Kanada-ya is a rare occurrence on the London food scene, being asolely ramen joint. Ramen as previously described in our review of Shoryu Ramen is something that makes that little person inside me scream with delight. What is not to love in a steaming hot bowl of delicious meaty goodness accentuated and slapped with those amazing umami flavours that only genuinely great Japanese food can give you?
So it was, after some desperate time apart, that Tom and I convened outside the delightful little original near Tottenham Court Road station where we were pleased to find a queue! Let me explain, I do not enjoy queuing but nothing is a better indicator of popularity in a restaurant than a queue. What is more, I was late enough that by the time I got there Tom was at the front (my bad). On a steaming hot day in London walking into Kanada-Ya is like walking into the fiery depths of middle earth and yet there was no mistaking the wonderful aromas coming from the open noodle kitchen. The interior is classic Japanese, being minimalist in nature and maximising the use of the space. Friendly enthusiastic staff usher you in with customary Japanese great manners. Tom and I are sat at one of the sit up bar areas and proceed to order bottled Kirin beers. It arrives in pre-chilled copper flasks which is a lovely touch and on a hot day was exactly what was required.
The menu is short and punchy – there are effectively 4-5 types of ramen all of which are based on the classic tonkotsu: pork broth, pork belly, nori but with the ability to add some extras. The other options all sounds great (particularly the pork collar option which unfortunately had run out). Both Tom and I decided to go classic tonkotsu with some additions – we both included a hanjuku egg and on my side some red chilli paste for an extra kick. To start we ordered some fried chicken served with a yuzu mayo. Now let us all be honest here anything with yuzu in it is generally awesome, not in any small part because calling something yuzu instantly makes it cool, but unquestionably this mayo could easily be served as an indulgent cocktail (the finger licking that ensued reminiscent of children and cookie dough). The chicken itself was moist and tender with a brilliantly crispy coating. One thing that really stood out was the use of dark meat rather than breast for the chicken, the additional flavour an ode to the famous Marcus Samuelson of Red Rooster fame in New York (he is due to open a London branch – cue ridiculous excitement here) who triumphs the qualities of brown over white meat. Don’t knock it until you have tried it and if you haven’t tried it-do!
And then the ramen arrived…the smell of genuine ramen, served piping hot and with real care, in the right sort of bowl, is an overpowering wonderful hug. The sort of hug your mum gives you before you leave for university. It is all enveloping, filled with love and truly wonderful. The minute the ramen bowls appeared Tom and I shared a knowingly content look “this is going to be good.” The broth quite frankly is like nectar, no wait it is better than that, it is astoundingly flavourful and one of the best things I have tasted in London. Such was the joy of that first sip that I never wanted it to end. The pork was deliciously tender and I can only imagine what the collar must have been like, although I will not for too long as I will be returning soon! The chilli paste added heat but it did not blow anyone’s head off, it simply added a zing if you wanted it. The nori wrap on the side was something umami-licious as always.
We had also ordered two rice balls filled with tuna and salmon. These were effectively warm rice sandwiches and were utterly delicious and a totally new experience to both Tom and I (apologies for the lack of a photo, they were gone too fast).
Everything at Kanada-Ya is wonderfully done, with real care and attention which is why it is no wonder it was such a success even in its native Tokyo. Ramen is one of those food trends of the last few years that has taken off. This is both a blessing and a curse, as with so many of these crazes, because unfortunately there are a numerous poor imitations for every good restaurant. Kanada-Ya is not a poor imitation; it is the real thing, delicious, warm, friendly and minimalist. It is already one of my favourite London restaurants after one meal and the reason is very simple: it is one of very few restaurants which focus on one thing and do it superbly well. That is a fantastic achievement in a culinary scene overcrowded with poor imitations.