January 2019: We’ve added seven new restaurants: the characterful, wallet-friendly Machiya, Kintan and Inko Nito; the more upmarket Sushi Atelier, Yashin Ocean House and Chisou; and lovely, understated Jugemu.
From ultra-traditional sushi restaurants like Sakagura, to masters of Eastern-style down-and-dirty dude food (Nanban, Shackfuyu), London’s best Japanese restaurants deliver the goods. Ramen hunters should check out our dedicated noodle list, but for everything else – including one-dish wonders and pap-baiting stunners – it’s all here.
This new-wave New York-style ramen joint – a stripped-back space pumping out ear-bending rock ’n’ roll – brings the broth: its ultra-rich signature stock, made from 20-hour simmered pork bones and given extra complexity via sweet miso and sesame paste, takes some beating (and some eating, once go-for-broke toppings such as pork belly, soft shell crab, chilli, kale and black sesame are factored into the mix). Snacks, steamed buns and Japanese versions of poké are also well worth your attention. Strictly no dieters.
It’s beautiful inside this upmarket sushi restaurant: there are loads of light oak tables, a calming wall of sake bottles at the entrance and an open sushi counter so you can watch the skilled chefs at work. Cold dishes like soft-shell crab inside-out rolls and perfect yellowtail sashimi are the speciality.
If the original Dinings in Marylebone blew you away, then its Chelsea-based sibling will hit you (and your wallet) like a full-force hurricane. Everything about this follow-up is an improvement, from the spacious, quietly glitzy dining room to the ambitious, hit-making menu. Dinings signatures such as the seared wagyu beef with truffle and ponzu jelly, or the grilled chilli-garlic black cod, have made the trip southwest; new, equally tiny additions include the unmissable Josper-charred pork loin with sage and fermented miso sauce.
Top of the wagyu tree is kobe beef, and seeing that it’s the speciality at this compact, stylish Japanese restaurant tucked away in Ham Yard, you’d better come straight after payday, because it don’t come cheap. Try the famed meat – buttery, heavily marbled and, here, cooked to perfection – as part of the three- or five-course omakase menu (whose other offerings include hummingly fresh, picture-perfect sushi and sashimi) and you’ll feel you’ve had value for money despite the high prices.
Featuring a mish-mash of Asian favourites with ingredients such as yuzu defined in little picture boxes, the menu at Inko Nito sounds like Japanese food by numbers, but that food is surprisingly excellent. Unholy unions are the speciality – hybrids like the ‘nigaki’ (part nigiri, part maki). The restaurant is spacious, with plenty of blond wood, and the prices are easy on the wallet.
This worldwide chain needs no introduction among fans of fast, authentically flavoured Japanese cuisine, and the Central St Giles branch certainly packs in the punters – it’s a huge, bright, bustling space that still manages to generate queues at peak times (there are no bookings). Most customers plump for one of the signature tonkotsu, such as the ‘shiromaru classic’ made with pork-bone broth, braised pork belly and mushrooms, but other options such as wagyu rump steak have them vowing to return.
The snacks at this east London izakaya evoke the flavours of Japan so brilliantly you might be surprised to hear they’re the brainchild of Australian chef Brett Redman (he of Elliot’s Café and The Richmond). There’s a new branch in Covent Garden and the same ethos applies: a focus on charcoal-grilled ingredients (shiso- and lemon-marinated chicken-wing skewers or minced-chicken sticks with an egg yolk for dipping) and a flair for unexpectedly awesome flavour combinations, such as the katsu curry scotch egg – a bestseller.
The prawn tempura hand roll at this humble Winnett Street spot is sweet, sticky perfection. Sit up at the little wooden counter to have the chef hand it to you, still warm. Jugemu seems to be closed almost as often as it’s open, so securing a table is tricky, but it’s worth the effort: from seaweed salads to street food snacks to sashimi – everything’s exceptional.
While the menus at this Korean-Japanese barbecue restaurant are wipe-clean and dotted with red-sticker deals, the food is unexpectedly brilliant. Go hard on the yakiniku (grilled meat): there’s a thick-ridged grill built into your table so you can DIY Korean style. Don’t miss the spicy pork – you can order sauces for dipping, but this pig is best enjoyed naked.
If you love Japanese food so much you could eat udon for breakfast, lunch and dinner, head to Koya Bar. There’s a new branch in the City, but this one in Soho’s still our favourite: classics include cold udon in a hot walnut-and-miso broth. Breakfasts are innovative mash-ups of Japanese and British traditions such as bacon and egg suspended in udon-filled broth or ‘kedgeree’ with katsu-curry overtones.
Still harbouring notions of Japanese cuisine as a world of pure, clean flavours and tweezer-aided OCD? Scott Hallsworth’s Kurobuta introduces an altogether different style of Japanese dining, featuring big, bold flavours amped up to rock-star volume, plus cocktails and pumping rock music to match. Hits at this izakaya on steroids include the robata-grilled pork-belly buns smothered in sticky, peanut-laced soy and the tuna sashimi pizza with truffle-infused ponzu and wasabi. Be warned, however, that this is Dalston dude food at Chelsea prices.
The menu at this modest little restaurant on Panton Street is refreshingly short, and the dishes haven’t been compromised to appeal to Western palates. Think silken tofu custard and deep, reasonably priced bowls of noodles, served slippery with pork belly and shredded nori.
Venue says Machiya is an all-day restaurant and bar serving simple home-style cooking alongside unique patisserie inspired by the food halls of Japan.
Brixton has serious culinary clout these days, but Nanban still ranks as one of the best options in SW9. The shtick here is Japanese ‘soul food’ – big, unabashedly fusion flavours from the southern island of Kyushu – but the menu also carries Brixton’s culinary stamp, with dishes such as plantain katsu curry and lazy goat ramen (topped with chilli-pickled bamboo shoots) providing a sense of place. Excellent cocktails and a hip vibe make this a brilliant all-rounder.
Like Zuma before it, this high-end, high-glamour version of an izakaya treats its lucky diners to luxury ingredients that have been given the Japanese treatment: from caviar-topped wagyu tempura to black cod with crab and crayfish dumplings, or truffle-dressed yellowtail sashimi. Opting for the tasting menu keeps a lid on the (still pricy) price and acquaints you with Roka’s greatest hits. Don’t miss the robata-grilled delicacies – best enjoyed at the in-demand counter seats surrounding the grill itself.
Traditional values reign supreme at this sleek, modern Japanese restaurant: there are hot towels, etiquette-friendly double-ended chopsticks, an arm-length saké selection and a sommelier to help you navigate it. The menu offers top-quality versions of typical Japanese small plates, from shareable sashimi to tempura selections and yakitori skewers, plus donburi bowls, bento boxes and more. This being Mayfair, you can run up quite a bill, but steer clear of big-hitters such as robata-grilled wagyu and you don’t have to.
It’s bold to bill yourself as a two-year pop-up when many new London restaurants don’t even last one, but the brains behind Shackfuyu (sibling to Bone Daddies and Flesh & Buns) must have known they were onto a winner. Cynical marketing? Maybe. All we can do is breathe a sigh of relief that we’ll still be able to get our chops around the dishes that nearly broke Instagram when Shackfuyu opened – namely the prawn toast okonomiyaki and that kinako/green tea dessert...
Chefs at this brightly lit sushi restaurant come cheerfully armed with blowtorches, which are put to use creating dishes like butterfish carpaccio with flame-grilled foie gras. The rest of the show is equally dazzling: think sweet prawn sashimi or a lovely veggie two-piece of shiitake and burdock root.
As its name suggests, the City offshoot of this glam worldwide chain blends Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian cuisines to dramatic (and successful) effect – think robata-grilled anticuchos or salmon ceviche with sesame and seaweed, plus bucket-list dishes whose price tags reach into the hundreds or even thousands of pounds (we’re not kidding). The dining room is all bamboo and bright colours, with wall-to-wall windows framing far-reaching views of London’s skyline – those breath-taking vistas are another reason for the hiked-up prices.
Venue says Experience a selection of our signature dishes with our Samba Set Menu, perfect for an express lunch or early dining.
This gorgeous industrial-lite dining room serves a short but well executed selection of Japanese classics (crisp kara-age chicken marinated in chilli; succulent pork-belly yakitori; hummingly fresh sushi), but the ace up the sleeve of its kimono is its vegetarian dishes. Now that you know, neglect at your peril the likes of nigiri topped with fleshy pine mushrooms and spinach, or the black rice maki roll stuffed with rainbow-coloured veggies and tempura broccoli.
Unless you’re comfortably familiar with Nikkei cuisine (the fusion of Japanese and Peruvian cooking styles), avoiding menu fatigue at this discreetly upscale Belgravia restaurant (where sea urchin is a house speciality) takes some doing. There’s so much going on in every dish, from kimchee and masago-marinated tuna tacos to shrimp and sea urchin ceviche (try ordering that after one too many saké martinis), but it pays to trust the kitchen – even a fairly random order will usually deliver.
If you’re the type of sushi eater who wonders whether the wasabi goes alongside or into the soy sauce, then prepare to have your mind blown: at Yashin, soy sauce itself is a no-no. Instead, each precision-cooked dish has its own flavour pairing, be it tuna sashimi with truffle-infused ponzu jelly or layered tofu with sweet wasabi sauce. The result is exquisite Japanese haute cuisine served in a funky-for-Kensington environment (so neon signs, subway tiles and statement lamps).
This rather chic Japanese restaurant in South Kensington features swish counter seating, intentionally peeling plaster walls and an enormous horse-shaped standard lamp (yes, really). With a focus on what it calls ‘head to tail’ dining, you can expect unusual cuts of fish and meat, from cod cheek to pork shoulder.
Always the first high-end Japanese restaurant to spring to mind; always the last entry on any ‘best Japanese restaurants in London’ list – that’s Zuma’s lot. Its legions of moneyed fans return as much for the atmosphere as the food, but that’s because both are exemplary. The kitchen turns out unconventional versions of authentically flavoured dishes: high-quality ingredients shine in everything from the dressed-to-impress sushi platters to signatures such as roasted lobster with green chili and garlic hojiso butter. A true A-lister.