Mare Street has become a new foodie destination, dotted with hip new eateries like Rita’s and The Advisory. The Narrow Way, however, still feels like a relic of old Hackney, untouched by so-called gentrification. So it feels odd walking up this stretch of road on a Saturday night, looking for a ramen bar of all things, where previously the best food offering might have been a Greggs sausage roll.
Yet here we are. Tonkotsu, which also has a branch at Selfridges, is not only open for business, it is absolutely heaving. A security guard at the door informs prospective diners that it will be at least 20 minutes for a table. Meanwhile, customers sit at the long, industrial bar, sipping custom made cocktails and Japanese beers while they wait. It looks like the restaurant staff are struggling to cope with the rush: we watch the waitress count table numbers under her breath and repeatedly try to deliver a broccoli dish to our neighbours, who insist they have not ordered it.
Tonkotsu, meaning ‘pork bone’, refers to a pork bone broth from the Japanese region of Kyushu. This style of broth is a creamy, thick, fatty pork soup made from boiling pork bones for many hours, and the stock really feels like it would turn to jelly if it were not warm. Served over a generous helping of homemade wheat noodles, and topped with a soft boiled egg, gleaming pork belly, spring onions and bamboo shoots, I can finally see what the fuss is about. This rich, hearty dish is well worth £11. My dinner partner, who orders the vegetarian Shimeji, Shiitake & Miso Ramen, finds her dish to be good but a little dull, but I suspect that even the most expertly prepared miso-based ramen will pale in comparison to the succulent meat stock.
We order a variety of side dishes – the shiitake and bamboo shoot gyoza are excellent, as are the crab croquettes. The salt & sansho pepper squid is unremarkable. There are a variety of other amuse-bouches to order, such as fried chicken, and okonomiyaki (Japanese savoury pancakes), however the restaurant has run out of these. They are really a sideshow anyway: we’re full and satisfied, and will have plenty of time to try the other bits when we return for another bowl of ramen, which we will assuredly do soon.
382 Mare Street, E8 1HR