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.
Sharp elbows are required at this slinky townhouse izakaya serving ‘Japanese tapas’, thanks to its tiny size and stellar kitchen, which fuses authentic Japanese techniques with modern European flavours: cue Nobu-style tar-tar chips filled with fatty tuna and jalapeño mayo, or yellowtail sashimi topped with horseradish salsa and British caviar, plus immaculate sushi rolls filled with the likes of popcorn shrimp or eel and foie gras. Feeling spontaneous? Try for a seat at the street-level sushi counter and prepare to get spendy.
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.
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 excellent 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). However, a common ethos applies: a commitment to sourcing, a focus on charcoal-cooked ingredients (think 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.
Like ramen? Like pork? Then this minimalist Japanese import is the place for you – and the rest of London, judging by the queues some days. Once you’ve made it inside and secured a table, you’ll understand what all the fuss is about – admirable attention to detail goes into creating the short selection of ostensibly simple tonkotsu (the satisfying, savoury broth is simmered for 18 hours; the noodles are made on site using a special machine shipped all the way from Japan). Deservedly legendary.
With two stalls (in Brick Lane and Tooting markets) and a permanent kiosk at Pop Brixton, this cheap and cheerful outfit has one mission: to reclaim ramen as street food – which means high quality at low prices (hurrah!). There are just four ramen options on the tiny menu, all featuring beautifully balanced broths filled with ingredients of outstanding quality, and all starting at just £6.50. Plus, sweet staff are intent on you leaving the experience with a smile on your face.
If you love Japanese food so much you could eat udon for breakfast, lunch and dinner, then head to Koya Bar, which took the baton from its sibling and former neighbour Koya (now closed) and ran with it. Koya classics include cold udon in a hot walnut-and-miso broth, but the menu has been lengthened and widened. Breakfasts are innovative mash-ups of Japanese and Brit traditions: bacon and egg suspended in udon-filled broth, or kedgeree with katsu 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.
Almost every Japanese restaurant in London wants to be hailed as authentic, but at Nagoya the authenticity levels reach peak ‘Lost in Translation’: the décor is old-school Tokyo, with windows adorned with plastic replicas of the dishes served; said dishes include Japanese classics that range from the familiar, such as (faultlessly fresh) sushi to the lesser known, such as braised tripe with tofu and yam paste or the izakaya equivalent to a bag of nuts, umeboshi (pickled plums).
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...
Tucked away at the bottom of Soho is this atmospheric ramen joint, whose sights (curtained doorways, bamboo lights, geometric design), sounds (a welcome gong, Japanese conversation) and smells (long-simmered pork broth, the smoke from grilled skewers and other substantial sides) do a stellar job of whisking you eastwards. The tonkotsu bowls themselves could fill you up for a week – and a seasonal hit of the garlic-loaded ‘Dracula’ will make you all but immune to colds (and, er, company).
Jason Atherton’s foray into Japanese cuisine is as intelligent, exciting and yes, expensive, as the rest of his Social empire: if izakayas serve pub food, then Atherton’s version has gone more gastro than the Marksman and the Harwood Arms combined. Splash out on, say, open tuna temaki served in a tempura nori shell, beautifully burnished stuffed chicken wings, or the wagyu rib-eye with garlic crisps. Or save your money for cocktails in the basement and opt for the lunch/pre-theatre set menu.
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.
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.
French patisserie tradition and the Japanese flair for visual exactitude dovetail perfectly at this chic café-bakery in Ealing, which serves all of Japan’s favourite sweet treats alongside speciality teas and coffees. From strawberry- and cream-layered sponge cake (seriously Big in Japan) and picture-perfect raspberry-and-pistachio frangipane tartlets, to white-sesame cheesecake with a black-sesame base, or matcha rolls flavoured with green-tea cream and adzuki beans, plus savoury filled breads, WA is the noise you make as you wave goodbye to your waistline.
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).
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.
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