Whether it’s a steaming bowls of ramen noodles, super-fresh sushi or an up-market kaiseki meal you’re after, you’ll find them on our list. Do you agree with the choices? Use the comments box below or tweet your suggestions.
Once one of Marylebone’s best-kept secrets, Dinings now has a reputation larger than its compact, converted-townhouse setting. Getting a table in the basement is unlikely without a booking, but if you’re lucky there may be a spare stool at the street-level sushi counter. If you’re not keen on small spaces, then you may just like the ground floor better – it’s brighter with more windows. Whatever your thoughts on the venue itself, the food is indisputably excellent (make sure you’re packing plastic, as costs do mount up). Conceived by Nobu alumni Masaki Sugisaki and Keiji Fuku, it displays plenty of Latin flair along with other innovative flourishes. Nobu-esque curved potato ‘tar-tar’ chips filled with minced fatty tuna, avocado and wasabi/jalapeño sauce offered an inviting taster of the style. The much-celebrated seared wagyu beef nigiri garnished with cubes of ponzu jelly and minced truffle was also a triumph. Presented on a long platter, a lunchtime sushi selection (good value at £23) tasted every bit as good as it looked. Another lunch dish of pork ‘shabu shabu’ saw ready-cooked slices of tender pork balanced atop a heap of sticky rice and dressed with spicy fermented Korean sauce gochujang – despite the pungent mix, it wasn’t overpowering. With polite, efficient chefs and waiters too, Dinings is a top performer.Read more
Out of simplicity can come excellence, and the food at Zuma is a case in point. The venue may be swish (with well-to-do patrons propping up the amply stocked cedar bar), the fixtures and fittings expensive, but when it comes to the food, much of the wow factor is down to high-class ingredients that haven’t been messed around with too much. Own-made silken tofu, presented in a cedar saké cup, was rich, creamy and light. The barley miso, freshly grated wasabi and other accompaniments allowed the tofu to shine. A more indulgent dish of spicy miso with lobster also had a clarity of flavour, with the sweet shellfish the star. An ample house special of deep-fried lemon sole was served with a fresh, tangy ponzu sauce and cleverly presented in a bowl made of the curved and deep-fried skeleton of the fish. Our waiting staff couldn’t have been nicer, and even the chefs behind the imposing robata grill seemed to be having a good time. This is one contemporary Japanese restaurant that we’re happy to come back to time and again. Be sure to give the saké list a proper look too, there are more than 40 to choose from.Read more
Venue says: Specialists in authentic tonkotsu ramen.
Founded in Japan in 2009, this award-winning tonkotsu specialist arrived in London in September 2014. Small, brightly lit and minimal, it is not the place for a leisurely meal. And it has a serious downside: lengthy mealtime queues outside its doors. We queued outside for a chilly 45 minutes for a (shared) table. Once inside, it felt like being in a goldfish bowl, as hungry and hopeful diners watched us through the windows slurping our noodles. But there’s a reason for Kanada-Ya’s already-large fan base, which includes plenty of Japanese and Chinese customers: this is exceptional ramen. Pork bones are simmered for 18 hours to create the smooth, rich, seriously savoury tonkotsu broth – one of the best we’ve tried in London. Bowls of this are then filled with thin wheat noodles made on-site thanks to a noodle gizmo imported from Japan. They’re cooked to your specification, from super-firm to super-soft. Toppings range from pork belly slices to pork belly and blanched beansprouts or pork collar. (That’s right: if you don’t eat pork, forget it.) You can add extra bits and pieces such as soft-boiled marinated eggs (a must) or pickled mustard greens, although these were on the table anyway when we visited. To go with your ramen you can splash out on onigiri (rice triangles) stuffed with pickled plums or salted salmon – but you won’t need them. Drinks are strictly soft. If you want to try a classic Japanese fizzy drink, go for the Ramune. But be warned: it tastes seriously synthetRead more
Venue says: Come take advantage of our takeaway lunch special boxes, all at £5.50!
When it comes to Japanese culture, some things get lost in translation. Appreciating the art and grace of outsized men wrestling near-naked is one such mystery, and plastic models of food is another. Cascades of noodles falling from floating forks, dusty bowls of ramen and platters of intricately crafted sushi are intended to lure diners into Japan’s restaurants. These plastic replicas of their dishes are unlikely to get you salivating, but there’s no denying the fun. This Japanese spot in Marylebone is decidedly old-school in its looks - slatted wooden façade, monochrome interior and plenty of plastic food, both in the window display and on show inside. The extensive menu has a range of Japanese classics: sushi, tempura and deep-fried breaded pork (tonkatsu), plus ramen and other noodle dishes. All of which are undoubtedly done well - our sushi selection contained faultlessly fresh fish, while a selection of grilled skewers were pleasantly smoky. But there are also a few less common options, which definitely shouldn’t be ignored. A rich and meaty miso stew came packed with pieces of tender braised tripe and tofu. And a Japanese pub classic of rice in a green tea broth with salt-pickled plum (ochazuke) made the perfect conclusion to our meal. Though it was way too chilly on the table by the door (make sure you sit further in), the lesser seen dishes warmed our cockles.Read more
How did food get quite so rock ’n’ roll? This summer London’s teeming with ‘gourmet’ fast food joints, rooftop pop-up bars, night food markets and street food vendors. This new wave of edgier eateries are changing the game for restaurateurs too – crisp tablecloths and prim service are out, industrial-chic décors and young, liberally pierced and tattooed staff are in. One chef who’s at the fore of the latest trends is Ross Shonhan. His first solo venture, Bone Daddies, is a self-styled ‘rock and roll’ ramen joint that opened just last year. It’s still making a big noise, literally, with New York-style Japanese noodle dishes and the sound system cranked up loud enough to make conversation a challenge. Hidden in a capacious Covent Garden basement, Shonhan’s second venture is no less modish. Once again he’s taken influence from the Big Apple for his East Asian eats, with a side order of loud rock music. As for the décor and staff: see above. This time the focus of the menu is hirata buns. A US interpretation of a Taiwanese street food, the sweet and fluffy dough is folded then steamed before being brought to the table. Diners then stuff these pockets with their choice of ‘flesh’. These are the signature dish, and a must-try. Mustard miso and a few slices of subtly pickled apple were a perfect foil for tender pulled pork. Crisp-skinned grilled sea bass was also skilfully cooked and served with a fresh tomato salsa. Small plates include sushi rolls, contemporary sashimi and temRead more
There’s no sign above the door, no flashy exterior. Just an A-board advertising ‘Japanese Tapas and Ramen’. Kirazu may be paces away from Spuntino – one of Soho’s trendiest ‘hidden’ diners – but it’s easy to walk past Kirazu without a second glance. Don’t. You won’t find anything else in London quite like it. Despite the understated exterior, Kirazu’s ad-hoc interior wouldn’t be out of place in a hip Hackney eatery. Bare light bulbs dangle from the ceiling; crates are used as shelves for bottles on the white walls and fresh-faced after-work customers sit at communal tables on knocked-together wooden benches. The room buzzes with excited chatter. Chef Yuya Kikuchi smiles as he turns out skilful yet pared-down small plates from behind his chunky wooden counter stacked with crockery, squeezy bottles of sauces, a blowtorch, and the other accoutrements of his craft. Much of Kikuchi’s menu is themed around obanzai – a traditional home-cooking style from Japan – and he believes his restaurant is the only one to serve it in Europe. As cuisines go, obanzai is humble; no fancy garnishes, no expensive ingredients. But the Kansai region it originates from is renowned for the quality of its produce, especially vegetables, and obanzai is built around letting the ingredients sing. Conger eel, a classic summer food that the Japanese say can cool you down on a hot day, was served grilled in a sweet soy-based sauce with a few slices of cucumber. Salmon sashimi was burnished with a blowtorcRead more
The opening of Koya in 2010 marked a more youthful movement in the Japanese dining scene. With blond-wood sharing tables, white walls and a generally fresh-faced crowd of diners, the venue feels more like a friendly caff than a slick West End eaterie. The handmade udon noodles produced here are top notch, which explains why expectant diners often queue out of the door. Don’t be deterred: service is generally snappy, so you won’t have to wait too long. The well-priced menu features udon noodles served three ways: atsu-atsu (hot noodles in hot dashi broth), hiya-atsu (cold noodles with hot dipping broth) or hiya-hiya (cold noodles with cold dipping sauce). All are good, so choosing according to the weather tends to be the best method. Accompaniments range from traditional Japanese (tempura, perhaps) to the less conventional (smoked mackerel with greens). The vegetarian sweet miso, walnut and mushroom atsu-atsu is a regular crowd-pleaser. There are also donburi dishes and a specials board that includes the likes of okara (the ground bean protein left over from making soya milk) or cime di rapa croquettes slathered in earthy ginger and shiitake mushroom sauce. A small drinks list encompasses Japanese beer, saké and shochu.Read more
For more than two decades, the wife-and-husband team at Sushi-Say have been dishing up an ample selection of Japanese staples at this inconspicuous Willesden haunt. Little changes, apart from the odd lick of paint, but this is no bad thing. Locals come back time and again, so the dining room is almost always full; even if you’re planning on eating early, it’s worth booking. The chef/proprietor mans the counter at the front, where he crafts all manner of sushi, thickly slicing the faultlessly fresh fish. His wife manages the narrow monochrome dining room with confident authority: greeting regulars, taking orders and overseeing a team of young waiting staff. The extensive menu includes sushi, tempura, noodles, grilled fish, simmered dishes – name any form of classic Japanese cooking, and Sushi-Say probably does it. From the specials list, a generous portion of silky squid sashimi was accompanied by soy-splashed grated horseradish (not wasabi), which had a nose-tingling effect. From the list of reasonably priced set lunches, the salt-grilled mackerel was sweet-fleshed and also large. A cup of cold saké made a decent accompaniment.Read more
Venue says: Free kishu plum wine offer after your meal! Just mention this offer and a complimentary glass of plum wine will be served to you.
Like many of the venues around the Japanese Embassy, Ikeda is old school. No self-respecting businessman would have any qualms about bringing clients here, and a meal with the in-laws wouldn’t go amiss either – but a raucous party is probably out. The decor is inoffensive but just a little bland; the staff are affable, turning out the same mix of efficient but unintrusive service since 1978. The highlight is a ringside seat by the tiny open kitchen, where sparklingly fresh sashimi, light, crisp tempura and numerous other classic dishes are produced. A lunchtime set of well-shaped nigiri was served traditionally on a wooden block. Leaner-than-average slow-simmered pork belly with Japanese mustard and boiled, rolled spinach (buta kakuni) yielded easily at the prod of a chopstick. More unusual was a prawn tempura dish, where the shellfish was rolled with cha soba noodles in nori before getting a second dipping in the batter and oil. Like the ambience, the lofty prices also fit the Mayfair location. But consistency is the order of the day here, so come in the sure knowledge that you’ll get a decent meal.Read more
One of the first phrases I learned in Japan was ‘shu cream’. It might sound like something for shining your shoes, but these shu’s were made for eating rather than walking. They’re pastry (choux) buns filled with patisserie cream, and you find them everywhere you go. The Japanese have embraced the art of French patisserie and become seriously good at it. And now you can get your fix of French/Japanese pastry in Ealing Broadway. The light, minimal space in this new café is dominated by two gleaming counters packed with precise rows of all things baked. Spirals of airy, dark green matcha tea sponge filled with whipped cream, mini-mountains of cream; perfectly presented mini-pastry tarts; and sweet buns filled with red bean paste or custard. There are savoury offerings too, like soft bread rolls filled with seasoned chicken chunks, ham-and-cheese-topped breads or deep-fried savoury doughnuts filled with delicately spiced curry – they sound so wrong, but they’re so right! On a morning visit the handful of tables were filled with Japanese mums catching up over a cup of coffee, or a thick, sweet matcha green latte. As for the choux à la crème, the trio we tried were a sweet slice of Japanese patisserie at its best. Light, crisp pastry, thick pastry cream laced with vanilla, black sesame or green tea. There should be a Wa Café on every corner.Read more