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.
When Marble Arch’s Kurobuta launched a pop-up version on the King’s Road, Chelsea sat up and took notice: anything cutting edge is rare in this manor. So successful was the punky Japanese joint that it eventually relocated to this larger, permanent premises a few doors down. The new Kurobuta Chelsea has been given a bit of a polish – despite its menu of Japanese dude food and blasting indie music, tables are well-spaced (with generous, curtained booths for the lucky few), the food offering has been extended to include waistline-friendly sushi and sashimi, and there are even private rooms. Founder Scott Hallsworth, former chef at Nobu Park Lane, has created a series of hit dishes that sound like they have been dumbed down, but which confidently balance shouty flavours. From the ‘junk food Japan’ section of the menu, the tuna sashimi pizza – a crisp tostada topped with wafer-thin slivers of tuna and clusters of wasabi-infused fish roe – delivered both on flavour and texture. Elsewhere, sticky cylinders of sweet miso-grilled aubergine were meltingly moreish, while steamed buns filled with thick slabs of robata-grilled pork belly drenched in sticky, peanutty soy sauce had us licking our fingers. Not everything worked so well – beef fillet tataki with shards of deep-fried garlic had a highly acidic marinade that overpowered everything else. The bar at the front of the restaurant is a destination in itself, offering Asian beers, modish shooters with blush-inducing names, and well-
For anyone who likes sushi, Yashin is a must. Tucked down a side road off Kensington High Street, its exterior looks more like a smart French brasserie than a Japanese restaurant. But the centrepiece sushi counter gives the game away as soon as you step inside. Set on the dark green tiles behind the team of itamae (sushi chefs), a neon sign reads ‘without soy sauce’, and this is how the chefs ask you to eat your artfully crafted sushi. In place of a dunking, each piece is finished with its own flavourings – perhaps a dab of tangy ume plum paste, a spoon of tosa jelly, or a quick blast from a blowtorch (perfect for balancing the richness of fatty tuna). The rest of the menu also displays precision and innovation: a testament to the chef-founder’s grounding in the intricate art of kaiseki cuisine. A delicate dish of saikyo lamb was dotted with sweet miso and summer berries, while buttery sautéed razor clams (just a little overcooked) came with generous slices of summer truffle. The wine and saké lists are long and well chosen, and the clientele and service are as you’d expect from a classy dining establishment – though staff have proved slightly less attentive in the basement, so eat upstairs if you can.
Second branch of the Hakata ramen restaurant on Regent Street. The Soho spot has a more restaurant-y feel than the canteen-like original. There's the same range of noodles in long-simmered bone broth, plus steamed hirata buns stuffed with juicy pork slices, chilli sauce and mayo. There is also a saké sommelier Mimi Tokumine, who is often on hand to offer advice to diners. However be warned this is not a bar; arrive on your own and you'll not be seated until the rest of your party arrives, and you need to order a meal to go with your drinks.
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
Due to redevelopment on Marylebone Lane, Tomoe has moved to Putney, taking over the site from the venerable chef of Chosan (who has now retired). Tomoe’s sushi chef/proprietor and much of his team may be the same, but the decor and clientele here are markedly different. Instead of salarymen enjoying a lively after-work drink, the big-windowed and minimally adorned dining room is populated by couples quietly chatting as they tuck in. The menu is also pared down, though happily of the same quality as before, spanning raw, grilled, deep-fried and simmered dishes. You’re sure to find something you like. Scallop sashimi, served in the shell and garnished with a little wakame, was sweet-fleshed and sparklingly fresh. Salt and yuzu grilled chicken had been perfectly cooked, with crisp skin and tender meat – the hint of citrus from the yuzu adding a satisfying tang. A spider roll filled with deep-fried soft-shell crab, avocado and a scattering of tobiko (flying fish roe) was also well executed. Putney may have lost one well-loved Japanese resident, but it has gained another with a laid-back atmosphere and extremely friendly staff.
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.
Cock scratchings are not the first thing you expect to see on a ramen bar’s menu. But Bone Daddies is not your average noodle joint. Instead, it’s a New York-inspired, butched-up ramen-ya with gutsy noodle soup dishes that don’t skimp on flavour. As you open the door you’re met with a barrage of belting rock guitar, walls covered in images of quiffed and tattooed Japanese rockabillies, and a room full of diners seated on high stools soaking it all up. So, perhaps not somewhere to bring your mum, or a date for that matter – unless you don’t mind shouting at each other. The cock scratchings turned out to be crunchy crumbled chicken skin, mixed with a little shichimi seasoning and sprinkled on to a chicken bone and soy-based ramen dish (T22) for added crunch. Other choices include one of the richest bowls of tonkotsu ramen you’ll find in London: the broth made from 20-hour simmered pork bones; sweet miso and butter ramen; and sesame sauce and peanut-laced tantanmen noodles slicked with chilli oil. There are no low-fat options here. A long list of Japanese drinks provides the accompaniment, including saké, shochu and whiskey. Service is swift and appropriately informal.
Please note, Kirazu is now closed. Time Out Food & Drink editors, June 2016. 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 sau
Shoryu pips its tonkotsu-touting West End rivals for texture and stock, even though Bone Daddies stands out for extra fat and lashings of rock ’n’ roll. As well as Hakata-style ramen (noodles in a rich, boiled-down, pork-bone broth), speed is of the essence here: within months of opening in 2012, this original branch started a standing-only service; in July 2013, Shoryu Express opened a few doors down, proclaiming itself ‘a rapid, self-service-style prototype ramen bar… for those in a rush’. Both help ease the hassle of no-bookings dining. Dracula tonkotsu (Van Helsing would be a more apt name) – with caramelised garlic oil, balsamic vinegar and garlic chips– packs a flavoursome punch. Extra toppings such as bamboo shoots and boiled egg are to be expected, but kaedama (plain refill noodles) are a godsend for anyone sharing soup stock between small children or bumping up the volume for a voracious teen. A varied choice of good sides, sakés and sweets can really make a meal of your visit.
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.
I know what you’re thinking. Hawaiian-inspired restaurant equals hula girls in grass skirts and coconut bras. But at Black Roe, the vibe is swanky Asian fusion (don’t forget, a large proportion of Hawaii’s population are of Japanese descent) – all sexy dark woods, flattering lighting and chilled tunes. As for the people: sharp suits, girls with expensive hair. This is a place to pose. Hardly surprising, considering it’s from Kurt Zdesar, the brains behind see-and-be-seen sushi hangout Chotto Matte. But while that joint balances slick style with culinary substance, Black Roe’s kitchen has some work to do. There’s no faulting the idea of serving pokē, a seasoned ‘tartare’ (it means ‘to cut’) of fish, meat or occasionally veg, as a signature. But the execution is off. Pokē can be served with or without rice; here, it’s the ‘served-over-rice’, eye-on-the-profit margin version. Fair enough. But it needed restraint: I tried four kinds and each saw the high-quality protein clobbered by a different kind of unnecessarily overbearing sauce. Other dishes were better: succulent monkfish and tiger prawns on a puddle of citrus salsa, or pink-middle lamb chops with an intriguing coconut crust. But dessert: two scoops of watery, sweet-but-not-fragrant ‘cherry’ sorbet, was a final disappointment. Factor in the 20-minute wait for the bill and absence of service (we weren’t offered fresh drinks once) and it’s a black mark for Black Roe, sadly.
Venue says: “London's first poke bar and grill. Pacific Rim cuisine located in Mayfair.”