Whilst ramen has taken London by storm, it’s not as popular here in Manchester, being served only second to other Japanese dishes in the likes of Cottonopolis, Wasabi, Samsi and Umami. Perhaps it’s because Northerners do comfort food so well (dousing things in gravy) that we’ve yet to experience our own wave of ramenopoly. That said, Shoryu Ramen, popular London chain praised by Jay Rayner, opened its first restaurant outside of London here in Manchester late last year and, approaching its first year anniversary, we were invited to sample this season’s menu.
Admittedly, ramen isn’t something I’d usually consider for an evening meal in a restaurant. Ramen, in my repertoire of cravings, is a casual, midday bowl of comfort or something to soothe the soul early evening on the couch, wrapped in knitted blankets, hair swept up in a bun with a spare set of chopsticks. Shoryu Ramen though, gives to the humble ramen, a gentle sense of occasion.
Situated in One Piccadilly Gardens, overlooking the gardens and Arndale, Shoryu Ramen is a medium size restaurant with an open kitchen and bar. We arrive early Friday evening and it’s already bustling with everyone from tourists, to shoppers, small groups of friends, solo diners and those who’ve come straight from the office. I’m pleased we sit at a traditional style dining table (I loathe eating dinner on high stools) but there’s long benches by the windows and kitchen, and a small terrace, too.
Service is swift and attentive. You can be in and out in under an hour, perhaps half that if you’ve only come for ramen, and this, it seems, suits diners here well and is perhaps how it should be since “eating a bowl of ramen shouldn’t take more than five minutes”, anyway.
Our waiter tells us that Shoryu Ramen specialises in Hakata tonkotsu ramen that’s a rich 12-hour pork broth style ramen that comes with noodles, fall-apart char siu barbecue pork belly, a soft yolked nitamago egg, delicately sweet kikurage (wood ear) mushrooms, fresh spring onion, sesame, a hit of ginger, and crispy nori seaweed – and, depending on the variation, costs around £12 a bowl. This might seem expensive for ‘soup’ but all things considered, this ramen is a labour of love. Plus, it’s no more expensive than the equally comforting pie and mash served up the road.
Our waiter points out some new additions to the menu and we’re charmed by the offering this season of: Dracula Tonkotsu (£12.90) with caramelised black garlic mayu. Despite its gimmicky name, it sounds good. I’m all for celebrating garlic and I’m intrigued to see that fresh garlic is available on tables. Having never been to Japan, I learn that it’s commonplace for those dining on ramen to crush fresh garlic into their bowl at the table; the way we might add ketchup, or black pepper.
Despite the maverick in me, I swerve the Dracula ramen, although I do plump for something seasonal and try one of the Autumn cocktails as an aperitif: Falling In Kyoto (£10) a light and refreshing cocktail with a hint of cinnamon warmth. It’s a good pre-dinner drink because it’s not too sweet being a muddle of Namazake (fresh and lively unpasteurised sake – usually ubiquitous with Spring in Japan), sloe gin, mandarin and shiso leaf (of the mint family). I try a Dirty Lychee (£10) later too, and the addition of lychee puree that’s fresh and punchy is welcome over the saccharine lychee syrup most would use and the rum and nigori sake give it a smooth, mellow finish.
To eat, we decide to stick to Shoryu’s signature dishes and the more traditional offerings since this is our our first visit. To begin, we try the Shoryu Buns (£8) two fluffy bao buns, one filled with delicious fall-apart char siu barbecue pork belly and the other with soy marinated chicken karaage, also delicious, that has a crisp exterior and, being of the darker meat, is succulent and tasty in the middle.
Swiftly afterwards (I’m still licking my fingers) our ramen arrives. Steaming, seemingly bottomless, bright and inviting. First, Shoryu Ganso Tonkotsu (£11.90) the signature ramen with added fried shallots, and then Kotteri Hakata Tonkotsu (£12.90), a richer, thicker, meatier tonkotsu broth with double nitamago egg. The result of cooking the pork bones (and fat and collagen) is a rich, cloudy broth, milky in appearance, meaty in flavour, with a lip-smackingly sticky finish – the kind that you get with a very good gravy. This is comfort food as Northerners know it only in Japanese garb.
A brief look around and I quickly grasp that the bamboo ramen ladle is used both as a spoon for the broth and as a resting place for noodles between bowl and mouth. It’s a messy but gratifying affair eating ramen. One that I don’t shy away from going by the stains on my shirt.
For dessert, we delve into the Matcha Chocolate Sundae (£5.90) a pleasing combination of creamy matcha ice cream, sweet chocolate sauce, and chewy matcha brownie pieces. The Yuzu Cheesecake (£5.90) is served with fresh berries and is light and zingy.
We’re left feeling full and satisfied and conclude that next time, oh there’ll definitely be a next time, we’ll try the Wagyu Shoryu Buns and something from the grill and we’ll wash it down with a Sake flight each.
Service is attentive throughout the night and we chat with all of the serving staff and the manager throughout the course of the evening. They’re knowledgeable and friendly and we discuss the distinct lack of places to eat really good ramen in Manchester. Luckily, Shoryu is here to fill that gap.