Japanese food in London: where we've been and where we're going...
Being purveyors of Japanese knives and equipment, we quite often get asked about where to eat Japanese food in London. This used to prompt a number of inadequate responses. Either we would wax lyrical about the izakayas of Osaka, and how even the most workaday Tokyo kaiten sushi far outstrips London's offerings. But, quite frankly, given these delights are some 10,000km away this is unhelpful and makes you sound like a bit of a nob. Or we would suggest that actually we quite like preparing Japanese food at home. Also true but, when it takes whole days to track down fresh yuzu juice, shiso leaves and the freshest fish only to realise that your miso is past its best and you've forgotten the mirin, this isn't always practical. And once you have sorted through the pan-Asian-fusion-sushi-ramen joints, there is good Japanese food in London.
So, where have we eaten? Where do we eat? And where are we desperate to try?
SUSHI TETSU: Okay, so not a weekly or even yearly booking but we were lucky enough to snag a couple of seats here last month and were truly blown away. The fish was perfect, the flavour combinations stunning and the omakase menu made for the perfect tour de force of the kind of high end sushi that you don't normally get in London. It might be impossible to get a booking (set up a twitter alert for cancellations) and expensive (although at around £80 for the omakase menu easily comparable to a three-course meal at any white table cloth joint) but it was truly truly memorable.
JIDORI: A new restaurant in the mix, this is more of a yakitori-joint with other izakaya dishes. It gets extra brownie points from me for sticking to this and not tempting to throw in some sushi and noodles and ramen to cover all bases. The setting is modern and slick and the sides have nods to western tastes with the instagram-worthy katsu scotch egg and miso chicken wings. My only complaints - and really these are small as it was excellent - were that the consistency and delivery vessels for the sauces to baste and dip the main events often made it difficult to get the optimum coverage. Picky? Yes. But this is very much something you notice in Japan that they get this absolutely right. And secondly, they could have upped the offal quotient in the yakitori. Riba (yes, "riba") and hearts but they could have slipped in a bit of tongue (so to speak) or some gizzard. The fact that I have these small gripes show I care. And the pudding - think miso caramel, ginger ice cream, sesame and sweet potato - is just excellent. No squash ball, gobstoppering mochi here.
EAT TOKYO: We seem to spend a disproportionate amount of time orbiting the north circular and, when we are, we can pretty much always be persuaded to do a detour through Golders Green to Eat Tokyo. Having slated places that offer a-bit-of-everything Japanese on the menu, this place does it and at a decent quality and price point. The place for a quick lunchtime bento that has authenticity without the pound-for-yen price tag of many Japanese places. It is a cliche but the number of Japanese clientele in there says it all.
JAPAN CENTRE: Urgh. I want to be able to go there but there is nothing that makes me want to give up the London life and go live in a cave in the outer hebrides than Piccadilly circus. Particularly Piccadilly in the current humidity, when it is raining, in the summer with the tourist hordes, anywhere near rush hour... I would be at the Japan Centre the whole time if it weren't for the location. Although the strange lack of parking restrictions on a Sunday mean you can practically park outside, do your Japanese thing and get the hell out of Dodge.
SOSHARU: Not been. Want to go. Have been instagram-stalking this place, drooling over their katsu-sando (they get the very white, very square, very spongey bread) and the succession of sushi rolls so beautiful-looking they could be cakes, and cakes so beautiful-looking that they could be forgiven for containing matcha and red bean (not my favourites). The menu, particularly their omakase offering, is next on our list.
DININGS: Heard some good things, some bad. Apparently it's not what it was and it pioneered the whole Japanese-tapas-Japas thing, before it became the phrase that you rolled your eyes to when your waiter asked if you'd "eaten here before". Either way, after my bank account has recovered from the Sushi Tetsu experience, if I can be bothered to head out west, it will likely be here.
UCHI: East London and very much next on the hit list. I keep hearing good things about this place and once I have cracked quite where it is (back-side of Hackney Downs apparently) and quite when they are open (best stick to weekends), I am there.
RAMEN: A whole different category that warrants its own post. In short, Kanada-ya definitely, but if you can slog it into Piccadilly you are a more dedicated noodle-hunter and Londoner than I (see previous). Bone Daddies - personally a bit elaborate for my tastes, as creative twists tend to be lost on me. Tonkotsu hits the ramen nail on the head and is guaranteed to satisfy my itch for onsen eggs anytime. There is not better chat to have with a Japanese native about the price of ramen in London; they are genuinely gobsmacked at the price we pay for what is essentially an elbows-out-squat-and-gobble staple.
That's it. A round up of recent eats and a future hit list all in one.