Why? To celebrate my birthday. With a two-year in tow, long romantic dinners are off the menu, so the casual comfort of a steamy ramen bar was wildly appealing.
When? A dark, dank, drizzly late October evening at about 6pm.
First Impressions: With windows & menu glowing invitingly, we couldn’t wait to nip in. The narrow frontage draws you in to a deceptively spacious dining area with stools all around. Tucked away on Panton Street (you know it – that corner of Leicester Square that is less frequented as a thoroughfare) the location is very handy and so much less crowded.
Ambience: Welcomed with a hearty ‘irrashimasen’ and immediate attention of the friendly manager, Eddie, we felt at home straight away (that is not always the case when you walk into a restaurant with a toddler!).
The basement area has regular chairs and baby seats, but was hosting a private party. So we sat upstairs on the stools which had wide, all-round footrests that actually made them very comfortable for all of us. The decor is minimal/low key, with grey walls and unmatched pictures.
The kitchen is open, with bar seating around, so you can watch the chefs doing fun stuff like charring the charshu with a blowtorch! The chefs clearly took pride in presenting the food to those seated around the bar with a certain politeness and attention to detail that you might expect from Japanese chefs (although they were not).
Clientele: Muga became busy as the evening progressed, and when we left by 8pm it was full of happy noodle slurpers of all sorts, including several Japanese businessmen around the bar and a couple of Japanese friends meeting up. A good sign of authenticity – especially when the staff isn’t Japanese.
Description of food & drink: We ordered some typical starters: yaki-gyoza, takoyaki and kara-age. We were chuffed to find that these were well-made in a traditional way – there’s nothing more disappointing than a plate of poorly-improvised gyoza. Muga’s gyoza were heavy, chicken-dense pot-stickers, all crisped up and golden. We were equally impressed with the takoyaki; they were full of creamy, stodgy lushness and tender octopus (and weren’t all puffed up with air).
Sake seems to be served cold more often than hot in London. Our ‘Kyoto Fushimizu Itate’ lived up to it’s promise of a ‘light and flowery nose’. We found it full of fragrant elderflower notes.
Muga’s ramen menu manages to be paradoxically at once simple and oddly mind-bending. Why? Well, you can choose from five soup bases for your ramen: yasai (vegetable), tonkotsu (pork-bone broth), miso (soybean paste), shio (salt) shoyu (soy sauce). The standard bowl comes with it’s own selected toppings, such as a slice of charshu pork, wakame seaweed, kikurage fungus, red pickled ginger, shredded spring onions and half of a gorgeous soft-boiled egg. You can also choose from thin or thin homemade noodles. So far, so not confused. But then! You can pimp your ramen with ‘seafood delight’, ‘charshu max’, or ‘spicy vege & kara-age’ for an extra £3.90 – £4.90. So you have to take away the above-listed standard ingredients, but then you add piles more deliciousness. What to do?
I decided not to be greedy and got the standard bowl. Tonkotsu ramen particularly appeals to the British palate seeking strong flavours, and Muga’s offering gave me an intense umami-rich hit. It was meaty and filling, and the ajitama (soft-boiled egg) was perfect.
Feeling it would be rude not to ‘spice up your muga bowl’ my carnivorous hubby went for the ‘charshu max’. With 4 slices of aburi charshu, mixed vegetables, spring onions, leek, garlic chips, egg and sesame seeds, the bowl was piled high. This upgrade made his miso ramen a spectacular sight, a delving into the bowl revealed lovely fresh veg.
As is too frequently the case at Japanese restaurants, the dessert menu was not impressive: the 3 choices include ice cream, doriyaki pancake or mochi ice cream. I adore mochi ice-cream and this was gorgeous, really good quality vanilla encased in a fine layer of mochi, sprinkled with kinako (soybean powder) and drizzled with kuromitsu (molasses sugar syrup). But 2 tiny pieces seemed a bit stingy.
Service: Very friendly – in a sincere way. All of the staff members gave off the vibe that they really cared about what they were doing. Muga has been open for just 5 months, but Eddie confirms it’s getting more popular and you can’t help but with them well.
Toilets: Downstairs, perfectly functional and clean.
Prices: A standard bowl of ramen is £9.90, with the ‘spice up your muga bowl’ coming in between £3.90 – £4.90. This does makes a bowl of noodles suddenly seem rather pricey. But it’s gorgeously gigantic and fantastically filling, so go ahead and skip your next meal. It’s worth it.
Come again? Absolutely! All though November, Muga opens at 6pm and offers a whopping 50% off all standard bowls to the first 30 customers in their ‘Sweet November’ promotion! Join the queue…
Thanks so much to Muga for inviting us in.
Muga Ramen Dining and Bar
5 Panton Street, London
020 7930 5088
Mon-Thurs 12:00-14.30 / 18:00-22:00
Fri-Sat 12:00-14.30 / 18:00-24:00