Popular London noodle bar to bring taste of Japan to Elephant & Castle
KOI Ramen Bar’s authentic Japanese noodles already have quite a following in parts of south London, where dedicated customers simply can’t get enough of them. Ahead of the restaurant’s move to Elephant Park’s Sayer Street we speak to chef/operator Ming Chan about his hopes for the new venture.
It’s all about the noodles at KOI Ramen Bar. Husband-and-wife team Ming Chan and Hiroko Takata have been serving Japanese noodles in soup to their south London customers since 2014. With two outlets already to their name – the first in PopBrixton and the second in Tooting Market – the Sayer Street restaurant will be the couple’s third opening, and they are excited to be bringing their authentic flavours to Elephant Park.
“Sayer Street will be the home of our third shop, but it’s our first real bricks and mortar shop,” says Ming. “We started in 2014 with a street stall in Brixton, and when PopBrixton opened up in 2015 we moved in there. We’ve had a shop within Tooting Market, which is an indoor covered market, since 2017.”
The Elephant Park restaurant will have seating for approximately 20 customers inside, as well as a smaller number outside. In keeping with the Japanese style of eating, which involves customers sitting around the kitchen area in a group, diners will be able to sit at a counter around the kitchen area to see the ramen and gyoza prepared in front of them.
The Elephant Park restaurant will be serving the same menu as its predecessors and, just as at Brixton and Tooting, Ming and his team are hoping the Elephant and Castle community fall in love with the authentic noodles. “KOI has several meanings, but our meaning isn’t the carp, it’s ‘in love’,” says Ming.
With just ramen and gyoza to choose from, plus a vegan option, the team, led by Ming, is focused on serving a limited number of high-quality dishes and keeping prices affordable.
“We really are trying to serve the best ramen at the best prices,” says Ming. “Our vibe is street food as that’s where we started; we offer casual dining with prices starting at just £7 for a serving of ramen.”
It had always been Ming’s dream to make and serve authentic Japanese ramen, and he took a giant leap of faith when he decided to launch KOI Ramen Bar, swapping his career in an office to learn the fine art of creating and cooking the springy noodles and rich, flavoursome broth.
“A Japanese ramen chef gave me a crash course and then I practised and experimented over the next six months,” says Ming. “We make our dishes in a specialist kitchen and something like tonkotsu, which is our signature dish, is a 16-hour process.”
The hard work and culinary skill have clearly paid off as the restaurant has caught the attention of The Times Magazine restaurant critic, Giles Coren, who described KOI Ramen Bar as ‘outstanding’, while it has also received high praise from London Evening Standard and TimeOut London.
The restaurant offers a takeaway and delivery service (via UberEats and Deliveroo, where it is the highest-rated restaurant on both platforms) and the Sayer Street venue will also be using self-service kiosks where an order can be placed via a tablet from your table.
The KOI Ramen Bar team is looking forward to bringing authentic flavours to Elephant and Castle, a location that Ming has been watching change over the years.
“We live and work in Brixton, so Elephant and Castle is close by, and it’s certainly a growing area with huge potential,” says Ming. “It’s very central with great access and, as I’ve been driving through over the past five years, I’ve seen it growing right in front of me. The regeneration is exciting and it looks like it’s time for the Elephant to rise again.”