One of the many drawbacks I’ve always found when shopping on Oxford Street is the lack of good value food options (and toilets). There’s McDonald’s, sure, or flashy spots in Soho where you order a few dumplings, accidentally spend £50, then end up drunkenly buying Chanel perfume from Boots on the way home.
That was before Marugame Udon opened its newest branch in late 2022 on Argyll Street, where tourist classic diner Garfunkels used to be. Marugame Udon was founded in Japan in 2000, and in 2021 it opened its first branch in London, at Liverpool Street. Now, it has restaurants in the O2, Canary Wharf, Bond Street and Brent Cross, and it's promised more are coming.
Marugame serves up steaming udon noodles, rice bowls and an overwhelming variety of tempuras, as well as some omusubi (rice in a seaweed wrap), desserts and fun drinks. Fun like bubble milk tea in a can, but also fun like Asahi that gets poured from the bottom up. In the middle of central London, Marugame Udon’s USP is that it is incredibly, incomparably cheap. The noods start as low as £3.95 for a kamaage (udon in kama water with a fish dashi on the side), and the absolute most you can spend is £12.45 on a large pork tonkotsu. And we mean large.
In the middle of central London, Marugame Udon is incomparably cheap
It’s not fancy here, nor is it trying to be. Marugame Udon is canteen-style, so you can be in and out in ten minutes if you wish. But that would be a waste of valuable ice-cream eating time, as the soft serve here is bottomless for £3.45. You simply grab a cup and keep filling it up yourself at the machine. It’s the same price for bottomless soda.
We started with a small, classic kake (udon in a hot fish dashi broth), which is light, umami tasting and a little fishy. There’s also a vegan fish-sauce-less one for the same price. At £4.95 for a small, you can’t go wrong, and the beauty of Marugame is that meals are fully customisable. Elevate your simple kake with unlimited free toppings at the very exciting condiment station with fresh ginger, chilli, spring onion, toasted sesame seeds and sesame oil. The most exciting? Bits of crunchy tempura batter.
But the stars of the show are the udon, which are perfectly chewy, doughy and slurpable. Sure, the bowl’s precision doesn’t compare with the likes of Koya, the very grown up udon bar in Soho and Hackney. But for value for money, there’s no comparison.
The chicken paitan, in a thicker broth, is rich, salty and warming, with bouncy udon and torn strips of chicken thigh (nicely seasoned, but a little dry). It’s topped with spring onion and an onsen egg. If your order doesn’t come with an egg, make sure you get one - it’s a must-order, soft poached in its shell and strangely rich. And it’s £1.50.
The vegan kimchi udon, tossed through with cabbage, carrots, red peppers, onions and bean sprouts, was a bit less exciting. The kimchi is delightfully funky, but got lost in some slightly limp peppers. It was also a little cold, such is the risk of serving up noodles on-site with no broth. Another element that suffers slightly from the set up is the tempura, which can get soft if it’s sat around for a while. I was intrigued by the fishcake tempura, which ended up tasting of nothing, and pleasantly surprised by the classic prawn tempura, which was near perfect (and huge, for just £2.35). The courgette was light and fresh too, if a little soggy. Not to keep banging on about it, but an individual chicken gyoza is 95p. Less than a pound, I tell you!
Cheap, quick and incredibly vegan friendly, Marugame Udon is doing something other fast food chains aren’t. In a world of £18 small plates that barely touch the sides, it couldn’t be more welcome. Long live Marugame Udon.
The vibe A huge, two-floor canteen-style udon bar with a lot of great gimmicks, where you can get a full dinner for a tenner.
The food Thick, chewy udon, umami broths, katsu rice bowls, and a very exciting condiment station.
The drink A selection of Japanese canned soft drinks and canned hard drinks, from bubble tea to yuzu and cucumber sake.
Time out tip Definitely get a small kake, avoid the fishcake tempura, and finish with a mango cheesecake mochi.