© Alys Tomlinson
Time Out rating:
Time Out says
Wed Jul 11 2012
Kyoto, the former capital of Japan, is a beautiful and historic city, with scores of ancient temples and shrines in leafy parks and suburbs. The Shimogamo Shinto shrine is one of them: a place of quiet contemplation amid the bustle of an otherwise modern city. The name Shimogamo is therefore appropriate for this small, relatively serene Japanese restaurant at the quieter, Regent’s Park end of one of Camden’s busiest thoroughfares.
The bland interior is just the sort of thing you find in the neighbourhood restaurants of suburban Kyoto (from where both the chef and and owner hail) that try to cater for a variety of tastes under one roof. And so it is with Shimogamo, which offers sushi and sashimi, sukiyaki (hotpots), teriyaki skewers, gyoza dumplings, Japanese salads, soba or udon noodles, and chef’s specials as diverse as a cast of Studio Ghibli characters.
The latter, on our visit, included beef hobayaki, a dish seldom seem in London. Hoba is a type of Japanese magnolia with a big, tough leaf that can be used to wrap food before grilling it. Here, the dish is brought to a beautiful tabletop hibachi grill, its sides decorated with poetic Japanese calligraphy. As the charcoal glows, the hoba leaf diffuses the heat. The beef is marinated in miso and grilled before being cut and placed to show the red meat inside. The scorched leaf is served open, to show the shimeji mushroom and spring onion garnish. It’s a good piece of table theatre, with almost autumnal flavours.
Simple dishes such as sashimi are also artfully presented, in this case on a bed of twigs over ice. The edges of the fish were razor sharp, the flesh firm not flabby. The most discerning Japanese diner would approve, as the quality was impeccable.
Not all the dishes were such a success. Deep-frying doesn’t seem to be the kitchen’s strength, as the vegetable tempura was indelicate, the batter claggy. But we were won over by other details such as a side dish of cucumbers, simply served lightly picked with a garnish of shichimi (spice mix).
Shimogamo also has a decent selection of sakés. Saké is sometimes called rice wine, but it’s brewed in a unique process called double parallel fermentation (try that one on the pub quiz team). There are many styles and qualities, but all you need to know here is that they start affordable (from £3.90 for a small tokkuri or flask), but can also be dear, so choose carefully. Saké’s delicate, often floral tones are the perfect compliment to the subtle flavours of Japanese food, where salt is often the dominant flavour. And the most important Japanese phrase you need to know, expecially with the Olympics upon us? ‘Kampai!’ – ‘Cheers!’
Shimogamo 108 Parkway
020 7424 9560
- Opening hours:
Lunch served noon-2.30pm, dinner served 6-10pm Tue-Sun
Tube: Camden Town tube
Main courses £3.50-£20. Set lunch £10-£20
- 108 Parkway
- 020 7424 9560
- 108 Parkway