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.
"Roka is a place where food and drinks are shared with friends, and heat, warmth and an all-embracing energy abound."
Rainer Becker and Arjun Waney - the guys behind this impressive Aldwych restaurant and bar - clearly know a thing or two about high-end modern-Japanese dining. This branch is one of four Rokas now in London, and then there's the excellent Zuma, too - the group's flagship restaurant now daddy to a host of similarly swanky outposts all over the globe. This branch continues the Roka focus on contemporary Japanese cooking, with the authentic robata grill once again playing a central role. Signature dishes here include pure Japanese wagyu beef tartare with smoked soya sauce, wasabi and nori crackers, and skewers of langoustine and cod cheek with shiso and ume boshi. Sushi and sashimi proves popular, too. The drinks list majors on wines from the old world and new, as well as a pretty serious sake selection - there are ten available by the glass or carafe, as well as a fair few rare finds by the bottle. Signature cocktails (think the Roka negroni, made with rose petal gin, Aperol, plum sake and peach bitters) do brisk business, alongside an extensive list of shochu - all housed in custom-made display walls. Very pretty.
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.
You know how Kris Jenner names daughters? As in, Kourtney, Khloe, Kim, Kylie and Kendall (where have you been, living under a rock?). Well, that’s how acclaimed chef Jason Atherton names his restaurants. He likes to keep things ‘Social’, from Pollen Street Social to Social Wine and Tapas, or my personal favourite, Social Eating House. Luckily for Atherton, that’s where the comparison with the Kardashians ends, because unlike the internet-breaking attentionistas, the Social family are restrained and intelligent, and this latest baby is no different. What is different is the cuisine: Sosharu serves modern Japanese. But then, you’d already guessed that. They’ve done the smart thing and carved up the room’s industrial proportions using suspended wooden beams (kind of like eating in a giant four-poster bed) and Oriental lattice screens for intimacy. Do check out the counter bar (outstay your allotted two hours and you’ll be moved here anyway), so you can watch metal-chopstick-wielding chefs arrange the fiddliest of ingredients with astonishingly steady hands. It’ll make you want to jump up and challenge them to a game of Operation (don’t: you’ll only lose). Every plate is a thing of beauty, its flavours as intriguing. Take the must-order ‘open’ tuna temaki, (pictured above): a twist on a traditional handroll, the seaweed wrapper comes tempura-battered (it really works) and set into a ‘U’ shape, much like a hard taco. It’s then filled with perfect sushi rice, raw tuna, shredded s
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 tem
If there was a restaurant version of ‘The Apprentice’, an episode might go like this. A sweaty-browed candidate would be standing in front of Suralan, pitching his idea: ‘We’ll call it a pop-up, so people get all excited about it, and if it’s a big hit, then we’ll just make it permanent.’ ‘So it’s not really a pop-up at all?’ ‘No, Suralan. If people don’t like it, we can simply shut up shop and no one will be any the wiser.’ ‘Brilliant, I love it… You’re hired.’ Shakfuyu, from the team behind rock ’n’ roll ramen bar Bone Daddies, is just that kind of genius plan. Billed originally as a ‘long-term pop-up’ (a phrase to raise a cynical eyebrow if ever there was one), it turned into a runaway success. So they’ve done the decent thing and made a long-term commitment to 14a Old Compton Street. Because, cynicism aside, it’s great. Not perfect, but still everything a hip Londoner would look for in a meal: a sexy setting (shiny tiles, bare bricks and the trademark grungy soundtrack – on our visit, they were playing Pearl Jam); young, cheery staff with obligatory arm-and-everywhere-else tats; and ‘with-a-twist’ dishes. In this case, Japanese. There are large plates too, but everyone comes for the small ones, in particular the soft prawn toast/okonomiyaki (omelette) mash-up, with its sweet, smoky sauce and the sweet-and-sticky battered-then-slathered Korean-style chicken wings. The hard shell taku tacos (which on our visit came filled with tender marinated octopus and creamy avocado,
"Take your Valentine's Day to new heights with our stunning city views, a chef-curated sharing menu and a colorful setting unlike any other."
Japan, Brazil and Peru come together here. That’s not an eye-opener these days, but the entrance to this expensive New York import is. Take the glass elevator that clings to the side of Heron Tower, shoot up 38 floors in a few stomach-flipping seconds, then walk into a bar from which you can practically browse workers’ emails in the Gherkin. Go on through to the double-height glasshouse of a restaurant, with its magnificent bamboo-lattice ceiling, and your table will likely face north across Spitalfields towards Alexandra Palace or east over Stepney and out to Essex. Allow time to drink in your surroundings, and maybe a cocktail or seasonal saké, while perusing a menu that will need deciphering by your well-drilled waiter, peppered as it is with terms such as ‘tiradito’, ‘taquito’, ‘moqueca’ and ‘chicharrons’. It’s all tough visual competition for a plate of food, but the sushi does its damnedest to catch the eye with cloaks of red or green yuba (soybean curd skin). Rather than leave all the fillings to battle it out in one big, bursting-at-the-seams futomaki, the Samba London roll makes a starlet of each one (crab, tuna, salmon, yellowtail, prawn, scallop, beef, avocado) by placing it on a rice-slice pedestal. With that view – impressive in daylight, awesome by night – this is a special-occasion destination; they get a lot of birthday bookings.
Just around the corner from Brewer Street’s stretch of cheap and cheerful Japanese restaurants, So aims for something a little more upmarket. The brightly lit dining room has a polished, contemporary feel, attracting a more mature clientele. The menu features luxe ingredients too – such as foie gras and wagyu beef. But it’s not all decadence here; there are also plenty of standard options like chicken yakitori, crisp veg or fish tempura and salmon teriyaki. From the long, curved sushi counter at the front of the restaurant come well-prepared nigiri, maki temaki, chirashi or sashimi – all made with high-quality fish. Check the specials board for less common options. Meat dishes are also worth trying. A generous portion of ibérico pork was charred at the edges and imbued with the sweet, salty savouriness of the miso marinade; it had all the melt-in-the-mouth tenderness that the menu promised. Wagyu beef sashimi, served with pungent raw garlic and soy sauce, was another enjoyable dish. The drinks list includes Asian-inspired cocktails as well as saké, shochu and an ample choice of wine.
We’ve all done it: had two too many beers and found ourselves wiping the chicken grease from our lips, regretting the wings even as we stuff them in. What is it about alcohol that makes you crave chicken? Well, as a far more advanced civilisation, Japan recognises this. Its izakayas – like pubs, but with better food and worse beer – serve up almost anything chicken-related on a stick. Juicy chicken hearts, chicken intestines (said to be wonderful for your skin) and chicken skin, are all given the skewer-plus-grill treatment. Essentially there to mop up the saké, they just happen to be really great bar snacks. Jidori, the new yakitori restaurant from Brett Redman has taken izakaya cooking and put it front and centre. ‘Yakitori’ literally translates as ‘fry chicken’ but there’s nothing Dixie about it. The chickens are free-range Goosnargh, hailing from Swainson House Farm in Lancashire. The closest you’ll get to yakitori’s Deep South cousin is the koji chicken – deep-fried chunks of thigh. It’s indulgent, to be sure, but the coating is dry and crisp – this is undoubtedly the best karaage I’ve had in London. Each skewer is very different; the wing with shiso and lemon was crisp, pleasantly sweet and a little sharp. The moreish tsukune skewers – packed full of chives – came with a raw egg to dip the meat into. There’s also a nice twist on English pub grub with a katsu curry scotch egg – the yolk runny, the coating crisp, the meat juicy: it was great. The negima brought back memo
"With a sushi chef with over 50 years of experience, we are a traditional, no frills Japanese restaurant just off Baker Street."
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.
A fine dining Japanese restaurant in Belgravia, Kouzu's kitchen is headed up by ex-Zuma head chef, Kyoichi Kai. It's set in a mid-19th century, Grade II listed building with a mezzanine level upstairs and an omakase sushi bar downstairs. There's a cocktail bar, too. Sashimi, nigiri and maki play prominent parts on a menu not afraid to add a contemporary twist or two - the 'new stream sushi' section features pan-fried foie-gras with spinach, fruit coulis, wasabi and teriyaki sauce, for example. More traditional dishes include salmon namba yaki from the charcoal grill, a range of tempuras, and miso-marinated black cod with a fennel and celery salad. A wide selection of whiskies features ten from Japan, complementing a drinks list boasting signature cocktails, Japanese beers by the bottle (Asahi, Kirin Ichbanshibori, Sapporo) and a varied selection of sake.
With a futuristic sliding entrance door (set off by placing your hand on a sensor), a plush, dark interior and polished service, Umu is guaranteed to impress. The bill too is likely to leave a lasting impression, so it’s best to save this swanky venue for a special occasion unless you have an expense account. (There was no shortage of high-powered diners on our most recent visit.) On such a celebratory occasion, opt for the multi-course tasting menu (£115) and you’ll get to explore an elaborate range of Kyoto-style kaiseki cuisine, presented on attractive dishes. The modern sushi doesn’t always make the grade, though, so stick to the classic version. Luxury ingredients abound on the à la carte: wild Scottish lobster tempura, wagyu beef tataki (grade 9) and Irish abalone steamed in saké. For a less bank-breaking taster of the menu, come at lunch for a set meal (such as a bento with grilled fish, meat or tempura, or somen noodles) – all served with soup, salad and a dessert. Our nigiri sushi selection (£38) was of the utmost quality. The ample wine and saké lists are worthy of exploration too.
"Umu's kaiseki tasting menu is now being served - eight exquisite courses, full of seasonal produce from the British Isles."