Friday, 16 November 2012
Bone Daddies, Soho
"The amazing thing about London," someone said to me recently, "isn't that there are so many new restaurants. It's that so many of them are so good."
Just think, over the last twelve months we've welcomed into the fold Duck and Waffle, MeatMarket, Tramontana, Zédel, Slider Bar, Bubbledogs, Dirty Burger and Chicken Shop, Rita's, Lima, Dabbous - and so on and etcetera, this only a tiny selection (just scanning over my last dozen or so blog posts) of brand new places, all worth visiting. Sure, there have been a few stinkers, but by and large the trend is overwhelmingly positive, and if anything the pace seems to be increasing. Trends flare up and fizzle out with exhausting speed - first it was burgers, then everywhere seemed to be selling gourmet hot dogs, then it was all about fried chicken. Right now we appear to be in the middle of a ramen renaissance, with the original "proper" ramen shop Ittenbari on Brewer St being joined by Tonkotsu on Dean St, Shoryu on Regent St and, the latest star of Soho, Bone Daddies.
As proved by the miserable Chooks in Muswell Hill, though, simply identifying a trend and attempting to cash in on it is a recipe for disaster. The latest "thing" in London may be ramen, but Bone Daddies is not a lazy rip-off of either Ittenbari or Tonkotsu - its identity is inspired by the Rockabilly gangs of Tokyo's Yoyogi park, and the eclectic (ie. somewhat non-traditional) styles of ramen are complimented by a large selection of comfort food sides, and a pounding rock'n'roll soundtrack.
House pickles, for a bargainous £3, came in seven different varieties and should be the first thing anyone orders at Bone Daddies. I won't bother describing them all (I can't, for one thing) but my favourites were a couple of kimchi-style fermented root vegetables of some kind that were fizzy and pungent and delightfully unexpected.
The fried chicken was a little cup of moist nuggets of good chicken coated in a strange, thin, dry (in a good way, bear with me) batter that went very well dipped in the house chilli oil. I don't think I've had chicken treated like this before - I'm more used to the bubbly, thick coating on the kara-age from Tonkotsu and elsewhere - so it's nice to see somewhere trying something new.
Soft-shelled crab was the best I've ever had in London, perhaps anywhere, so that's another one for the "must-order" list. It was absolutely, perfectly fresh with not a hint of that odd fishiness you sometimes get (I can't criticise places in London for this too much, it must be hard getting hold of them in a country that isn't traditionally their biggest market), expertly fried and came with a bowl of punchy chilli/yoghurt sauce.
That the ramen itself wasn't quite in the same league as Tonkotsu isn't that much of a criticism; they were still great fun. The T22 is a chicken bone broth variety that according to the menu comes with something called "cock scratchings" but I'm at a loss to explain exactly what they were; I couldn't find anything in my bowl to fit that description. Mind you, perhaps that's for the best.
Even more wacky was the Tantamen, which was loaded with so much creamy ground sesame and pork mince I could hardly find any broth to drink at all. Both ramen contained nice bouncy egg noodles, decent but unspectacular, but I think I preferred the slightly more, er, normal arrangement of broth, boiled chicken and noodles in the T22 than the haphazard pile of mince and sesame in the Tantamen which was so piled high with ingredients I hardly needed a spoon at all. The option of a 'fat pipette' was added out of sheer curiosity but I can't say it really added much.
If I was a ramen purist, then, I'd find more to my taste at Tonkotsu, who are aiming for strict authenticity and are edging closer to it every day. Bone Daddies, I assume, aren't pretending to be a slice of Tokyo in London and are just offering as much fun as it's possible to have with bowls of chicken and pork bone stock while also serving a fantastic selection of Japanese-inspired comfort foods into the bargain. I'm yet to explore their sake, wine and beer lists (having visited weekday lunchtimes only so far) but I'm pretty sure that it's the late evenings when the place is destined to really come alive, and once word gets around the hungry fun-loving Soho types will be queuing out the door. Until then, make the most of the fact it's still relatively undiscovered, and welcome Bone Daddies as the latest in a long line of really rather good new restaurants in our fine city.