December 3, 2021

Zaika

Livingston

‘I ate in a secluded Japanese booth and I’ve never made so much mess in a restaurant’ – Jessica Battison

5 min read

I’m proud to be a relatively independent person. But, I’m not one who enjoys feeling ‘lonely’.

I love to be social, and equally, I love food. Eating a yummy meal around a table with friends is undeniably one of my favourite things to do.

But, one of my favourite meals is the one thing I refuse to eat in public. Until now.

Ramen, hailed as one of London’s favourite soul food dishes, is a Japanese noodle dish and if you haven’t tried a version of it by now, you’re seriously missing out.

When I was invited to try a bowl of Tonkotsu ramen inside a ‘Shuchu dining booth’, I was instantly intrigued.

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Sat in the Shuchu dining booth, I was completely closed off from everything else

Tonkotsu is a style of ramen that has a thick, rich, pork broth. Of course it wouldn’t be complete without silky noodles and a soft-yolk egg.

Like I was, you’re probably wondering what on earth a Shuchu dining booth is. They’re basically little secluded seats designed for solo dining.

Popular in Japan, the booths are said to ‘help guests focus and soak up the absolute perfection of the noodle bowl, with minimal distractions to relax and truly appreciate the meal’.

So obviously, the cynic that I am, I was rather sceptical about this one – would I really enjoy food more cut off from everyone else?

Naturally, hungry for a good bowl of ramen and spurred by curiosity, I headed to Heddon Yokocho, just off Regent Street.



Bright neon lights and lanterns added to the effect of retro Tokyo

Hidden away on Heddon Street, I spotted the restaurant with its bright and funky decor and I was led down stairs to a vibrantly decorated room. I almost felt like I was in a late night retro food market in the heart of Tokyo.

Bright neon lights, glowing lanterns and hanging pieces of material adorned the walls and ceilings whilst Japanese pop music underscored my experience. Not that I’ve ever been to Japan, but I imagine this is the closest I can feel to the Olympic hosts right now.

The booths were in a line along one side of the room, with little walls as partitions facing another wall with a small gap in front of a curtain. Sat down, I really was completely blocked off, although it felt a little weird at first, I kind of liked it, it was super private.

Keeping things as simple and minimal as possible, the waitress took my order without any fuss. By her recommendation for a light lunch, I opted for the Tokyo Shoyu ramen, Shio Kosho wings and their popular melon soda.



Keeping it private, the food arrives from behind a curtain and is passed through the gap in your booth

Swiftly, and making me jump, the curtain in front of me raised up, almost ominously, and my melon soda appeared. Awkwardly, the glass was actually a bit too big for the gap, but I managed to get it through with minimal spillage.

I don’t really know what I was expecting, but that drink was SWEET. It tasted like liquid candy, the child in me was ecstatic.

Not long after, the curtain raised again and my little snug was filled with a smell not too dissimilar to KFC, but even better.

They were well-flavoured with salt and pepper and really subtle spice, the crispiness was immense yet the chicken was still perfectly juicy.

In the same timing, the star of the show made its way through the curtain. My hot, steaming bowl of ramen took centre stage in my booth and I felt this sense of intimacy, it really was just me and my noodles.

The broth was soy based chicken and pork and had slices of soft barbecue pork belly as the main feature. The show-stopping bowl also featured menma (fermented bamboo shoots), naruto fish cake (this was tasteless but looked pretty), a nitamago egg (soft and marinated) and a sheet of nori (seaweed).



It was just me and my food, no distractions to steal my moment

Oh, and it goes without mentioning that there was a hefty portion of delicious noodles.

The ramen certainly had a meaty, slightly umami taste, it was very hearty.

Despite being so sceptical, I really did feel at one with my food, but perhaps for a different reason.

I’m a notoriously messy eater. In fact, when I was a child, the dinner ladies in primary school used to give me merits every Friday if I made it through the week without getting food stains on my uniform.

So, I’ve learned to avoid eating certain meals, like my beloved ramen, in public. But in my private little booth, for the first time of my adult life, I felt like I was dining out completely care-free.

Other than the occasional passing person heading to the toilets, who I quickly stopped noticing, no one could see me eating.



Ramen has truly earned its title as one of London’s favourite soul foods

Definitely not a chopsticks-pro, I didn’t feel embarrassed while I was fumbling about trying to pick up my noodles.

Almost savagely, I’d rip into the wings held in one hand with my chopsticks holding noodles in another. I kind of felt like Henry VIII, having my own personal banquet and enjoying every bite.

As advised by Yokocho’s rules of eating ramen, I had no shame in slurping up my noodles and sipping the broth a little noisily. Yes, I may sound gross, but this is actually counted as good manners. I was really appreciating the food.



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While I think I’ve probably made better ramen myself, on one single particular, golden night, when I seemed to perfect a recipe (and never achieved it again), this bowl was a reasonable price at £11.90 and was extremely filling.

I’ll forever love and enjoy going out for dinner with my friends and sharing gorgeous food, but this really was a perfect experience. While I’d say mine was less of a calm, focused meal and more of a let-loose wild dining experience, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s good to be shameless every once in a while.

Although, I don’t think my mum would count it as good manners if I eat like that at the next family dinner.

You can find Heddon Yokocho at 8 Heddon Street, W1B 4BU

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