Ramen – the most varied of the noodle family, bathed in alkalized water for a softer effect and stewed in a pool of umami-infused goodness.
With the fall of the Meiji era in Japan, the introduction of Chinese noodles revolutionised Japanese cooking. Now this dish, already an amalgamation of cultures, takes on another ambitious leap in the dainty form of Kingsland Road’s newest joint, Supa Ya Ramen.
Luke Findlay’s long-awaited permanent venue has been open since September, and I popped along with my partner to sample its new summer menu.
The 20-seater diner is an example of relaxed, Asian-inspired cool. Funky 90s rap bubbles bombastically in the background, the walls are adorned with wishy-washy pastels, and the troop to the toilet is past shelves of ingredients. Stools and low wooden tables dictate intimacy, and maybe a touch of back pain? Tthese folks are far too trendy for lower lumbar issues.
Findlay and his three chefs are visible in the steaming kitchen as the canteen lights cast a rosy glow on the happy slurping faces of the diners.
This is a micro-restaurant, and so some things must be forgiven. Serving all drinks in cans saves room that would be taken up by a bar. Having them all (beers, wines, cocktails) at a very reasonable £5 is refreshingly egalitarian. Wine in a can? Yes, we can indeed. Although named ‘Nice White Wine Is it?’ It’s not particularly nice, but who needs a mouthy wine when you have dishes that could deliver a monologue?
Findlay brings twists and turns to everything he touches, and the starters are a divine example of this – all under £9 by the way.
Summer comes in plated form, with summer tomatoes settled on a tofu whip, with a seaweed butter pool that you can decimate with mottled green Ararat bread. Cool, creamy, champion. The tomatoes have just enough crunch, the sauce just enough punch.
Braised Swiss chard crowned with a hot and sour dressing and a dollop of chilli yogurt is a similarly sunny affair. The green of the chard’s juices, separating from the dressing, and the bright white of yogurt have an almost sexual effect. Who am I kidding? Definitely sexual.
Black radish noodles would have had a perfect cooling effect – clustered like dusty worms and biting with clumps of green peppercorn crab – if we hadn’t endured a downpour on the walk here. This issue rears its head again later, but even I (unreasoning monster that I am) realise that Supa Ya Ramen cannot control the weather.
The menu divides the ramen bowls into those served cold and those served hot. There are only four to choose from, and they are split equally.
My poor, slightly sodden soul leaps at the idea of Cumberland sausage Tantanmen, which means “noodles being carried”, and boy does this bad boy carry me off. A wildfire orange, like a burnt desert, thick clumps of chilli paste, spicy sausages like meaty boulders to discover in the depths of a Titian-like lake. A fudgy egg floats like a semi-submerged alien spacecraft. Now that I have delved this metaphor to its utmost, I will finish my praise of this otherworldly ramen. It is soft, mouth-slurping goodness only to be attempted by lovers of spice (and life, I would argue).
The ham, egg and chips Mazeman is the brothless, summery twist Supa has up its sleeve. Bundles of ham hock chashu, pickles and bacon are blended with chopsticks into a sweet and sour sensation. Sadly, the paper-thin “chips” are a distracting gimmick in an otherwise fancy-free dish.
I imagine spending the day rushing around Colombia Road Flower Market, trying to find that perfect philodendron, then diving into Supa for a cold bowl of the Kimchi Double Double, or the mushroom Mapo tofu (the vegan option). The cool noodles and flavours calm your frantic spirit before you head on out into the balmy London evening. It’s a nice image, isn’t it?
But what’s a night out without dessert? The noodle ice cream, though intriguing, feels a little frigid for the disappointingly autumnal weather outside.
A warming chocolate mousse with orange congealing at the bottom of a small bowl, however? Yes please. Despite some rich smokiness, the unripe melon proves an unfortunate decoration in this swampy dessert.
This is dining gone dinosaur. The small wooden table is strewn with gleaming drops of blood-like chilli oil, and my new navy trousers are equally adorned.
The ramen bowls are £15 a pop, which might be a stretch for noodles, but with the stimulating starters the evening extends onward like a rabbit hole of sensation.
Ramen again has taken another bound in its long and varied history. Western culinary artistry mixed with the king of Japanese street food proves a winner for Findlay.
I wish you all a Supa summer!