There’s a touch of the homemade to Kanada-Ya Haymarket, and not just in the kitchen – the lightweight wooden furniture has a flimsiness that suggests the waiting staff may have bashed it together from some knock-off Ikea sets on their lunch break. It all held together for the duration of our visit however – and comfortably bore the mountain of food laid down upon it.
This is the second London branch of Kanada-Ya, a small chain of ramen bars founded in Japan by chef Kanada Kazuhiro. The premise is simple (and efficient) enough to ensure lightning fast service and generous portions. Each main is some variant on a basic formula: a bowl of steaming broth, a heaping pile of noodles, chashu pork, spring onions, wood ear fungus (better than it sounds, we promise), nori, and various other toppings to suit. It’s mostly all pork-based, but the Haymarket site also offers chicken (not available during our visit) and a vegetarian option for those who don’t want their noodles drenched in meat juices.
The signature broth is light and silky, wonderfully taking on the flavours of your chosen variant. The Truffle Ramen is rich with a pungent porcini truffle taste right to its core, while the Gekikara is run through with heat from its spicy minced pork studding, crumbling into the soup.
Beyond the broth, there are chunks of fried chicken, crisp batter giving way to juicy, succulent dark meat. Edamame beans come coated in truffle salt, while kale is drenched in spicy dressing and sesame sauce – it’s spiky and flavourful, but the crispy leaves on top quickly give way to a soggier affair as the sauce sets in. There are also onigiri, sushi rice balls, whose peppery seasoning can’t quite make up for the mountain of rice and molehill of filling, leaving it all rather a lot of work for little reward.
Drinks include the usual array of juices and green teas, along with a dense sake and whisky menu. There are also Japanese beers: the rather familiar Kirin Ichiban and the less common Uichin, a more floral, fragrant affair. The Japanese answer to an east London craft IPA, if you will.
A bowl of perfectly prepared ramen remains one of life’s great pleasures, but at its worst can be a dull slog through bland broth and stodgy noodles. Not so at Kanada-Ya: the menu’s pointed focus pays dividends in a meal that’s punchy, light, and never dull.
Words by Dominic Preston