Priced at £38 per person, the affair involves more than 90 minutes of serving and if your sense of value isn't satisfied by 4 appetiser rounds, a limitless portion of world-class ramen and ice cream for dessert, just be sure to keep yourself topped up on the free-flowing red, white and sparkling wine that come included with the price.
Brunch begins with a warm and lively greeting at the door: "Sumimasen!" cries the host, banging a small drum to mark your arrival. At Shoryu these small Japanese touches keep coming but they never feel extraneous or gimmicky. Within the restaurant's simple and tasteful space, elegance trumps pretence and even if you're an absolute virgin as regards the culture and cuisine of Japan you won't feel a cold shoulder or an impatient stare — My companion and I were expertly guided through the meal by General Manager Duncan Yung and his staff, who were ready with knowledgeable and enthusiastic answers for all of our questions.
You'll order drinks first and you won't go wrong with the signature Korai Plum Wine Spritzer which is delicately sweet and doesn't pack too much of a wallop -- handy, when you’re drinking bottomlessly! If you're teetotalling but still fancy keeping in theme, ask for the Calpico, a traditional Japanese soft drink of milky-white appearance and sunny notes of citrus & lychee. It’s weird and faintly mysterious but perfectly delicious, working like a sweet, syrupy microcosm of the meal to come, introducing your mind and your mouth to an ethos of striking presentation and studied flavours — not bad for a glass of pop.
Along with the inevitable steamed edamame, you'll be offered your choice of small Bao sandwiches to start. The house-made Hirata buns are steamed to a blissful chewiness and so both varieties are top-notch but the classic Char Siu Pork filling takes second in flavour to the Halloumi & Shimeji Mushroom, which brings an explosive saltiness from the cheese into harmony with the earthy mushroom and ethereal sweetness of the bao. Whichever you choose, you’re sure to enjoy sucking the last specks of spicy mayo from your fingertips!
At this point you may as well dig out your old thesaurus and flip along with me to the entry for "Perfection", because on the whole Shoryu's brunch offers nothing that doesn't deserve a synonym or two. The flavours and textures across the entire menu are thoughtfully considered, masterfully balanced and artfully presented, ensuring your mealtime intercourse will be dominated by wide-eyed expressions of glee and contented murmuring. As your appetizers begin to hit the table, you'll start to get a full sense of the pervasive elegance in Shoryu's approach to food.
My companion and I worked our way through all seven of the brunch menu's side dishes, and for us the real stand-outs were the Black Sesame Tofu and the Takoyaki. The onyx-black Tofu is served as a single glassy brick that gives way into chilly strips of parfait-like mousse that melt on the tongue and leave behind a soft nuttiness. With a sweetened ginger drizzle and sprinkling of sesame seeds, the tofu is visually striking, texturally unpredictable and made its mark as one of the most unexpectedly satisfying components of the meal.
Equally satisfying and much-anticipated were the Takoyaki, often referred to as Octopus Balls. Morsels of octopus breaded and fried into crispy, doughy golden spheres, Takoyaki can do a really fascinating trick by way of ultra-thin sheets of Bonito tuna, specially prepared and sliced into tiny pink ribbons. When the chef lays a bundle atop the balls, the ribbons respond to the steamy rising heat by wiggling and waving languorously like minuscule living tentacles!
For how long will they wiggle? No one has ever waited long enough to find out, and you shouldn't either -- the takoyaki are best while still hot so pop one into your mouth, let all thoughts of thermokinetics disintegrate, and wonder instead at the skill behind such a marvellous marriage of dense, cake-y dough and octopus that is firm but not at all rubbery. There’s a BBQ-like richness and sweet spiciness from twin mayonnaise and chilli sauces and you should prepare yourself for their moreishness because they come three per order. Once you and your date have had one each the game is on, to see who has the most selfish nature or at least the fastest chopsticks!
When you can finally see the whites of your appetizer plates, it's time to select your bottomless ramen from four styles; Shoryu's signature Ganso Tonkotsu, Piri Piri Tonkotsu, Curry Ramen or the vegan White Natural. If you ask General Manager Duncan for direction he'll tell you that choosing is all about your current mood. "When I'm working a long shift the White Natural keeps me going without weighing me down" he says, "And on a cold, rainy day the Curry Ramen is very substantial and warms you up. But if you're craving that pure umami then you have to go with the signature Ganso."
We sampled all the offerings and while each of the four is distinctive, all are sure to change the colour on your mood ring. The Curry Ramen with chicken was my favourite, aromatic and with a warm, even spice and a deep rusty tint. For a more exuberant and multi-dimensional spice try the Piri Piri -- the fiery chillies are fully forward and the oily hints of jalapeno will still be hugging your lips minutes after the slurping is done. The silvery White Natural is the softest soup of the lot, tempered with lots of coconut milk and served around a toasted slice of tofu with a mild flavour and firm bite. And Duncan speaks the truth: If that classic umami fix is what lured you through the door your cravings will be satisfied by the rich & salty Ganso Tonkotsu and its glossy marinated egg staring out from the beautiful translucent broth.
Ramen is clearly serious business at Shoryu and no matter how you choose, your reward will be a finely-balanced dish where the impact of every component has been carefully divined and expertly calculated to create a precise impression. Always remember while eating ramen that to slurp your noodles loudly is the highest compliment, so make some noise they can hear from the kitchen!
Soon you'll be offered dessert and you'll think about deferring. After all, you just ate 4 bowls of soup and a bunch of fried dough balls. And if you're being honest, it was 6 bowls of soup. But brunch is not the meal for moderation and Shoryu is not place the skip the ice cream. For your two scoops, ask for the Sesame topped with the Chocolate Miso. The Chocolate Miso is the most excellent chocolate ice cream I've ever eaten, supremely chocolatey without any cocoa bitterness or cloying sweetness. Who would have guessed that fermented bean paste is the secret to unlocking chocolate perfection? Apparently it was Duncan, who takes credit for the recipe and who also insists it be paired with the sesame ice cream in a subtle, sophisticated ode to chocolate's former favourite bedfellow peanut butter.
So good were these two scoops, served stripped-down without any sauce or sprinkles, that I actually got a little angry about it. Now whenever someone asks if I want to go for ice cream, I'll either have to say "Sure, let's go to this ramen place I know!" or go sit at a Ben & Jerry's, muttering at some sad, unworthy sundae about miso paste and Japanese culinary superiority. Either way, I'll get stared at like a crazy person and that's a disheartening position to be put in by a dessert. Stupid, delicious ice cream.
By the time you‘ve settled up, Shoryu will feel like home — and not just because you’ve been sitting there for two hours. So don’t be too shy to return the bows on your way out and when staff call “Arigato gozaimasu“, don’t forget to say “You’re welcome”.
Shoryu Ramen's Bottomless Brunch is available now on Sundays.
Make a reservation online or by phone and fill your belly this weekend. Please eat responsibly!
Shoryu Ramen, 1 Piccadilly, Manchester M1 1RG
020 3405 7550