Image description: A bowl of Ramen Kulture’s tonkotsu ramen with chashu pork next to a serving of two okonomiyaki skewers.
Ramen Kulture is a small, intimate eatery, tucked into St Giles and a stone’s throw from the bustle of Little Clarendon Street. Catering to individuals as well as couples and small groups, it is the kind of restaurant where you wouldn’t feel out of place eating alone on a weekday evening, acting the main character in the movie of your life whilst slurping your noodles and people watching at one of the window seats.
Ramen Kulture serves up bowls of warm, rich ramen, curries, rice dishes and delicious sides. If you visit Ramen Kulture however, you should be prepared to queue, as the restaurant is small and only walk-ins are accepted. Luckily, queuing times are usually short. You may have to wait between 10 and 20 minutes depending on the size of your group, before you’ll be invited in and shown to your seat.
Inside, the shop is narrow and the lighting is soft, whilst the decor recreates the feel of an evening spent in one of Tokyo’s yokochos, or narrow alleys packed with bars and restaurants. The room is filled with sounds of J-Pop and anime music, and the scent of the 12-hour tonkotsu broth will whet your appetite and give you a preview of what’s to come.
Starters range from miso soup and chicken gyozas, to chicken karaage and prawn katsu. Edamame beans make for a wonderfully savoury appetiser to be shared with friends, whilst the takoyaki — balls of deep-fried octopus liberally topped with gravity-defying bonito flakes — will make a more filling start to your meal. Also on the menu are okonomiyaki skewers. Though okonomiyaki is usually served in flat, pancake form in teppanyaki restaurants, here the popular dish is reformatted into skewers, removing the need for a hotplate on the table on which to make them. Stuffed with cabbage and octopus, before being covered in Japanese mayonnaise and bonito flakes, these are an equally delicious starter.
Where Ramen Kulture really shines is, of course, the ramen. The tonkotsu ramen is rich and warm, served with a cut of chashu pork belly, which according to the menu is slow-braised for at least three hours before serving. These noodles are indulgent and comforting. It tastes like a warm hug, a weighted blanket, or the feeling of pulling the duvet over you when you wake up cold in the middle of the night. It is not one to be missed.
This ramen is indulgent and comforting. It tastes like a warm hug, a weighted blanket, or the feeling of pulling the duvet over you when you wake up cold in the middle of the night.
For vegetarians and vegans, the miso tofu ramen made with miso broth is fresher and doesn’t quite reach the richness of the tonkotsu ramen. But, topped with fried tofu, broccoli, mushroom and sweetcorn, it is nonetheless a satisfying meal. Extra toppings, such as a nitamago egg — a soft-boiled egg marinated overnight so it takes on extra flavour and the yolk reaches a jammy consistency — can be added, and are well worth the extra cost. What’s more, if you go into Ramen Kulture with long hair, when your ramen is served you’ll usually be offered a hair band by the waiter to prevent your hair falling into your food, a thoughtful touch and an example of the restaurant’s friendly customer service.
For dessert, there is one option: mochi. The mochi in Ramen Kulture is served cold, small balls of frozen ice cream covered in the typical chewy rice flour wrapper. Flavours include strawberry ice cream and mango. These are small, but after a large helping of starters and ramen, a small dessert is the perfect way to finish your meal.
Ramen Kulture is one of Oxford’s unmissable spots: a delicious introduction to ramen for the uninitiated, and a fantastic place to eat for those looking for a bowl of familiar comfort.