Reykjavík foodies have long lamented the relative lack of Asian cuisines in this city that are readily available is most European hubs. Hi Noodle is a brand new 13-seat eatery located in a recently renovated house on Frakkastígur that’s seeking to change the game.
The restaurant is run by Chen, the calm, amiable presence who’s smiling face you’ll see behind the high counter upon entering the pristine white dining room. “I had the idea for this restaurant two years ago,” he says. “Before that I was in the tourist business. I was always taking people to Noodle Station or other restaurants, and I thought it would be nice for them to have some more authentic noodles.”
Years in the making
The noodles in question are freshly made at a workshop in London, and delivered every week for use in Hi Noodle’s four recipes. “The noodles are Tonkotsu noodles, which is a very thin wheat noodle,” says Chen. “Then we have four recipes: Tonkotsu, Miso Tonkotsu, Dan Dan, and the vegan option.”
Chen spent a year perfecting the recipes before the renovations began. “There’s no secret in ramen,” he smiles. “There are five basic elements. First is the broth, then the noodles; then there’s the tare, which means flavours like soy sauce. Then there’s the topping, or chashu; and finally the seasoning. That’s everything that’s in the bowl.”
However, Chen’s versions of these classic dishes were long in preparation. “I use fresh ingredients from here in Iceland,” he says. “Our broth takes at least a day and a half to make, using temperature controlled cooking. We simmer the broth for six to eight hours, then high-heat it to reduce it by 50% until it’s creamy and white, then we test the concentration. The ramen in this restaurant will always taste the same. It’s consistent, and that’s important. Every time you come here you’ll get the same taste.”
Chen lived in China until he was 20 years old, absorbing influences from Chinese and Korean food into his cooking. “The Dan Dan recipe mixes Japanese Dan Dan and Chinese Dan Dan,” he says. “In the Chinese version there’s no broth, but in Japanese version there’s a lot of broth. And in the Icelandic cold weather, I think people need the broth. Then the Tonkotsu is very classic—it’s the same flavour you would find in Japan. Each bowl has 100 grammes of noodles. The different is only the toppings and the broth.”
Best ramen in Iceland
Many had told Chen that December was a bad time to open a restaurant, but the response has been good so far. “People have been very supportive,” he says. “I have Icelandic friends who are coming in often.”
There are plans to use the first floor when summer comes, and to expand the menu, but for now the intimacy of Hi Noodle is one of its charms. The dishes of steaming hot soup are handed straight over the counter from the smiling chef, giving the place a cosy and casual feel. It helps, of course, that all of the soups are delicious, flavourful, warming and filling. “I have confidence in my food,” finishes Chen, before getting back to work. “I really believe it’s one of the best ramen in Iceland.”
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