Under the railway arches in Bermondsey, something unexpected, but special, is happening. It's 6am, the sun is just coming up, and the Bone Daddies kitchen is opening up for the day. Why the early start? Because time and broth wait for no man.
The broth has spent the whole night simmering to the point of perfection, and now it's all hands on deck. The fifteen-strong kitchen team springs into action, treating us to a symphony of chopping, stirring and blending. The fact that nobody will even step into the restaurant for at least twelve hours is testament to the dedication, craft and collaboration that goes into a bowl from Bone Daddies.
A few hours later, once the sun had come up, Deliveroo sat down with Tom Moxon – Head Chef at Bone Daddies – to find out what makes the perfect bowl of ramen, and how he helped to spearhead London's ramen revolution.
Having spent the morning surrounded by the tantalising smell of bubbling broth, we had to ask him for the inside story: "We use a mixture of pork thigh bones and trotters to make our soups. There's a long process in going from the bones to the bowl. Obviously I used a lot of what I'd learned in Japan and did my own research, but we didn't get it right the first time. In the beginning Ross [acclaimed chef and the brains behind Bone Daddies] and I did quite a bit of trial and error."
"I'd actually never heard of ramen before I went out to Japan."
Given Tom's obvious passion and expertise, you might be surprised to find out that he discovered ramen by accident. "I was working as a chef in Japan for a year, and I'd actually never heard of ramen before I went out there. I was trying out a lot of different Japanese food, but I found myself eating ramen up to three times a day, and I just totally fell in love with it." Check out our video where we get up close and personal with Tom and some Bone Daddies bowls!
That love is written on his face as he makes a compelling case for the virtues of ramen. "What's better for the soul than a hot, steaming bowl of soup? It's natural cooking. You take bones and your ingredients, treat them well, season them up, balance the flavours, add some texture in there as well, and you've got a soulful bit of food."
As with most whirlwind romances, Tom threw himself into it. "I was very fortunate, I worked for a company called Nagi Ramen. I didn't get paid, but they gave me full access to all of their recipes, techniques – everything. They didn't hide anything from me. I still don't know exactly why they opened themselves up to me."
"In Japan, they revere the noodle more than the broth… I haven't quite got my head around the concept."
Tom understands and respects the Japanese relationship with ramen, even if he doesn't necessarily adhere to the traditions. "They revere the noodle more than the broth. Myself, I still revere the broth, I haven't quite got my head around the concept. In Japan it's more about the texture of the noodle, and how it interacts with the soup."
So, what makes the perfect noodle then? "Kind of like al dente pasta, the noodle needs to have a bit of bite to it, something called 'koshi' in Japanese. They definitely don't like a soggy noodle. If anything they like it harder than you would find in an al dente pasta. That's one of the reasons that you have to eat the ramen so quickly – within five minutes of sitting in the broth, the noodles and toppings are going to go soft.
"When you have a bowl of ramen in front of you, you shouldn't spend too much time chatting."
"The only way to eat your noodles quickly when the broth is hot is to slurp them. Particularly in restaurants in Japan, you'll always see people slurping noodles. It might seem rude to British people, but in Japanese culture it's actually a sign that someone's enjoying the ramen. It's informal food. It's normal for someone to come in, sit down, have a bowl of ramen and be out in ten minutes. When you have a bowl of ramen in front of you, you shouldn't spend too much time chatting."
"Niboshi, for me, is the ultimate umami flavour bomb."
So, if he had ten minutes to squeeze in a quick bowl, what would he go for? "We have a niboshi tonkotsu at the moment. Niboshi is essentially dried anchovies, for me it's the ultimate umami flavour bomb. Even if you put a serious amount of dried anchovy with the stock, it still doesn't taste too fishy – it's just very savoury.
"You take your pork stock and add a lot of the dried anchovy to it, some soy sauce –we serve it with deep fried pork belly and black pepper vinegar. It works really well with the anchovy. I was very keen to get niboshi onto some ramen in London, you don't see it too much here."
"I don't think there's anyone on the planet who could say they've mastered ramen."
We've now gone from not knowing what niboshi is, to being obsessed with it in 30 seconds flat. Tom's enthusiasm is contagious, and his love of the ramen game is clear to see, but is it possible to master? "I don't think there's anyone on the planet who could say they've mastered ramen. There's too many different varieties. There's no one way to do it, there's no best way to do it. That's why people are very regularly reinventing ramen, and surprising everyone."
Something that might well surprise people is the presence of an egg in most of Bone Daddies ramen bowls – is that a reinvention or a traditional element? "It's a very normal thing, most ramen have an egg on them. Some of them have a hard-boiled egg, some of them have a soft-boiled one. We use Clarence Court Burford Brown eggs, which is a rare breed. We very simply soft-boil them, then marinate in soy and sugar."
"We met up and started chatting about what we loved – and we both mentioned ramen."
The level of dedication to getting the best out of every ingredient is amazing, but not surprising – given the scene from earlier that morning. Tom honed this passion and attention to detail years earlier, when he met Ross for the first time. "I worked with Ross in Zuma in Knightsbridge. I was essentially his apprentice for about four years."
The pair obviously forged a connection, and when Tom was in Japan their paths crossed again. "We met up and started chatting about what we wanted to do – what we love – and we both mentioned ramen. He was talking about setting up a ramen bar in London – and here we are."
'It's about encouraging people to be themselves, and to follow their own route."
When Bone Daddies was set up in 2000, London did not have a good supply of proper, chef-run ramen restaurants. "We were there at the beginning of the ramen boom in London. I guess we made it accessible and relaxed, a casual dining experience with rock n' roll music, so it was a fun place to be."
At Bone Daddies, you can expect a soundtrack to accompany your slurping. You can check out their Spotify playlist here. Proper rock n' roll is the order of the day, every day. "It's one of our core values, we think the song needs to be more than twenty years old to count as rock n' roll. We try to apply that attitude to everything we do. It's about encouraging people to be themselves, and to follow their own route."
You might think that rock'n roll and ramen are strange bedfellows, but you'd be wrong. The Tokyo Rockabilly Club has been meeting in Yoygi park every Sunday for thirty years, and the appetite for massive quiffs, leather jackets and rebellion is as strong as ever. It doesn't matter to them that the rest of the world gave up on this stuff sixty years ago, it's about enjoying the hell out of whatever you enjoy.
That philosophy is central to the Bone Daddies ethos. Two guys who loved ramen decided to make their own, and now we have this incredible ramen factory dispensing soulful, warming food to the people of London. Nobody else was doing it when they started, and a few years later the scene is booming. It's just further proof that following your dreams, no matter how unusual they are, will never go out of style.
You can order for yourself and try Bone Daddies' rockin' ramen at these locations: