JAPANESE RESTAURANT IN LONDON: TONKOTSU AT IQL
Call it the modern day chicken soup for the soul. If you were to base it on sheer volume of Instagram photos, Ramen has to be one of the nation’s favourite dishes. But did you know that various regions of Japan have their own preferred flavours and toppings? That’s where Tonkotsu comes from. A rich, milky broth specific to the Fukuoka region of Japan.
Tonkotsu opened at IQL in July 2018 as an authentic Japanese restaurant London and since then, they’ve delighted residents and workers with a tasty range of ramen and fusion sides. All washed down with some seriously sophisticated cocktails and beers. The restaurants have taken London by storm, with ten outlets across the city. We grabbed a chat with Managing Director Stephen Evans and asked him a few questions about ramen (obviously), the F&B industry and running a business in Stratford.
What’s your favourite Ramen from the menu?
My usual is the Toyko with an extra egg. We recently improved the recipe to provide a thicker cut of pork and added pork crackling for some crunch. If I’m feeling run down (read ‘hungover’ if you will) then the only thing for it is a chilli chicken. There must be something in the balance of spice, salt and protein which cures most things.
And your favourite side?
It must be our pork gyoza. We make them ourselves and use a special gyoza cooker imported from Japan which gives the base a crunchy texture whilst steaming the top. I eat them with a tare mix of 1/3 soya sauce, 1/3 vinegar and 1/3 Eat the Bits Chilli Oil which we also make ourselves. If you’ve tried it, and love it you can buy it online at eat-the-bits.com.
To a customer who had never visited you before, what would surprise them most about Tonkotsu?
The fact we make all our core ingredients ourselves, fresh every day. In Japan, ramen is a cheap, casual eat but the process of making it is long and involved. Get it wrong and you can end up with a broth without flavour and noodles without bite. We took the decision to operate like this from day one when Ken and Emma, our founders, travelled to Japan for inspiration. After a few beers they got chatting to a ramen master who casually declared “if you don’t make your own noodles, you’re just a soup shop”. The very next day they purchased two noodle machines and transported them to our Haggerston (East) restaurant where they now make over 10,000 portions of noodles a week. We also make our own broths, bases, gyozas and chilli oil.
What do you think is special about Stratford and East London as a location for F&B?
Having travelled to various parts of the world, London stands out as a leader in F&B and East London has been leading the way with new and emerging concepts for the last 10 years. This is not only infectious; it serves to keep everyone on their toes. I was part of a restaurant opening in Stratford immediately prior to the 2012 London Olympics and that same air of excitement is still present in the area 7 years later. I think the original London Legacy Development Corporation has done a fantastic job in master planning the Olympic Park to create a legacy for future generations to enjoy for many decades to come. We are in the first phase of this and I am excited to see the subsequent phases develop, turning Stratford into a world class location for business, retail, sport and tourism.
What’s your best piece of advice for someone trying to roll out a fresh concept in the food industry?
You need to lead with a strong set of values and behaviours which customers buy in to. Ken and Emma’s decision to import noodle machines was costly, a headache and it would have been commercially better to have ‘bought in’ noodles from a central supplier. But we believe in paying attention to the detail and whilst we could have ‘got away’ with an inferior product in the short term, in the long-term customers have grown to acknowledge and appreciate what we are trying to achieve and have stayed loyal since we started in 2012.
If you haven’t yet tasted it for yourself, find Tonkotsu at Endeavour Square Stratford at IQL. And if you need any more info visit the Tonkotsu website. We’re pretty sure you’ll be convinced by the fresh food and authenticity behind the menu. After all, as Tonkotsu say… if you don’t make your own noodles, you’re just a soup shop.