Yamagoya Will Have You Talking, But Not About The Food

Yamagoya ★★☆☆☆

Robert Greene
By Robert Greene Last edited 12 months ago
Yamagoya Will Have You Talking, But Not About The Food Yamagoya 2

We arrived curious, we left confused. And it had nothing to do with the food.

After its 'successful’ pop-up on Shaftesbury Avenue, Yamagoya has opened its 'first real home in London', on The Cut near Waterloo. The popular Japanese chain has been operating since 1969 and is best known for its ramen, replicated in plastic on the shop’s front window.

Through the sliding door is a casual and contemporary dining space, a restaurant-meets-takeaway vibe. Perhaps it’s the mix of bar and table service. Or maybe it’s the snack fridge next to the counter. Or even the metal stools that invite you to sit down... but not for too long.

We kick off with a selection of 'small bites', which start at a very reasonable £1. Fried pork dumplings (gyoza), fried-chicken thighs (chicken kara-age) and fermented cabbage (kimchi) prick our interest.

The pork dumplings are the biggest hit. They are wonderfully moist and flavoursome, and don’t hang around for photos. The vibrant kimchi salad has a delicate pickled flavour, and is topped with soybeans, which add a much-needed crunch to a dish that would otherwise be too oily. We are less enthused by the dry chicken thighs. Fortunately, the side of green citrus mayo (coloured and flavoured with yuzu) lends the meat the flavour and moisture it lacks.

As is to be expected, ramen takes pride of place on the menu. There are a variety of options, including pork, chicken and tofu. We take the waiter’s advice and order the house special: Yamagoya Ramen (pork). We also order the tofu miso ramen and chicken catsu curry.

Two hearty bowls of ramen arrive, each a palette of vibrant colours. Salty and sapid, the steamy dishes are the perfect remedy to the winter chill. The pork is moist and tender, as is the marinated tofu. With both bowls all but empty, the curry has still not made an appearance. When prompted, our waiter admits he has forgotten, which is surprising as the restaurant is quiet. But the biggest surprise is yet to come.

Waiting for our curry to arrive, we go hunting for the bathroom. And it is a hunt. At the back of the restaurant we find a small outdoor courtyard, complete with rubbish bins and an outhouse. We are apprehensive; images of a pit hole come to mind. Thankfully, we find a fully operational toilet. But we aren’t sure if the room doubles up as refrigerator at night; you can literally see your breath as you pee. The sink is also hidden, but we eventually find it — outside next to the bins, naturally.  

Stepping in from the cold, we are relieved to find our curry waiting for us. But while the restaurant may be celebrated for its ramen, its curry leaves a lot to be desired. The sauce is over salted and gloopy, and a desolate shade of brown. We pick at it out of politeness, but leave the dish largely untouched.

To finish off, we try the restaurant’s signature pudding: raindrop cake. Inspired by the Japanese cult dish mizu shingen mochi, the transparent hemisphere is served on a wooden board with a side of molasses syrup (kuromitsu) and roasted soybean flour (kinako) for dipping. The vegan-friendly cake is certainly photogenic. But while aesthetics triumph, flavours disappoint. The cake is essentially a colourless, and flavourless jelly. Perhaps we should have ordered the matcha-infused version.

As we step outside into the icy air, we are reminded of one thing: the toilet.

Yamagoya, 49 The Cut, Waterloo, SE1 8LF

Last Updated 12 December 2017