describe the depth of flavour in the stock, which tasted sublime, and was also packed with vitamins and minerals. A combination of the stock and the noodles provided the perfect backdrop to appreciate the very precise flavours of the other ingredients.
I was very impressed with the BBQ pork and the kikurage mushrooms, while my wife particularly liked the nitamago egg and the Naruto fish cake. (Naruto is now also the name of a popular Manga series)
The portions are very generous so we couldn’t manage dessert, but if you do want to indulge there is a good selection of mochi, ice cream, and cheesecake, all with a Japanese twist.
There is an intriguing selection of drinks, cocktails made with Japanese spirits to start, beers, including the ever-popular Asahi on draft. A good range of still and sparkling wines are available, all sold by the glass with the entry price at £25 for a bottle. No visit to a Japanese restaurant would be complete without tasting sake, shochu, a distilled spirit, or plum wine. If you are unsure about what to order, try the sake flight, three types for £10.
I thought this was a great meal, the dining space was fun, the sides were all different and delicious, the ramen noodles were both comforting and satisfying, and the staff were all bright, friendly, and enthusiastic.
Yokocho is open all day, so you can pop in during a shopping trip, and if you have the kids with you, there is a special menu for them. It’s ideally located for pre-theatre or cinema, and later in the evening as a place to hang out with friends.
35a Panton St
London SW1Y 4EA
There are also branches of Yokocho in Westfield White City and Heddon Street W1