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Family-friendly Japanese dining in West London

Family-friendly Japanese dining in West London

Tonkotsu was launched in 2012 by co-founders Ken Yamada and Emma Reynolds. Slightly over 6 years after opening its first restaurant in Soho, the highly-rated ramen provider Tonkotsu chose Ealing to open it’s tenth restaurant. Exciting times for Ealing and exciting for me to get an invitation to bring my family along to review it! One of the big advantages of bringing up children is the range of different cuisines it is so easy to expose them to.

Both my children take after me in loving Asian food. My son requested a curry for his third birthday and my daughter has requested Thai for her birthday treats for as long as I can remember but she loves Japanese food and noodle dishes too, so she was excited to try this out. Ealing has always had a handful of Japanese restaurants to choose from, but this is the first specifically ramen restaurant we’ve seen in the area. It’s in a prime location in the heart of Ealing Broadway; a stone’s throw away from the Dicken’s Yard development.

My children both decided to turn vegetarian (my daughter periodically flirting with limited pescatarianism) almost three years ago now when my daughter was seven and my son only five. It was a direction I didn’t anticipate moving in (neither my husband nor I are remotely vegetarian) but I was happy to support them (admiring their resolve and feeling slightly guilty not to follow them). We have found Asian restaurants the easiest options when eating out and struggle when we go somewhere like France that doesn’t offer such a ready supply as London. 

Anyway I digress (the road to becoming a mum of vegetarians is probably another blog!) – back to the review ……… On arrival at Tonkotsu, I did think for a fleeting moment that it may not be the most child welcoming restaurant -but they had invited us as a family, so I kept my faith. And rightly so, our charming waiter made a big fuss of the children and showed us to our table. We were seated downstairs, where there’s quite dazzling décor and plenty of space (an area I thought immediately could be a great karaoke venue for private hire too!) The upstairs of the restaurant has a very different atmosphere – downstairs feels more central London and upstairs more of a casual daytime feel.

Image of the exterior of Tonkotsu

The children were given their own menu with some activities on the back. We were there on a busy Friday night, but the efficient waiters whizzed around taking orders and serving generous bowls of steaming noodles and mouth watering plates of dumplings and other tempting side dishes such as king prawn katsu and chilli chicken wings.

Gyozo dumplings, mmmmm!

Oh wow, it was so hard deciding what to try! My husband and I shared the aforementioned ginormous king prawn katsu (and when they say king prawn, really they mean EMPEROR prawn!) and ‘just-the-right-amount-of-spice “eat the bits chill chicken wings.” They were both really decent sized portions and I started to worry I’d be too full not to eat the main course, thus ending my fledgling career as a West London restaurant reviewer before it had even begun! The children shared a plate of Shiitake & bamboo shoot Gyozo and this was a huge hit with both of them!

For the main course, I ordered the seafood ramen (packed full of butterfly prawns, popcorn prawns, crab meat in a chicken-based broth and mopped up by a plentiful supply of absorbent noodles. My husband dithered for a while but then kindly (because I wanted to try it too!) ordered the restaurant’s signature dish, called of course the Tonkotsu Ramen. This is a tasty pork broth, with thinner but still home-made noodles, topped with crispy pork belly with lots of bamboo shoots, spring onions, bean sprouts and seasoned egg. Seasoned eggs are also known as Ramen eggs, basically a semi-soft boiled egg which has been marinated in a sweet and salty soy-based sauce. It is then cut in half and laid (sunny side up as they’d say in America) on its bed of noodles to complement and enrich the flavour of the ramen.

Seafood ramen
The seafood ramen (OK I’d already eaten some before taking this photo, oops!)

Both dishes were absolutely delicious, couldn’t fault them to be honest. Perhaps a touch more seafood in mine but then I’m greedy and there is never enough prawns for me! It was a generous amount to be fair and I would order either dish again.

Now a bit about how the restaurant was for the children. I was sent a copy of the menu before my review visit but I must admit I cannot for the life of me find it on their website. It has driven me a bit nuts looking as I’m sure it must be there somewhere, but nope, can’t find it. Please let me know if you do find it. If not, the image below shows the menu as of August 2019 and I’m going to feed it back to the restaurant that families often research the children’s menu before deciding to visit a new restaurant, particularly if they have a fussy eater or two in their midst – or like us a vegetarian and a sort-of pescatarian who only eats prawns and (dolphin-friendly) tuna.

The elusive children's menu
The elusive children’s menu . ..

In any case, the Tonkotsu children’s menu as it went down a storm with both my children. They loved learning the Japanese words explained on there; ‘Oishi’ for ‘yummy’ and ‘hashi’ for chopsticks stuck in their mind. The Bento box format is ideal for kids too – lots of little snacks and an array of colour and choices to keep their interest. There was only one vegetarian choice, but that’s fine, they are used to that and in fact often there isn’t even a vegetarian children’s choice so this was amazing! The children’s menu at a very reasonable £6.45 includes a choice of drinks – diet coke, Yuzu lemonade, ginger soda or cherry blossom cola. Mine both went for the latter and loved it.

The children’s Bento boxes consisted of a nutrition packed mix of edamame beans, sweetcorn, tomato, cucumber, pumpkin seeds and egg – the noodles were with roasted pumpkin and served with a tonbu and shiitake broth with a soy milk base.

The meal was devoured by the children and they managed to share a dessert – the Malted milk, chocolate and magic crumb ice cream sandwich. It got the thumbs up, but they only just managed to finish it. There isn’t a specific children’s dessert on the children’s menu but they’d probably accommodate if you only had one child with you and wanted a smaller portion.  I was too full to have my own dessert, but did try a spoonful of my husband’s salted caramel, miso, chocolate and Guinness cake ice cream sandwich because, well it intrigued me. It was an unusual flavour, but tasty. I’m not really one for desserts in Japanese restaurants to be honest (and don’t usually order desserts anyway, more of a starter/ main type person), but if my sweet tooth was calling, I’d consider ordering this for sure.

This restaurant works equally well for a family meal (depending on your children’s tastes, there are no English meals for kids alternatives), or a night out with friends/ your partner. The service was superb and the atmosphere was great. Felt like I was eating out in a trendy part of Soho instead of in cosmopolitan but suburban Ealing. The food is mid-range priced and excellent quality. They provide a really comprehensive allergen list on their website too. There’s enough choice on the menu to keep your interest even for regular visits and we will certainly be visiting Tonkotsu again soon. A fantastic addition to Ealing Broadway’s Asian dining collection.

Visit their website for more info (apart from children’s menu which they will hopefully be put up there soon!
https://tonkotsu.co.uk/menu They are also on Facebook and Instagram.

Book review: Charlie Changes into a Chicken by Sam Copeland

Book review: Charlie Changes into a Chicken by Sam Copeland

What happens when you feel stressed? Maybe you start sweating, or your heart beats faster.

When Charlie McGuffin gets stressed, something a little bit different happens: he turns into an animal!

We were recently invited to review local Ealing based author Sam Copeland’s debut novel, Charlie Changes into a Chicken recently and it was exciting to get the glossy new book through the post. I know you should never judge a book by it’s cover but it really is a most enticing cover, shiny and gold with fun bubble fonts (love how the ‘C’ for Chicken is a chickens head, so clever!) and a fab illustration of young Charlie.

This the first book in a series about a schoolboy who can change into animals – all sorts of animals – a pigeon, snake and even a rhino. It’s packed full of laughs and surprises, the characters are likable and very easy to visualise, always one of the main signs of a good book to me. It isn’t just a fluffy read though, there’s a more serious message though when we discover that Charlie’s tendency to turn into an animal is linked to times when he is feeling anxious and/ or stressed. This is a highly important theme for children to be exposed to and is a lead into vital conversations about mental health, particularly important for boys (and some girls) who often struggle to verbalise their emotions.

The illustrations in this book are just brilliant. They really add to the story, rather than distracting from it as can be so often the case (e.g. The Treehouse series) The illustrations, by Sarah Horne, enhance the imagination rather than taking it over and you can just visualise them as a cartoon series of their own one day! There are just the right amount. I hate it when there are too many illustrations in a novel for older children but it’s nice to have a few as that helps the children engage with the book and breaks up the chapter a bit if it’s a long one.

Charlie Changes into a Chicken book cover
Shiny, glittery cover of Charlie Changes into a Chicken (looks even better in ‘real life’

My 8 year-old son is a very capable but rather reluctant reader; at least when it comes to novels. He will quite happily sit in bed with his Match annual or an atlas! It was lovely to not have to have to nag my son into reading this and he was happy to read it each night with me. Even though my children are now 8 and 10 I do like to try and have some reading time with them each day if we can. We have negotiated alternative chapters reading sessions. A clever move on his part, but I don’t mind at all, precious moments and all that. I think it’s good for them to listen to adults reading out loud even if they are strong readers and reading with expression is a learning point for him still (it’s a bit monotone at times!) so it’s a good opportunity to practise that.

Charlie Changes into a Chicken is a fabulous book for practising with expression. There’s a good mix of shock, fear, laughs, nasty characters, stern teachers and more to get working on those character voices and narrator expressiveness. The part when Charlie gets turned into a snake and ends up having to swim up a toilet had my son in stitches. We also both learnt a few things, including the fact that the scientific name for a snake is a ‘danger noodle.’

In terms of level, I would say it’s good for 7 to 10 year olds, although younger children would certainly enjoy it if read to them. I’m certainly going to give to my 10 year old daughter to read next. The vocabulary was really pitched well for my son. Not so many difficult words that it started to affect the flow of the prose. Most chapters included a few words that he either had to pause to work out how to pronounce or ask me the meaning of – and that’s perfect as far as I’m concerned.

Copeland’s style has been compared to the writing of Roald Dahl (which I can see a bit, but less over-the-top), David Walliams (hmm, I can see this a bit in terms of humour but not massively in terms of style, Copeland writes far more eloquently and seems to understand children better!) My boy enjoys the Tom Gates series, but I’ve never felt they actually help develop his reading.

I also found the Treehouse book series that my son adores very annoying, with far too many pictures and silly made-up words as well as eminently unlikeable characters (just me?) So it has been fantastic to find a book that we agree on and I look forward to reading more in the series. Basically Copeland writes in a way that relates to children at their level without patronising them and stretches them without overwhelming or detracting from the enjoyment of the story. I loved the footnotes – very grown up in style and my son enjoyed reading the witty snippets at the bottom of some of the pages (not overdone).

In fact, we are off to Waterstones in Ealing tomorrow afternoon (Saturday 14th September). Sam Copeland will there signing copies of his follow up book – Charlie Turns into a T-Rex. Happy to purchase it this time (our review copy was gifted) – it’ll be money well spent! I look forward to finding out what other creatures Charlie will morph into; aside from the cover-mentioned T-Rex! A highly recommended read, it is published by Penguin Books and is available from most large bookstores, including Amazon, Waterstones and WH Smith.

Other essential info

Just under 250 pages
Penguin books (Puffin)

This was the first in our series of top book recommendations for West London Kids. More to follow – lets get these children reading more! If you have a suggestion for a good children’s book, please feel free to share in our Facebook community group: www.facebook.com/groups/westlondonkids

Charline Turns into a T-Rex book cover
Crafty Parties for West London Kids

Crafty Parties for West London Kids

Are you looking for a party entertainer in West London with a difference? Would you like a unique children’s party that you and your child will always remember?

I first met Laurie several months ago. We got chatting and as someone who works a lot with children’s activity providers, I was straight away interested in her new business offering as it sounded so unique and something I knew my daughter would love.

Laurie offers parties which focus on creating beautiful craft pieces. I just knew this was something that my daughter and her friends would love. So I was delighed to agree a contra deal with her for some marketing coaching and mentoring in exchange for her providing the entertainment for a 10th birthday party for my gregarious daughter and nine of her equally bubbly and lively 10 year old friends. It was a good deal I thought, but I probably got the easiest part of it!

For the last few years, taking advantage of the summer birthdays (and so far we’ve lucked out weather wise), we’ve had garden parties which gets rid of the expense of venue hire. I was quite stressed by the idea of a party at home at first, but I’ve since learnt that you just need to hire the right entertainer and then all will go well!

So on the afternoon of 11th July, I picked up 10 girls, all bursting with excitement, got them home and time for a quick snack before Laurie arrived. It was amazing how quickly she calmed down the delirious excitement, her experience as a primary school Teaching Assistant is clear. The girls were soon sat around our garden table, listening as Laurie explained the string art activity that she was going to do.

West London Kids - party

This was the biggest party Laurie had ever done but she handled it with ease. She had brought some finished pieces to show the children first including some beautiful cards she has made herself – one was given to the birthday girl and another was a prize giveaway for the first child to thread their needle!

It was a really lovely party, sat out in the garden on a lovely, sunny July afternoon, watching a group of engaging and creative ten year olds come up with the most beautiful of creations. They had such fun choosing their colours – and there was some beautiful shades of thread to choose from.

Their party challenge was to follow the pattern that Laurie had explained – simple enough but required some concentration to create a beautiful picture that they could keep. Laurie had brought proper picture mounts so the final products looked stunning. The girls were so excited to have these masterpieces to take home. It made the take home bags easy – we just added some sweets, some lip balms and stationary – party bag essentials for tweens these days so I’m told!

The party took about an hour and a half in all (it might be a bit shorter with fewer children or if Laurie brings an assistant). The was an ideal length for us thoughon my own. Laurie made it such a relaxed party. All I needed to do was get the pizza and other party food out on the dining table indoors, once the craft activity was completed. After the girls said goodbye to the Laurie (many of whom told her umpteen times they wanted her to do their next party!) we just had a relaxed party tea and then the cake and then it was time for the girls to go home. I really cannot believe how stress-free it all was.

Having a skilled party entertainer like Craft-It Parties really does mean you can sit back a bit, relax and actually enjoy your child’s birthday party a bit more. The children were totally immersed in creating their string art designs, based on geometric shapes using thread and card. They were also so proud of their achievements in creating a complex pattern, and loved all the vibrant colours they could choose from.

Laurie is quite flexible on location and happy to provide children’s entertainments at parties in West London and other parts of London. The price will be dependent on the craft activity desired and the number of children attending. I did have concerns that some of my daughter’s friends (well actually my daughter if I’m honest too!) might struggle to concentrate on doing quite an intricate arty activity at a party in a big group, but I needn’t have worried. The girls loved doing something completely different together and it was so sweet to see them helping each other out and admiring each other’s works of art at the end.

I highly recommend Craft-It Parties for West London Kids, from the age of about 6 to about 12 years old.  Laurie also does creative playdates too. So you could club together with a few friends, have the children entertained at home and go out for a nice grown up lunch, splitting the cost. It’s a win-win situation!

Find out more about Craft-It Parties by visiting their website:

Follow Craft-it Parties on social media to see more of the absolutely beautiful artwork can be seen here, both done by Laurie and her young crafty learners.
Craft-it Parties – Facebook 
Craft-it Parties – Instagram
Craft-it Parties – Twitter