A lot of people ask me what I think of all the ramen shops that have opened up in London over the past two years. Truth is, I like them all. Each one is good at what it does, and each one has its own distinct personality and flavor.
But one stands out as my favorite: Mitsukoshi. It was a little late to the ramen scene, arriving many months after Ittenbari, Tonkotsu, Bone Daddies, and Shoryu. It’s had no PR blitz or social media buzz, so it opened somewhat off the radar despite a primo location on Lower Regent Street. I wouldn’t have known about it if I hadn’t glanced their easily overlooked A-board outside, and I probably wouldn’t have ventured in if I hadn’t been too impatient to queue for Shoryu one rainy evening. Mitsukoshi’s lack of press or word-of-mouth exposure means they’re rarely busy – I’ve been there five times now and I’ve never had to wait. Their clientele seems to be mostly Japanese, probably tourists, but that’s in keeping with Mitsukoshi London‘s customers in general. There’s really very little reason to go in there unless you’ve got some specifically Japanese reason to do so (I buy Japanese books and gifts there).
It’s a small space, no more than about 25 covers. It has weird brick-red carpeting and rudimentary decor. The extraction isn’t very good, so the whole room can get a bit steamy with vaporized broth and noodle water. It’s the only place in London that I know of where you are served by the chefs themselves if you’re seated at the bar. All of these things – the no-frills design, the fog of pork, the counter service – make it the only ramen shop in town that actually feels like a ramen shop. I say this is not to disparage Mitsukoshi’s competitors (there are good, practical reason why this set up doesn’t work for most businesses) but to explain why I like it so much.
Of course, I also love the ramen itself. They have a few different options including frequently varying specials: miso, shoyu, tsukemen, etc., which are all very good and all feature different noodles to suit the broth. But my favorite is the ‘London Ramen,’ a distinctive tonkotsu-seafood blend with perfectly toothsome noodles in a complex, unique broth that has some of the glutinosity and funk of a good tonkotsu but with undertones of dried shellfish and delicately smoky katsuobushi. It’s rich (but not heavy), nuanced, deep, and vibrantly, moreishly salty. There’s probably MSG in it – more power to ’em. And while the toppings are nothing special (bamboo shoots, spring onions, by-the-book chashu, nori, and half a boiled egg) they fit the bill to provide texture, balance, and good variation of flavor from mouthful to mouthful.
I have recommended Mitsukoshi to a few friends, and they’ve had mixed reactions – some have loved it, some have thought it’s kinda ‘meh,’ and one has called into question my taste in ramen. I will say the portion size is a bit small, but personally I don’t mind this because it helps keep the price below £10, and it means I don’t feel so bloated afterwards. But there is, of course, no universal standard for ramen perfection. Everyone has their own tastes and expectations. Mitsukoshi suits my own quite nicely, though it may not tick all the boxes for others.
I’d wanted to keep Mitsukoshi Ramen Bar something of a secret because I don’t like queuing and I don’t generally like loud, crowded restaurants. But now it has been announced that the whole Mitsukoshi London operation is closing down in a few months (probably about time, really), so I feel like people should give it a go while they still can. It’s a damn good bowl of noodles, and I’ll miss it. At least until Nanban opens.
P.S.: The gyoza here is good too. Really garlicky. I can’t recommend the karaage because it is not good, although on my last visit they had made some improvements to the recipe. If you fancy a before- or after-dinner drink, the bar adjacent to the ramen shop provides a relaxed, quiet space to have a Kirin or a shochu on the rocks.