The Hungry Critic: Really, really good ramen – right here in London

By MAX MARTIN, Special to The Free Press

Ramen has quickly become a trendy dish in North America. But you don’t have to travel to a bigger city like Toronto to get top-quality ramen, there are plenty of options right in the Forest City.

The authentic Japanese dish, when done properly, is a far cry from the instant stuff you’d microwave together as a kid. The umami-bomb soup combines curly noodles with a rich, earthy broth that’s usually flavoured with soy or miso.

And while sushi is often the go-to for getting Japanese food out, as the days get colder, there’s nothing better than a hot, savoury, sometimes spicy soup. The best part? Take-out and delivery options are available at these spots.

Here are three restaurants serving up must-try ramen in London:

KENZO RAMEN

Kenzo (Max Martin/The London Free Press)

Kenzo boasts perhaps one of the biggest ramen menus in the city. Staples like shio or miso ramen are always set to please, but if you’re a fan of spice, give the karashi ramen a try. The broth has all the usual flavours – pork, miso, soy, mirin – but there’s an added kick of spice that builds as you eat the dish. It’s never overpowering but certainly would do the trick to clear any cold-weather sinuses. Bean sprouts and cabbage add freshness and crunch that brighten up the rich broth, while mushrooms add texture and depth. The pork that floats in the ramen is smoky and tender. If you want even more kick, the extra-hot spicy charsu ramen is the dish for you. And while ramen is traditionally made with a meat-based broth, Kenzo offers a few vegetarian options as well. Located in the heart of the core, it’s an excellent spot for lunch – just don’t be surprised to see a line of Fanshawe College students waiting to get their fix.

192 Dundas St., $9-$15


SAKATA RAMEN

Sakata (Max Martin/The London Free Press)

You can’t go wrong with the spicy chicken or miso chicken ramen at Sakata. The broth at Sakata is full-bodied, perhaps with a bit of a stronger miso flavour than some of the other spots in town. Their ramen dishes are garnished with corn, which adds sweetness and texture, a welcome and unexpected flavour-note against the intense umami broth. A boiled egg is a traditional component of ramen, and Sakata always cooks the yolk perfectly – it’s set, but just runny enough to be custardy and luxurious. Sakata’s black garlic ramen is a surprising twist on the classic for those ready to try a new flavour profile. It’s a great spot to dine out with friends — share the tempura shrimp as an appetizer. They’re light, crispy and sweet, with minimal grease. An added bonus, the portions at Sakata are generous, to the point where I’ve always gone home with leftovers.

219 Queens Ave., $11.95-$12.95


O’ZEN

O’zen (Max Martin/The London Free Press)

While O’Zen might be best known for its sushi and sashimi, tucked away on the menu is a sampling of ramen dishes. Their miso ramen is a fantastic choice for someone who has maybe never tried the dish before. It’s mild miso and soy flavour isn’t overpowering, which gives you that comforting noodle-soup feeling. The garnishes really make the dish pop. There’s nuttiness and texture from the sesame seeds, while the mushrooms are distinctly sweet, cooked in soy and ginger. The crispy, fried seaweed garnish is a fun edition. For those with a more adventurous palate, the tonkotsu ramen boasts a rich and creamy pork bone broth. Of course, part of O’Zen’s appeal is the ambience — a bright window overlooking Richmond Street, modern wood seating and upbeat hip-hop music make it an ideal stop for a weekend lunch or dinner.

607 Richmond St., $10.95-$11.45

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