Hakata Ramen+Bar Bermondsey street

Bermondsey Street is beginning to take shape as a proper food centre in South East London. Almost every other door leads into a restaurant, a pub or a bar. There are now two basement bars withint moments of each other and a collection of restaurants that span French, Vietnamese, Italian, Japanese, American, British, etc., all perched on one pretty little South London street.

And thankfully, the recent soft launch at Hakata proved to be a success, with great dishes like the Katsu Sando propping up the not so great Gyoza. But the real draw for me was in the promised downstairs bar, which wasn’t quite ready in time for the soft launch but has since opened up and is serving most of the restuarant menu (everything excluding the ramen) alongside a safe list of cocktails… but more on that later.

The food at Hakata is perfect for a quick lunch but not so great if you’re looking for anything more than a laidback dinner with what’s mostly quite a typical menu offering – but that’s exactly what I’d expect of a ramen-ya. This feeds down to the restaurant decor, that is laidback, with long wooden tables and high bar stools. The ramen is of course where any good ramen bar should shine, but that’s not the case here. The broth is good, creamy and full of umami flavours and delicate seasoning, but the bowls are stuffed full of the stringy, silky noodles that were cooked just a little under al dente and seemed a touch bland. The toppings are good, with juicy cuts of meat and light pickles, and seasonings like sesame and chilli are on the table if you want to perk the whole thing up a bit.

The gyoza on the other hand, while tasty, weren’t quite hitting the spot. The meat was rolled up in a little ball, with too much space between the meat and the pastry, and I think it’s possibly ordered in rather than fresh – hence the discordance between the meat and pastry, possibly from being frozen.

The Katsu Sando on the other hand is close to perfect. The bread is fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside from a few moments on the grill, which imparts a rich smokey flavour to everything, and the katsu is juicy and well spiced. It’s not trying to be special, rather just a good full-flavoured sando, and it does that perfectly.

There seemed to be some confusion on the day with what exactly constituted “mixed pickles”, as I was brought a plate of  kimchi that I sent back. But then I watched the drama unfold as the front of house debated with the kitchen, sorting through various pickle jars and checking the menu. Eventually though, I was broght my mixed pickles  and they were fresh, crisp and delicous.

I ventured back shortly after the soft launch to check out the dimy-lit, dark decor of the downstairs bar and to sample a cocktail or two (with a katsu sando – which is just unparralled drinking food) and found a menu that while okay, is not quite upto the standard of its neighbours. There are some hints of great cocktails here, such as the nashi sakatini that uses a wakamomo and sake to make an intriguing Japanese-tinged martini, and while each cocktail that I tried was well mixed, decently balanced and pretty tasty overall, everything felt just a touch too safe and traditional. Though perhaps that’s the point?

There’s a simplicity and overall conformity to the menu at Hakata that invites comparisons to highstreet noodle shops, but the interiors and the additon of the bar, as well as the flare for flavour that pops up in dishes such as the Sando and in the subtley spiced broth of the Ramens, makes it stand out. I’m hoping for a little bit more experiementation in the future, particularly from the bar, that I think could, with some work, prove to be great addition to Bermondsey Street for drinks and umami-filled bites.