Memories of frequenting late night Ramen bars in Osaka surrounded by inebriated salary-men having a great time unwinding whilst slurping away at steaming bowls of Japanese goodness from when I lived and taught English there, what now seems like a lifetime ago, still invoke cravings for a rich bowl of deliciousness. When I think back to those times I can still remember the incredible atmosphere, the smells and the wonderful flavours and I struggle to resist the temptation to head into town to seek out what I so desire, often with somewhat disappointing outcomes to my quests.
When I heard my favourite London Ramen eatery Tonkotsu had set up shop on New Road in central Brighton all the familiar desires came rushing to the surface once more. Thankfully I now had a beacon to head towards on my immediate pursuit of the despicable noodle-packed meaty broth that plagues my dreams.
We arrive lunchtime at the spot where my previous go-to Japanese restaurant Okinami once upon a time inhabited, to find word has obviously spread fast. The place was buzzing and wonderfully familiar smells wafting from the kitchen driving me crazy. We take our seat to the rear of the restaurant next to the open plan kitchen where pots are bubbling away. Exposed shabby tiles, industrial-esque decor and rustic furniture give off a street food vibe which makes the whole experience all the more authentic. Our hospitable waitress explains how we order and invites us to ask any question we may have about the menu. Tonkotsu seem to have completely embraced the technology brought about by Covid restrictions, everything is ordered by scanning a QR code and ordering from an app. I have to admit I was put off at first from prior experience of these at other establishments, but it was easy to navigate and worked flawlessly. How very Japanese!
My wife orders a vegetarian mushroom miso ramen (can be made vegan without the egg), whilst I plump for “Geki Kara” which comes with a warning exclaiming is “extra hot,” which is like waving a red rag to a bull with me. We also throw in a couple of sides for good measure, some king prawn katsu and prawn gyoza. Washing it all down with a couple of refreshing pints of Kirin. Chopsticks at the ready we eagerly anticipate our food to arrive whilst taking in all the scrumptious scents emanating from the kitchen.
Our sides are first to arrive. The gyozas (Japanese dumplings), are presented still linked together from their time in the pan, the dough thin and delicate to the point of transparency and the filling fine and plentiful. Prawn Gyozas are actually a first for me as I would normally go for pork or chicken. I loved the flavour which was further enhanced by spring onion, ginger, and a traditional soy dip. These delicate morsels are a must-order. We also absolutely adored the Katsu Prawns. The succulent panko crumbed prawns served with a katsu curry dip were magnificent, so much so I only got to try one since my wife devoured the rest. Thankfully she left the tails which I personally think are the best bits as the shell has a stronger flavour than the meat, and I love the delicate crunchy texture.
Of course it is the Ramen we came for and mine brought a tear to my eye in more ways than one. I was taken straight back to my time in Osaka with my first mouthful, large thinly sliced slow cooked pork portions break up when stirred and mixes seamlessly with the thin-cut homemade noodles, kigaruge, spring onions, and a hearty pork, soy and lardo broth… Then the scotch bonnet chilli kicked in and my wife could not tell whether I was crying tears of joy or pain. Wow! This ramen really packs a punch. I soon got used to it though (the ice cold pint of Kirin providing some relief). I loved slurping up every mouthful.
Once again vegetarian ramen is a first for me, but I have to say Tonkotsu have nailed it. Konbu and shiitake mushroom base packed with homemade noodles topped with shiitake, enoki and shimeji mushrooms, bok choy, mange tout and bamboo shoots. When my wife was full I polished off her bowl and my carnivorous prejudice towards its meaty counterpart was completely blown out of the soup bowL as it had an unexpectedly rich hearty flavour. I would happily order this in future myself.
Tonkotsu have a choice of three ice-cream sando’s (sandwiches). Umboshi milk float, chocolate and miso salted caramel, and malty. My tongue still experiencing the satisfying burn from my spicy ramen, I greedily order all three for us to share. They are served in neat little packages to unwrap and all three are a delight. The umoboshi milk float is wonderfully sweet and refreshing and serves as a perfect palette cleanser, the salted caramel has an intense rich taste that completely bowled us over. The malty one slots somewhere between the two. A great fun and immensely pleasurable way to finish off our meal.
The staff are attentive and friendly, the electronic ordering system is both easy and efficient, and the atmosphere of the venue is bubbly and relaxed. Given the short time the venue has been open, word has certainly got around as almost all tables were full during our visit. Given the reasonable prices, the authenticity and downright deliciousness of the food as well as the pleasant service, it seems they have a winning recipe here.