Rebel Belle loves: encounters with London's ramen scene

I think I'm becoming a ramen slut. 

I was in a monogamous relationship with Bone Daddies for longer than I care to admit. Every visit, I ordered the same ramen (Tantanmen, half spicy) and the same beer (Asahi Black), and I chose the same songs on Secret DJ (Zeppelin, Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult). I've checked in so often, the app named me Leading Lady of the restaurant. This is how you know I'm cool. 

Tantanmen and Asahi Black at Bone Daddies. The usual.

Tantanmen and Asahi Black at Bone Daddies. The usual.

Unlike most grads of my generation, I never lived on ramen. By the time I first set foot in a noodle bar, they were trendy as fuck. But despite the hipster factor of their product, Bone Daddies never compromised on their rock'n'roll rep. Show me anywhere else in London dishing up so much flavour with a side of Motorhead. Do it, I dare you.

No matter how often I turned up in Soho on a Sunday afternoon, armed with good intentions to change up my routine, I couldn't bring myself to stray. Something about the high stools and bar-style layout of the joint make it particularly appealing for dining solo and falling into a book.

Once they even gave me these delicious ribs some other customer didn't want.

Once they even gave me these delicious ribs some other customer didn't want.

Then last autumn, everything changed. I was in town pretty much daily, studying for the GRE and working on my PhD research proposal at the Kaplan Student Centre by Trafalgar Square. I had a few lunch dates with Bone Daddies, but something was off. Our routine had changed: I was always in a hurry and I didn't order a beer or get lost in my Kindle. One day there was a queue and I couldn't be bothered waiting. I went to Pret and ended up with an unsatisfying combination of kale chips and miso soup. I was angry at Bone Daddies and angrier at myself.

The next time I had a ramen craving, I went to Tonkotsu. Everything was different: the bar and stools were set much lower, clustered closer together, so I could hear everything the girls next to me were saying. I wondered if I should leave then, before I'd actually ordered and found myself in too deep. 

And then they started playing The Clash

I ordered the eponymous ramen, their most popular dish, and for the first time I could remember, I lapped up every silky, flavoursome drop of broth. Unlike at Bone Daddies, where I'd often give up on trying to get someone's attention and stare into space for half an hour, the servers at Tonkotsu made sure they knew I'd finished and got me out the door . 

Bone Daddies also has a tonkotsu ramen. I once ordered it by accident. No regrets.

Bone Daddies also has a tonkotsu ramen. I once ordered it by accident. No regrets.

Most recently, I stopped by Shoryu's Carnaby Street branch. I went gluten-free for endo in January and the promise of GF ramen was almost too much to handle after going so long without noodles... Except, turns out, Shoryu has an ironically-named tonkotsu ramen (how very hipster), the Dracula. It's basically a garlic explosion in your mouth. If you are a lover of garlic, you'll understand it's worth the friggin' pain.

Dude, there's garlic EVERYWHERE in this dish. Like, everywhere. If you order the Dracula, you will accidentally consume a slice of raw garlic. It's inevitable. So if you're actually a vampire, maybe just don't.

BELA LUGOSI'S DEAD. 

BELA LUGOSI'S DEAD. 

The strong, spicy flavour develops as you go on (the raw garlic clearly doing some sort of "infusing" process, how's that for gastronomy), so try to resist gobbling down all three thick slices of barbecued pork too soon. One of the things that sold me on this dish was the promise of fried garlic, but I was bummed by the lack of crunchy nutty goodness. (Bone Daddies does this really friggin' well on their tonkotsu.) 

So here's the thing. I want to keep exploring what else is out there. Kanada-Ya sounds like my home country and it's on my favourite stretch of Soho periphery. But I keep comparing every new place to Bone Daddies. It always feels like something is missing, and I wonder if I should've just stuck with what I know. Maybe I'm not cut out to play the ramen field. I've moved on, but my heart - and tantanmen cravings - just can't.