“Irasshaimase!” I just caught the end of the shouted greeting on entry to Sasuke in Soho. I had no idea what it meant but I got the gist. As I walked through hanging Japanese flags and between pale wooden tables the smell of soupy ramen soaks the air with its brothy deliciousness. It’s one of those smells that’s familiar enough to be welcoming but different enough to assure you that this will be a new experience – for those unversed in authentic Japanese ramen. Sasuke Ramen is not your average Friday night takeaway but a little slice of Japan in London’s Soho. By my own admission I’m no expert on Japanese cuisine, so I took an ex-Tokyo dweller with me for a real authenticity litmus test.
A traditional izakaya (a Japanese ‘bar’ with cheap food) by all accounts, Sasuke takes a modest, minimalist approach to dressing a room. Wooden tables, wood chairs, shared seating and a little room along the kitchen counter are all that’s needed to recreate one of these very typical Japanese eateries. Izakayas are casual, affordable and unpretentious – think of this as your faithful local, with a Far East edge.
The restaurant has three very similar floors, although, by my observation the formality and stature of the clientele seems to go up a notch with every floor. That could just be my assumption (or wish), having been seated on the second floor, so don’t take my word for this if you’re seated at ground level. Tonight the coveted third floor was the venue for a private party of 8 who were enjoying a few cups of sake and a birthday karaoke session.
Sasuke isn’t quite a family business, but its owner Toru Sasaki comes from a family of restauranteurs and that’s always code for ‘Food made with love’. This love of Japanese cooking is also shared with Head Chef, Junichiro Kawakami who is responsible for maintaining authenticity as well as introducing experimental new dishes like his Black Sesame Pudding.
We had the pleasure of having Junichiro take us through the menu to better explain the flavours and the difference between your average London ramen dish and theirs. The texture of Sasuke’s ramen broth is a little lighter than the heavier broths of some other places. In some instances this is a regional difference (in certain areas of Japan, ramen broth has a different texture, and ingredients like miso may or may not be added to the broth), but in other cases the broth may not have been cooked for as many hours or may have had additives dashed in to create the same flavours while saving on cooking time. AKA Cheating… No cheating here though, so if you’ve caught onto the healthy bone broth trend, this is a great place to get your amino acid fix.
We had sashimi to start – served wrapped in a delicate parcel on a broad banana leaf with slivers of lemon. This silky, flavoursome, fresh piece of fish has probably ruined me for all sushi dinners to come… Also worth some airtime is the subtle difference in the soya sauce this was served with – it wasn’t the usual dark and aggressively salty variety but a more refined option that’s a mixture of uzu fruit juice, soya sauce and vinegar. The Agedashi Tofu, deep fried tofu in soya sauce, shared this same delicate soy blend and an impossibly light batter over the tofu that softens to a sweet goo in its saucy home.
Not to be missed is their signature ramen, the Chashu Pork, with a pork bone broth, specially supplied Japanese ramen noodles, spicy miso and a generous helping of pork slices (with the yummy fatty rinds intact), sweet corn, bamboo shoots, spring onion and topped with an egg. The ingredients have definitely been chosen with care, what isn’t sourced directly from Japan is always seasonal and of the highest quality. It is a beautiful landscape of food of a variety of colours in a tasty sea of broth and is just the thing to soak up a hot sake or two. The very red faced and equally loud party of ten behind us possibly could have done with a little more ramen before their sake binge but we will forgive them on account of the authentic festive flair they added to the cosy space… For veggies, there’s a miso ramen with sweetcorn and beansprouts.
Despite their very particular focus, there’s a lot more to Sasuke Ramen than the hot slurpy stuff. There’s the ridiculously fresh sushi that we’ve already mentioned, gyoza, small bites like kimchi and edamame, and curries. The sakes are not to be missed, this is a ‘bar’ after all.
32 Great Windmill Street, London
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