Tonkotsu comes to this city on the back of high praise, beloved of paid food critics and those pesky bloggers alike, throughout the six locations across London. The groups first steps outside the capital is a curious one; being the food hall of Selfridges, where shoppers presumably show what taste they lack by going between Yo Sushi and Krispy Kreme. We go three days into the launch and already the fifteen or so counter chairs are almost full. Either Birmingham has a very knowing food crowd or I have underestimated just how hungry shopping for a Michael Kors handbag makes you.
The name Tonkotsu apparently translates as “pork bone”, which makes up a large portion of the menu – a long simmered stock of piggy bits that would normally be discarded as waste. The result of this process is the backbone for this type of ramen; a stock soup with noodles and a few added bits and bobs that the Japanese have been chowing and slurping on for decades. Ramen verdict later, we start with pork gyoza and chicken kara-age. The gyoza’s are a disappointment, watery and flat on seasoning, only springing to life when dredged through the soy sauce. Much better are the kara-age, crisp bits of deep fried chicken thighs, with a batter that snaps like fortune cookies when tore apart by hand. They do a burger here with this chicken which on this form will be the sole reason for my return.
The Tonkotsu arrives in branded bowls. The signature bowl is a murky off-white colour of pork stock, creamy in texture with thin bouncy noodles that they are rightly proud to say they make in-house. There are thin slices of pork belly, half a boiled egg that has discoloured in the stock, spring onions and bean sprouts. The first slurp is comforting, thereafter it is too salty. I persist in the name of gluttony and awake the following day so dehydrated I feel hungover, despite sticking only to the yuzu lemonade that evening. Another bowl with a pork and chicken broth is cleaner in taste and vibrant with a homemade chilli oil that first smacks the mouth and then the lips. The chicken portion is meagre and we find it difficult to get excited about. It reminds me of a similar dish at Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York which punched well above its weight. This version was only just treading water.
We play it safe and go for dessert elsewhere, not before being passed an incorrect bill which requires amending. I welcome London’s finest coming to our city, though it needs to be done with the same quality. No doubt others will love it, but crispy chicken aside, Tonkotsu left me underwhelmed.