For a full Japanese ramen experience, look no further than the soon to open Yokocho Panton street, perfectly located in the heart of London’s iconic West End in an historic building that overlooks Leicester Square.
The previous Busaba restaurant has been converted into Yokocho Panton Street and merges with the existing Japan Centre shop located in the basement below. Easy access to both areas is via level entrances and the entire Japanese experience now accommodates the majority of the ground floor.
On entering through the newly created main entrance on the corner of Whitcomb and Panton streets, the customer is instantly immersed into the markets and street scenes of a busy Japan. Neglected corrugated walls with power units, cables, bicycle chained to lamp posts,Yatai street vendor cart have been used toset traditional Tokyo ramen alley scene - Yokocho.
Beyond the entrance area the space opens out momentarily into a cluster of tables mimicking a Japanese market place eatery with old bottle crates doubleing up as occasional seating and stacked high to feature retro televisions with a live video feed of the on-site noodle making process.
Retro Japanese items are placed throughout the interior in consideration to the look and feel of the zones they encompass. Old Japanese telephones and booths, geshapon and other vending machines including a hot ramen machine sit alongside shopfronts with aged and traditional style roof overhangs.
A vendor kiosk has been recreated where two zones meet and it is adorned with sweets and toys. Flypostered walls made of exposed block, reclaimed timber and steel sheeting finished off with drainpipes and old lamp posts for full immersive reality.
Different zones have been created and are quite different in their appearance. Functional lighting merges with playful by way of introduction of goldfish shaped paper lanterns and monkeys climbing and pulling at festoon lights scattered through the alleyways. At the bar sits a traditional statue of Tanuki the tipsy trickster whose presence sets the scene for a fun time in the bar alley area.
Just past the vendor kiosk is where the surroundings change again and where the open kitchen theatre begins, where chefs can be seen cooking and draining noodles for all to witness. Next to the noodle counter is a literal window into the full noodle making process - this is by means of a dedicated in-house ramen making room.
On the other side are five individual Shuchu booths where diners get to focus on their unique ramen experience in solitude. The shuchu booth experience is common in Japanese culture and has proved popular in the primary Yokocho Heddon Street restaurant. To mix textures and personality up in this area we sourced vintage soba noodle delivery images to fly poster the surfaces with. These men are often seen smiling whilst precariously carrying towers of noodles on their bicycles. To make the schuchu booths, we clash bamboo structures with repurposed roller shutters and old timber together.
Outside of the noodle making room we have hung dried noodles on traditional drying frames and next to that hang bamboo ceiling rafts with suspended woven steamers and baskets above the dining customers. Opposite this zone is a long bank of double seat dining booths that face out onto the streets through arches of colourful noren curtains and lanterns.
The middle of the restaurant is bordered by all of the previously mentioned zones and with some textured ceiling and wall features to make it different again, yet it is here where groups of people can cook their own dishes on electric heated grill plates. Electricity poles, street lamps and cabling make this zone appear more industrial but with the inclusion of colourful lanterns, noren curtains and festoon lights throughout the space it merges harmoniously with the other social spaces.
Challenges we encountered;
Curating this design concept was always going to be an enjoyable challenge, but sourcing many traditional items and materials in a global pandemic to bring to London from Japan was not as easy as we hoped. This resulted with Blenheim Design designing and recreating traditional Japanese architecture and techniques to reproduce locally through joiners and shop fitters where possible.
The dense population of structural columns in the middle of the restaurant space, to some end, dictated how we utilised the space from the offset and how the narrow and busy Japanese Yokocho alleyways were created.
By utilising the existing structural columns and incorporating their design features, Blenheim Design found a synergy with the building and the Yokocho concept in the early process of the design. Working with existing columns and exposed ceiling beams and only adapting half of them, alongside the introduction of full height walls with window apertures, we soon realised that we could replicate Japanese shopfronts and this was integral in our concept design.
In a space where no corner or aspect has been left unconsidered, Blenheim Design has given the client a truly unapologetically hectic and eye catching modern Japanese restaurant concept.
We hope you find eating at Yokocho Panton Street and discovering new things to explore each time you visit as enjoyable as we will.