Tried Bristol’s new pop-up ‘book-to-go’ restaurant and it really is the real deal – Mark Taylor


Whatever you do, don’t just show up to Bristol’s new pop-up ramen shop, because you’ll almost certainly be disappointed.

The night we ate there the staff had to politely turn away more people at the door than they let in.

That’s how hot this new opening is right now. I had to book it weeks in advance and it must already be one of the hardest places to book a table in Bristol.

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It’s Bristol’s debut for the collaboration between Tomo No Ramen and Matsudai Ramen – two pop-up noodle operations either side of the Severn Bridge.

Bristol’s own Tomo No Ramen has teamed up with Cardiff’s cult pop-up Matsudai Ramen at the former West Street Kitchen site on West Street, Old Market.

Both ramen companies specialize in slow-cooked noodle bowls with a core menu initially built around iekei-inspired Yokohama-style Tonkotsu ramen. The new collaboration is the result of the founders – James Chant (of Matsudai Ramen) and James Stuart (of Tomo No Ramen) – bonded by their mutual love of good ramen.

James Stuart of Bristol’s Tomo No Ramen started experimenting with cooking ramen at home nearly a decade ago.

During the lockdown, Stuart spent months making and eating ramen several times a day, using local ingredients and traditional techniques.

Fueled by obsessive internet research and talking to fellow ramen enthusiasts, he began recreating classic styles — and creating new ones.

After several sold-out pop-ups, he has now quit his full-time job to focus entirely on Tomo No Ramen.

Matsudai Ramen was first launched in 2019 by James Chant, who was disappointed with his career in the music industry.

Tomo No Ramen has teamed up with cult Cardiff pop-up Matsudai Ramen to open an Old Market pop-up

He embarked on a series of pop-up events and kitchen takeovers in his hometown of Cardiff, keen to see if his hobby of making ramen could one day grow into something more. These events culminated in a busy six-week residency at a local night cafe.

Since then, Chant has taken Matsudai Ramen on tour in the UK, grown her team to seven staff and recently did a high-profile cooking revival at the BFI in Soho, London.

At the Bristol pop-up, Tomo No Ramen serves its signature Tomo-ya Dirty Shoyu Ramen, a golden chicken bone soup, with “dirty” shoyu tare (soy sauce seasoning), chicken oil aromatic and marinated back fat, homemade Tokyo-style noodles, smoked coppa chashu (braised pork), diced shallots, ajitama (marinated hard-boiled eggs), spinach and nori.

We started with the karaage (£7.50) – a generous plate of triple fried chicken marinated in soy sauce and sprinkled with shichimi, a fragrant and spicy blend of spices including red chilli and sesame seeds.

The fat-free chicken nuggets boasted an incredibly crunchy and crispy exterior with a spicy heat and a slightly sweet edge. The chicken was steamed hot and juicy, a dash of Japanese curry mayonnaise and a squeeze of fresh lemon lifting this great dish even more.

Matsudai's Yokohama-Style Tonkotsu Ramen
Matsudai’s Yokohama-Style Tonkotsu Ramen

For main, we tried a signature ramen dish from Matsudai and Tomo No, and you couldn’t put a cigarette paper – or should it be a sheet of nori – between them in terms of quality, generosity and delight.

Matsudai’s Yokohama-style tonkotsu ramen (£13) was a deep, shiny bowl of thick, chewy noodles, meaty slices of tender marinated pork belly, spinach, half a hard-boiled egg with a semi-firm golden yolk and crispy and salty leaves. of noris. But it was the rich garlicky pork and chicken bone broth that lifted this dish.

On a chilly evening when rain and wind whipped the restaurant windows, it was a broth as warming and comforting as a cashmere sweater.

Mark Taylor’s Food Critics

Tomo No’s signature dish (also £13) was equally impressive. An intense chicken broth filled with thick, slippery noodles, smoked pork neck, diced shallots, spinach, nori and a whole ajitama boiled egg, this was top notch comfort food . A dish that soothed both the soul and the stomach.

To drink, local beers including Lost & Grounded Keller Pils (£5 for a 440ml can), even if they could have spent a little longer in the fridge before.

James Chant, owner of Tomo no Ramen
James Stuart from Tomo No Ramen

Desserts are limited to homemade pies, all at £5.50. We tried the lemon yuzu pie, spicy and tangy, and the matcha pie, more sober and delicate.

Both were ok but a little small and served unaccompanied on large plates which made the thin slices look a bit lonely. After the generosity of previous courses, they seemed a bit parsimonious, but that’s splitting hairs.

This fantastic collaboration plans to stay on West Street for the foreseeable future, which will hopefully mean that many people get the chance to experience some of the best ramen you’ll find outside of Japan.

The fact that many of our guests were Japanese speaks volumes – this is the real deal, of course.

Tomo No Ramen x Matsudai Ramen, 55 West Street, Old Market. Open Wednesday to Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tables can be reserved here.

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