Noodles are revolting against their instant image in the UK – at least if new openings are anything to go by.
Asian noodles and dishes in particular look likely to dominate this space – and we’re not talking about old reliable ramen.
Food Spark has already highlighted how Japanese chain Marugame Udon is hoping to bring the classic wheat flour noodles to the UK as a specialist offering.
Koya, which has been trying to peddle these same noodles since 2010, recently opened at Market Halls Victoria with a focus on udon noodle soup. It also has plans to put cold noodles on the menu when summer rolls around.
“I like udon because it’s flexible and healthy. Ramen is maybe a bit more one dimensional, with most restaurants focussing on one style. Most ramen in this country is based around pork fat, which is very tasty but not very healthy, whereas with udon you have a dashi broth which is a lot healthier,” founder John Devitt told Food Spark’s sister site MCA.
Apart from the food market site, Koya also has two udon noodle bars in London. The broths are cooked at each restaurant, but the noodles are made in one place, with Devitt considering creating a central noodle factory to expand into other areas.
There are other chains that have been bubbling away in the background as well. Neds Noodle Bar has been kicking around the UK since 2000, with its customisable boxes offering options like egg noodles, rice noodles and udon noodles, along with Asian noodle soups. It is planning to expand this year through franchising, with delivery a key element to push the brand. Its first franchised site will debut in Southampton’s Marlands Shopping Centre and nine more are planned for this year, with a target of 100 locations in five years.
Street food is also getting in on the act. Sambal Shiok started out in this arena with its laksa noodle soups before going permanent last year, while Kerb revealed a Yunnan concept in September called Yun. The outfit sells dishes at King’s Cross and West India Quay like Sichuan spice cold jelly noodles and warm silken tofu rice noodles with pork mince and chilli oil.
It also has a historical dish called Guo Qiao Mi Xian, a meal which is 300 years old and is served in an eight-hour soup broth filled with rice noodles, meats, fresh vegetables and house-made condiments, finished with fragrant edible chrysanthemum petals.
Noodle newbies with backing
But while some concepts are well established, there are some big players planning to move into this space too.
Rosa’s Thai Café founders Saiphin and Alex Moore are working on a new brand called Slurp, which will launch this year and focus on Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Thai-inspired noodles and soups, including vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. They are hoping to develop the concept into a noodle chain.
The White Rabbit Fund – backer of Andrew Wong’s restaurant Kym’s – has also suggested spin-off concepts could focus on specific specialist elements from the brand, like noodles.
Liverpool is set to get a new concept called Naked Noodle. Based on a Japanese-style grab-and-go restaurant, it comes from the team behind Bon Pan Asian and will focus on handmade noodles – with plans for two or three more sites in 2019.
Taiwanese group Bao’s third site will open in London’s Borough this spring with late-night noodle dishes served from 9.30pm, while Yiu Fat Noodle has been set up by the Pachamama group to deliver Northern Chinese-style cuisine, such as biangbiang noodles and chilli oil. The first outlet is scheduled to launch in Chinatown in March.
What about potted noodles?
As noodles take on an elevated image, it’s something retailers may well want to consider as well.
A survey from The Grocer last year found that 31% of consumers would pay more for a potted noodle with a higher nutritional value than standard fare and 64% of shoppers would be willing to pay more for a premium product. Of these, one in five would happily splash out 50p or more extra.
On the more experimental side, Whole Foods has predicted things like kelp noodles could become big news this year.
Can Sparkie see a noodle revolution coming?
I have seen similar things. A while back, one of the big retailers predicted that there would be a move towards expanding the offerings of Japanese food specifically beyond the typical sushi and ramen. With the big push towards authentic cuisines, now is the right time for these trends to meet.
Where I see this going is beyond noodles really. The prediction that piqued my interest was that we would begin to see the rise of hyper-specialised restaurants like they do in Japan. Because this is a Japanese business model, it makes sense to do it first with Japanese food, hence the ramen and udon, but expect things like yakitori to have similar expansion.