With specialisation comes scrutiny. In the case of Mino Kitchen, a new central London restaurant serving Japanese charcoal-grilled skewers (kushiyaki), comparisons to existing competitors are inevitable because there are so few of them.
Among the best are Jin Kichi in Hampstead and Tosa in both Hammersmith and Finchley; we’re still mourning the loss of Kushi-Tei in Wimbledon and Bincho Yakitori in Soho.
Some of the staff manning the charcoal grills at Mino Kitchen still seemed a little green. Fundamental errors included the bamboo skewers being burnt to blackness at the tips, imbuing the morsels that slipped off them with a bitter taste.
Chicken liver was so overcooked that the pieces simply crumbled off the stick – there was no drop of moisture remaining to keep them clinging on.
We enjoyed the earthy juices of grilled shiitake mushrooms, but reckon a lighter hand with the tare (the thick, sweet soy sauce brushed onto the skewers to season) would have allowed the flavours to shine brighter.
All of these would have been easier to swallow if not for the overenthusiastic (albeit typical of Holborn) pricing – a skewer of chicken thigh with spring onion costs £2.60 whereas at Bincho, for example, you part with a mere £1.60. The difference of a quid per nibble can quickly add up into a hefty bill at the end of the meal, as it did for us.
To fill up, you can order better-priced sushi that is competently crafted.
Alternatively, the grilled dishes may offer better value for money. Salmon teriyaki (£10.60) may be a cliché, but here it looks mighty tempting – three fat, small steaks slowly grilled over the charcoal grill and brushed with sweet and tacky teriyaki sauce, served with grilled vegetables.
Likewise, a whole sea bass on long metal skewers (£13.90) is equally impressive.You’ll have to order rice separately though (£2.60).
Desserts sweetened us up at least, with smooth and sweet black sesame ice cream (made in-house) stealing the show.
Service was just as sweet, but we found the long waits between ordering and eating (when the restaurant was at half capacity) frustrating. We had hoped that Mino Kitchen would join the ranks of great kushiyaki restaurants in London, but it still has some way to go.