emember the Pit Stop café, the handy Kentish Town Road bento box joint run by a family with a streetfood truck on Berwick Street? It shut last year, the outlet staying empty for a while. This new ramen specialist is all the more welcome: the brainchild of the owners of nearby Bintang, it should be a slick operation from the outset.
There is a caveat, however: on recent visits to Bintang we’ve felt the overall quality has slipped a little. While, say, the signature wasabi prawn tempura is undeniably tasty, some of the dishes suggest the kitchen may be coasting rather than firing – and the room itself is far too Insta-bright now, lacking its quirky dive-bar atmosphere.
Happily, a passing survey of the menu at this new Filipino specialist seems to hint at the small NW1 restaurant group upping its game. There are half a dozen starters, with four ramen mains: vegan (an intriguing miso and walnut), chicken, oxtail and shrimp. It all bodes well for a visit.
It’s a boiling hot #heatwave Friday night when we rock up – and a bowl of hot soup, no matter how dazzling, isn’t necessarily top of our wish list. But curiosity gets the better of us, and we walk in. At least they serve cold beers, we rationalise – although in the end (so much dithering!) we hop over to Caps & Taps for a Gran Cerdo red to wash it down with instead. There’s a standard fiver corkage charge, which still makes the dining experience relatively cheap.
One small plate shines less than its playmate: prito pusit (fried squid) prove to be slightly pedestrian fishy slivers, despite a nicely spicy coating and the hit of chilli; but the other starter, crisp-shelled gyoza with a deeply savoury vegetable filling, are offset by a soy vinegar. Win.
And so to ramen. Let’s dispense first with the spicy tempura shrimp and clams (main pic, above), good though it is: there’s a pleasingly fishy broth, studded with shell-on molluscs, shitake mushrooms, seaweed, menma (fermented bamboo shoots) and padron peppers. It’s crowned with nitamago (two halves of golden-yolked egg marinated in seasoning), but just slightly let down by a couple of shrimp tempura that have – possibly intentionally – gone soggy. Spring onions and pea shoots at least freshen things up.No such issues await the chicken sopas, a Filipino classic. Instantly one of my top five dishes of the year, its sheer umami thwack reaches almost symphonic levels. The stock is cooked for 16 hours, says the server, spying our rapt faces, and it’s possibly the most intensely chickeny thing I’ve ever eaten.
The rich broth is a base for noodles, mushrooms, pea shoots and a triumvirate of hen-based deliciousness: that nitamago egg again, pulled chicken, and a heap of chicharonnes – fried skin scratchings – to top it off. It bounces with contrasting textures and tastes.
As we exit onto the sweltering litter-strewn lower reaches of Kentish Town Road, we have a thought: if consistency can dominate here, and teething problems are ironed out, Ramo may yet reach genuine destination status.
Main image: Stephen Emms