I miss Japan. That much I can say. So upon invitation to check out ProudEast’s new Japanese-themed popup, I could quite literally feel my belly slowly move upwards. Not that belly-lurching could be any good, in any which way or form, it’s just that I knew all those juices were undeniably angry, screaming for some oriental nosh. And you can indeed get that sort of thing here in London, little miss dressed-up International, though at hard-shelled prices pasted on seaweed I could get for two cents at my local oriental store back at home. Eat Tokyo (of which there are several outlets here) is pretty worth most bites of sweetly-vinegared rice, but there’s a certain degree of delicacy, an intricacy lacking that, to me, is so intrinsic to Japanese cuisine. Of course culinary chains aren’t meant to be all whimsy, but I can’t help it. Even the most chain-like places in Japan were more like fanciful culinary arenas, where sumo wrestlers gracefully dance and jiggle. But London is London and some things don’t change. Here was a chance to put my worn tastebuds to good use.
Seated along the blossom-lined path of Regent’s Canal, Proud East describes its pop up as ‘fusing Tokyo’s dynamic cultural hub with century old customs’. True enough, I was greeted with rich reds splashed amongst a contemporary monochrome palette. Lanterns. Clean wood. Sharp lines. Now if only there was a Japanese lady, but you can’t have it all, right?
I started my little self-made food sequence with their Aki Ban Cha, a light and fragrant green tea (though the lady who served it didn’t know what it was). They have a selection of three teas on offer, and mine stayed warm and life-giving for the hour I was there. There had to be some sort of meditation in case anything else went awry.
Shimeji and shiitake hiyashi (cold) ramen
The star, the silver, the gold. The Hiyashi Ramen, which I chose to eat with shimeji and shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots and homemade kimchi (hit the jackpot here! Not overwhelmingly spicy, delicately sour). Commending the traditional cooking method of soaking in cool water; the noodles turned out cold, bouncy and firm. A tender bite, mildly sweet and lusciously dressed in that supple, slippery ponzu (soy and yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit like a light yet more bitter version of your typical orange). Though I keep eating eggs, dairy and meat to a minimum, hats off to the bright orange yolk tenderly cooked to perfection. A wobbly and ready-to-burst onsen egg would’ve fared even better, especially on this cool base. Well-cut, lovingly-marinated vegetables rounded up the savoury notes with an innate fresh and tangy zeal. I took it all quite seriously as the flavours were almost mesmerising, crisp silhouettes in my head. Almost as good as Tonkichi back at home in Singapore. I liked how they provide free chilli oil and white vinegar too on the side. The noodle volume was a little overwhelming for someone like me, but so worth it when priced at £9.50.
Salted caramel miso ice cream sandwiched between two layers of chocolate guinness cake (unwrapped)/ upstairs gaming and lounge area
I wasn’t expecting this to be wrapped up and sealed with ‘Happy Endings LDN’, which did sound a bit weird for obvious reasons but compelling all the same. The ice cream alone is its saving grace, for I did taste miso streaked through the marshmallowy fluff of ice cream. Sweet and pillowy. The easy sort of eating, say if you want to grab something unusual (albeit fast-melting) on the go.
The whole concept is cute– you also get to play games upstairs, watch some arthouse Japanese films and indulge in some sushi and sashimi making classes. As they mention, ‘Proud East’s open plan kitchen will be taken over by one of the finest London restaurants, Tonkotsu, with a tantalising menu including fresh Gyoza, Crab Korokke, Chicken Kara-age and Tonkotsu’s signature dish, their intensely flavoursome and creamy Ramen’. Some serious immersion going on here and this spot will satisfy your Asian tooth for as long as you like, just until it ends in about 10 weeks. So get your butts here guys.