With an upcoming stint at Northern Monk and a new ramen joint at Assembly Underground, he’s a busy man…
Sat across from me at one of Assembly Underground’s long, lacquered benches, Harry’s knackered. And with good reason: his residency as Holy Mountain at East Village is right in the middle of Hyde Park. Halfway through January, 90% of the area’s population received a tidy little BACS transfer from the Student Loans Company, making businesses in the area impervious to the post-Christmas lull that hits the city centre - for a few weeks until it’s redistributed back into the local drug dealer economy, at least.
America had the baby boom, Japan had the ramen boom. It’s about the same age as rock and roll
On top of that he’s working as a kitchen mercenary in Slap & Pickle - by far the busiest food stall in Assembly - and organising a two-month stint as Holy Mountain in Northern Monk Refectory. There are murmurs of things that I swear will stay off the record, and a couple of days ago he ran a pop-up at The Brunswick which sold the venue out twice-over on a Monday night under the name Holy Ramen; a new concept that’s going to occupy a kiosk he’s having custom-built in Assembly, which I eye-up just over his right shoulder.
Scheduled for three weeks time (so end of Feb, start of March), it’s going to house Harry and - for the first time - a member of staff, and a projector showing Japanese cinema so people who come alone to sit at the stall’s bar seating area (typical of Tokyo ramen joints) can watch Seven Samurai while they slurp shoyu. A kind of respectful nod to the culture, without getting tangled up in trying to imitate tradition.
“People often think that there’s some ancient mythology or ceremony surrounding ramen” Harry says, “but it’s only been around for about 50 years”.
Ramen as we know it became popular in post-war Japan due to its antithesis of ceremony; a meal assembled in a production line of stock, noodles, and toppings. By the 1950s - before even instant ramen was invented - there were instant ramen-joints, where companies rented out everything needed to start up a yatai, just add entrepreneur. America had the baby boom, Japan had the ramen boom. To give cultural context, it’s about the same age as rock and roll - a fact played on by Soho ramen bar Bone Daddies.
As a reference to the Mexican surrealist-fantasy (via the 1993 album of the same name by stoner metal band Sleep, presumably just because Sleep fuckin rules bruh) Holy Mountain is the perfect name for Holy Mountain, which takes Mexican flavours and formats, and twists them just out of recognition. So the name ‘Holy Ramen’ leads us to expect Holy Mountain in a bowl. We’re getting metatextual here, lads. So what does that look like?
“I’m keeping it simple - the menu will have two ramens, one with meat like a tonkotsu or sapporo, and the other totally vegan. It’s not a gourmet thing, so I’ll be keeping it fast and cheap for people who want to come and sit at the bar and just eat something quickly that feels like it’s doing you some good, and there’s some sides and hopefully sake if people want to stick around a little longer.”
Expect dishes, and even versions of the same dish to change on a day-to-day basis. Holy Mountain’s blackboard menu has its permanent dishes (thankfully, as their chicken wings are some of the absolute best around) but the daily reinvention is a product of Harry’s eclectic, try-anything-and-everything and see what sticks style of cooking, adjacent to the likes of Matty Mattheson and Action Bronson. Even if, by his own admission, that’s not quite what came through at the preview event.
“I want to start with a strong foundation and build from that, so for the Brunswick I focused on the broth and the tare, and I got kind of hung up in trying to make this really delicate, balanced, and subtle mix of flavours in them. I was adding Yuzu juice drop by drop, and then about halfway through the night I realised that that’s not really my thing, and I was only doing it for my own benefit, and maybe the one person out there who has the palate to pick up on that kind of stuff.”
Validation came towards the end of the night when he overheard a guest marvelling over the wasabi peas he’d had doubts about putting on the vegan option. “That got me back on track” he says, recognising the event as a valuable point on the learning curve. Ramen wasn’t built in a day. That’s going to take three weeks.
Holy Ramen opens in late February/early March at Assembly Underground, 12 Great George St. Holy Mountain (@holymountainkitchen) is currently in residence at The East Village, 47-49 Brudenell Grove, and opens early March at Northern Monk Refectory, The Old Flax Store, Marshalls Mill, Marshall St