Kanada-Ya, St Giles
If the beautiful difference of Lost in Translation is your idea of romance then the fast-paced traditional Ramen bar, Kanada-Ya is just the ticket. Situated on Saint Giles Street, Kanada-Ya is the standout eatery in a well-known strip of traditional Ramen, Korean and Vietnamese restaurants. The restaurant is nearly always full so punters have to queue outside for a seat, which they do happily given the reputation of the place. For the uninitiated, Ramen is a kind of Japanese noodle soup akin to the Vietnamese Pho. It’s served in big filling bowls, and in Japan is eaten in purpose made, knowingly sparse ‘bars’ which diners dive into for a quick bite –think EAT for the Tokyo dweller.
Kanada-Ya only serves tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen and they offer three versions, which should make the stress of menu selection a bit easier. All noodles come in their creamy 18-hour pork bone broth (a rich deviation from clearer, lighter broths you can find in other ramen) with wood ear fungus, nori, spring onions and a pork of your choice. You can also ‘pick n mix’ it up with other ingredients with options to add beansprouts, additional nori, an egg and more. Under all costs make sure you upgrade your bowl to include a Hanjuku egg; it is possibly the greatest type of soft-boiled egg out there. The egg is slow cooked so that the white is hard, while the yolk remains molten. It’s marinated in soy sauce and left in the bowl yolk-up for you to crack and catch each other’s eye as it oozes into the bowl like golden lava.
The menu is sparse so daters should be ready to make a bit of conversation at the ordering stage, and by conversation I of course mean ‘flirt shamelessly, and brilliantly’. Indeed, if you can work your body language to give off even half the unctuous allure of the food, it won’t just be a dinner you’ll be the winner of.
The pork itself, which comes in thin slices delicately placed around the edge of the bowl, is a drool-worthy, sweet slice of joy. Melt in your mouth with dynamic flavours bouncing on the tongue from sweet honey to a smoky coal. True, it’s messy eating, so perhaps not suitable for the first date, but for that familiar friend with whom you might want a little more, nothing says romance like the slow subtle wipe of your date’s lips and a bit of cheeky chopstick play.
Although you’ll probably be seated within 10 minutes, waiting outside in London – with the rain and the cold – isn’t the most pleasant experience in the world, and the inside definitely couldn’t be described as relaxing. It’s fast turnaround cuisine closer to street food than restaurant eating so expect bright strip lighting, sharing tables with strangers and basic plastic furniture. But this is the nature of a real ramen bar and if anything, Kanada-Ya goes the extra mile to make it more Western-friendly with its sleek branding, open kitchen and modern fittings.
The restaurant won’t throw you out after you’ve eaten but there’s a natural rhythm to the place which dictates once you’ve eaten you should go. This means at most you’ll be seated for 45minutes so it’s really not the place for a lengthy dining experience.
3. Not every date demands soft-lifting and breathy quasi-jazz playing at low volume to be sexy. Often the best dates are the exciting ones, trying new things, experimenting with silly situations, and having a laugh. Kanada-Ya offers just that – the perfect pit stop between galleries, before a show or in-between shops and bars; a place to experiment with drinks you can’t read the label of, and to have a bustling bite in keeping with the spirit of the whirlwind city of London.