You won’t find a more authentic Japanese dining experience than Marugame. They have over 1,000 restaurants across the world, almost 80% of which are in Japan. Their debut in London was in July this year and have since opened a few other stores across the country. They offer an array of dishes on the menu (30% of which are vegan) but specialize in udon, a traditional thick noodle made of wheat flour, salt, and water.
What I liked most about the restaurant is that they offer a transparent and open kitchen environment where you can see everything being made fresh. The noodles are prepared in-store, using special flour shipped all the way from Japan, and the tempura additions are fried in batches to ensure you get the freshest quality. The staff in the kitchen were also friendly and seemed to enjoy working there on a busy Wednesday evening. There is a clear process to assembling your order and you can customize it at the various different ‘stations’. As soon as you enter, you grab a tray and place your order for your ‘main’ dish. You can see your dish being assembled fresh in front of you and are asked to kindly wait at the pick-up point. Once you’ve picked up your dish, you move along the counter until you reach the tempura station, where you can choose from a range of fried side dishes to accompany your meal such as gyoza (vegetable or meat), tempura prawn, chicken kara-age (Japanese fried chicken), kakiage (vegetable fritters), fried asparagus or sweet potato, and pumpkin croquettes. You can probably guess that this was my favourite station. Next, you move on to the drinks and dessert station, where you can select from a range of beverages and treats. They even have “bottoms up beer” where you can watch a pint glass being filled with Asahi beer from the bottom – something you have to see with your own eyes! They also have an option for an unlimited soft drink, as well as some Japanese specialties like Ramune (a pretty cool fizzy drink that doesn’t become carbonated until you pop a ball inside). For dessert, you can choose from a range of mochi-filled balls or the unlimited soft serve (vanilla, coconut, and matcha, or a mix). The next station is the pay station, where... you guessed it… pay for what’s on your tray. However, the fun isn’t over yet. You can then move your tray onto the condiments station, where you can add any extra toppings (free of charge) including fresh chili, spring onions, chili flakes, pickled ginger, kewpie mayo, bulldog sauce, and soy sauce. My favourite option is the leftover tempura bits. Don’t forget to also pick up your utensils from this station! Once you’re satisfied, you grab a table and enjoy your meal. We ordered the Chicken Katsu Curry Udon and the Beef Nikutama Udon. Both were absolutely delicious. The udon was perfectly silky and chewy, a kind of texture that you can only get when it’s prepared fresh. The ‘broth’ from each bowl was perfectly seasoned and packed full of flavour. The onsen egg that came with the Beef Nikutama was perfectly cooked – slightly poached with a runny yolk – and the chicken katsu was so crispy and juicy. Overall, we had an amazing time at Marugame. I look forward to coming back and I’ve already recommended the restaurant to all my friends. If you haven’t checked them out yet – Udon want to miss out!