Delighted at the array of new restaurants that the Westgate has to offer, I was more than happy to sample the delicacies that Shoryu had to offer, on not one occasion but two – attending both their grand opening and also taking the opportunity to spend a leisurely lunchtime satisfying my ramen cravings. Although notably, whilst there are extensive ramen options on the menu, there are a large number of other options to satisfy even the fussiest guests you bring along, even offering a vegan set menu to kick off the new year.
Initially it struck me as particularly remarkable how different the atmosphere of the restaurant changes during from lunchtime to dinner. From a bustling environment, filled with families tucking into bowls of delicious ramen, to a place with a classy vibe, with a plethora of orders flying out from the bar. This made me feel that I would be comfortable visiting with family who’ve come up to Oxford, a group of friends, or even on a date. The staff enthusiastically lead you to your table, hitting a small gong, and declaring “irasshaimase!” (“welcome to the store”).
Indeed, the staff of Shoryu are very proud of what they have to offer. The CEO, Tak Tokumine, explained how important it is that he can serve the most authentic and carefully crafted Japanese food. I must confess, having eaten my way around Japan this summer, I was slightly concerned that nowhere on this side of the world would be able to create the same delicious flavours, or source the high quality ingredients necessary. Tokumine, however, assured all guests that they import their ramen noodles, and spend twelve hours cultivating the tonkotsu broth that makes up the base of the meal, joking: “it’s better than Wagamama.” But as much as I’m a sucker for a katsu curry, he’s right: I cannot fault a single item of the menu. From the karaage, to the teriyaki, to the yakitori, the sashimi, and the tonkotsu ramen itself, I was won over; it was like being in Japan. This is far more thoughtful and detailed than the majority of anglicised adaptations of meals. Perhaps the only thing that could’ve made the experience more like a Japanese ramen restaurant would be if you had to order and pay for your meal using a vending machine and, within two minutes, have a steaming bowl of creamy ramen in front of you.
The varied menu is, ostensibly, an exciting prospect until you realise that you actually want to try everything on the menu. But whatever you do, you need to try the buns – I particularly enjoyed the prawn tempura buns, filled with juicy prawn and golden batter; the winning ingredient tying the starter together was the Japanese mayo (what is in it, who can know? But it was perfection). I think it would be a shame not to shout out the wonderful drinks menu, which fulfilled all my Instagrammable, visually aesthetic fantasies. There is a large offering of vibrant drinks, offering cocktails made from Japanese spirits and fruits, a healthy selection of whiskey and sake or, a personal favourite of mine, plum wine with soda.
Shoryu is not in the average student dining out budget, but I’d still highly recommend it for a special occasion, as a place to catch up with friends over hot drinks and sweet treats. You can order lattes in an array of rainbow colours from matcha green, to bright red or cool blue. The cakes, sundaes and cheesecakes use the tangy citrus flavours of yuzu, earthy matcha, or fresh sakura (blossom flowers), to offer tasty desserts unlike anything else you could find in Oxford, and all are beautifully presented.
Oxford has a wealth of ornately crafted international cuisine for a small city, and Shoryu fills the gap of a central restaurant offering Japanese cuisine, away from the westernised lunch spots like Wasabi or Itsu.