‘Machiya’ is the Japanese word for a traditional wooden townhouse – which sums things up rather nicely. A restaurant from the people behind award-winning tonkotsu specialist Kanada-Ya, the remit here is Japanese home-cooking; the kind you imagine might be served in a traditional wooden Japanese townhouse. It just happens to be dished up in a clean, bright little restaurant on Panton Street, to the rather incongruous sounds of Norah Jones. Great news for anyone who can’t afford the trip out (far) East.
The menu is short, and the dishes haven’t been compromised to appeal to Western palates. First up was a transparent tofu custard, that looked like jelly but tasted sweet and creamy. Dotted with spring onions and crowned with a bird’s nest of ginger, it was sharp and bold, and unlike anything I’ve eaten before. Next came ‘abura soba’: slippery, well-flavoured egg noodles topped with shredded nori, pork belly and a daringly undercooked egg. Packing a serious chilli and garlic punch, this dish was not for the faint-hearted. A side of baked sweet potato drizzled with lime butter was a less successful taste adventure (so wet and so sharp!).
There were simpler and more expected pleasures, too. Miso soup came comforting and hot, infused with toasted sesame. My personal highlight? Wonderfully crispy panko-breaded pork served with plummy, sweet tonkatsu sauce. But it’s the noodles and the tofu custard that have stuck in my mind. Go to Machiya and you’ll have a meal you won’t forget. You’ll also only spend about £15 a head on food (only two dishes on this menu are more than £9). That’s pretty special in itself.