You wait ages for a really good ramen restaurant to arrive in the Northern Quarter, and then two come along at once. And they’re practically neighbours.
Late night joint Cocktail, Beer, Ramen + Bun on Oldham Street and Tokyo Ramen on Church Street both opened at the end of last year. It’s welcome news for the city’s noodle broth fans.
Tokyo Ramen is independently owned by Danny Collins and his partner Stephanie Chiu, who met working in hospitality for Harvey Nichols. Their new venture follows frequent trips to Japan over the years and eating “a LOT of ramen.” Their passion is palpable.
“The roots of our restaurant are based on backstreet ramen houses and izakaya (the Japanese answer to the pub) but we by no means claim to be authentic,” says Danny, who believes that when it comes to ramen there is no such thing as ‘authentic’.
“It is a relatively new cuisine in Japan so it doesn’t have the history that sushi, tempura and other types of Japanese food may have,” he explains. “Therefore it isn’t bound by strict rules and tradition.
“There is so much room for ramen chefs to play with flavour that the possibilities are endless. It is a very exciting concept to work with and this has helped me attract a number of outstanding chefs.”
The Tokyo Ramen menu is tiny, which Danny believes enables the chefs to concentrate on maximising flavour and ensures that every dish that leaves the open kitchen is the best it can be.
There are just four small plates, based on classic izakaya dishes and Nikkei cuisine. Think koji (fermented rice) fried chicken with sweetcorn mayo, the spicy Korean paste ssamjang and yeast furikake seasoning; crispy octopus karaage with chickpea miso and citrussy ponzu sauce made with the octopus ink; and a vegetarian-friendly tofu dish with smoked avocado.
We try a small plate of beef yakiniku (£7) – skewers of beautifully marbled zabuton steak simply seared over a hot binchotan white charcoal grill until charred outside and pink within. They’re served with black garlic, smoky with coal. They’re extraordinarily good.
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Head chef Ben Humphreys has worked at senior levels for Michelin-starred Lima London, James Martin and Tattu as well as running his own pop-ups including Siam Like It Hot. His culinary pedigree shows.
The menu offers three types of signature ramen (all £11.75), based on a rich 12-hour chicken-bone broth called tori paitan which needs constant stirring throughout the day.
“Everywhere is doing tonkotsu (pork bone broth), and so we wanted to do something a bit different,” explains Danny.
“We make around 200 litres per day, and once it’s gone we close the doors.”
We try tantanmen ramen, the creamy chicken broth topped with crisp golden koji fried chicken, a soft boiled egg and earthy kale. It’s rich with roast garlic and nutty sesame, a sharp hit of lime, and a confident kick of heat thanks to fermented chilli oil.
Shoyu ramen, robust and salty thanks to a concentrated soy tare base and the signature chicken broth, is topped with tender torched pork belly, pickled mustard greens, nori (paper-thin toasted sheets of seaweed) and a vivid green oil made with spring onions.
A miso ramen, suitable for vegetarians, is made with mushroom dashi and burnt onion miso and dotted with pickled shiitake mushrooms, crispy enoki mushrooms, brown butter and sweet potato.
The intensely savoury broths are deep and shimmering, the noodles beautifully bouncy. Slurping is encouraged. Don’t wear a white shirt.
“We really thought Manchester would benefit from a true ramen house,” says Danny. “Somewhere that is laid back, welcoming to all, and all about the food.”
Tokyo Ramen ticks all those boxes, and more.
You can feel the love and care and attention to detail that has gone into every mouthful. It’s a hug in a bowl. It’s exactly what Manchester needs right now.
This place deserves to thrive.