Marugame Udon, London E1: ‘It’s is bit Wagamama meets Ikea cafe’ – restaurant review | Grace Dent on restaurants

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Grace Dent

Guest
‘The tempura egg has become one of my feelgood hits of 2021’

A decent lunch for less than a fiver, as offered at global mega-chain Marugame Udon, is not something that often crosses my radar. In London, especially, there has been a recent post-lockdown glut of new openings with dizzyingly steep prices. Just as Tom Kerridge’s £32.50 fish and chips became normal (they’ve since gone up to £36.50), Jason Atherton’s all-new bistro, Harrods Social, swung into view with £19 asparagus starters, mac’n’cheese with braised beef at £29 and a mango smoothie at a quite hysterical £12.50. Yes, yes, I know this is Harrods, where the tourist clientele are considered fair game, but every day I read menus that make me envisage the management cackling like Smash advert aliens while they set the prices. The Harrods Social “English garden salad” for £17.50 is peak “We saw you coming”, but many fancy restaurants take the attitude that if you quibble about the pricing, it’s not really your type of place.

Meanwhile, at Marugame Udon, the most stripped-back udon dish starts at £3.45. Kamaage is served straight from a kama pot with a smoky fish dashi to dip your plump noodles in. From there, the udon dishes range from about £5-8, and for the price of that garden salad, you could also throw in some freshly made beef nikutama udon or chicken katsu curry udon, as well as a tempura boiled egg, limitless soft-serve ice-cream and bottomless peach ice tea, which you’ll find by the complimentary, build-your-own condiment station. This is a magical land where you can sprinkle spring onion, chilli and pickled ginger with jubilant abandon; it is also where the tenkasu live – that is, tempura batter scrapings, or scraps, as we call them in the north. It’s much like Pizza Hut’s Ice Cream Factory, but for spicy umami things.

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