Ippudo Villiers Street
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A Waterloo branch of the ramen chain.
Ramen Connoisseurs know about Ippudo. When I arrived at this Waterloo branch of the international chain, there were already two groups ahead of me in the queue. Considering it was a Monday lunchtime, this was a very good sign: no Londoner waits for anything on a Monday unless it’s excellent.
There’s a semi-open kitchen in the narrow, corridor-like entrance, and the restaurant proper is at the back. The look is minimal, but smart; it’s small, with plush navy banquette seating and some trendy light fixtures. Service is efficient, which is great, because by the time you’re seated you’ll have fully ogled the menu.
Ramen comes in three main varieties on the ‘grand menu’: Classic (£11), Modern (£12), and Karaka-men (£13), which Ippudo describe unironically as ‘a bowl full of stimulus’. You can then pimp your choice; upgrading to ‘Tamago’ gets you a soft-boiled egg for £1.50, which wobbles exquisitely on top of the broth.
The Classic was a juicy, creamy tonkotsu broth with deliciously thin noodles, fatty pork and slithers of kikurage mushroom. Its not that there was anything particularly remarkable about this ramen – that's kind of its charm: this is solid, warm, comforting stuff. More stimulating, obviously, was the ‘bowl full of stimulus’: spiked with fiery miso paste, it comes served deep red. But I reckon it’s the classic people are queueing for.
Starters, too, were quality: crisped up, greasy kara-age chicken was a highlight, and gyoza was fat and hot and juicy. Ippudo do a clever deal where you can pay £1 on top of your ramen cost and get one starter ‘for free’. If you’re willing to share, one Classic ramen and a starter would make a nice light lunch for two, clocking in at £6 a head.
Crucially, this branch is the best place to eat in that culinary wasteland between the Strand and the river. If you're hankering for a ramen, Ippudo will deliver the goods.
Once you walk into the Villiers Street branch you get that cosy feeling – with warm interiors and old-school music in the background.
Get comfy in the back-seating area, or sit by the counter where chefs will entertain you with their stunning performance right in front of your eyes. ‘Zuzutto’ neon on the wall will invite you to slurp out loud – the only proper way to enjoy a ramen bowl!
Don't worry if you are in a rush, a wide selection of take-away dishes is also available.