If there was a restaurant version of ‘The Apprentice’, an episode might go like this. A sweaty-browed candidate would be standing in front of Suralan, pitching his idea: ‘We’ll call it a pop-up, so people get all excited about it, and if it’s a big hit, then we’ll just make it permanent.’ ‘So it’s not really a pop-up at all?’ ‘No, Suralan. If people don’t like it, we can simply shut up shop and no one will be any the wiser.’ ‘Brilliant, I love it… You’re hired.’
Shakfuyu, from the team behind rock ’n’ roll ramen bar Bone Daddies, is just that kind of genius plan. Billed originally as a ‘long-term pop-up’ (a phrase to raise a cynical eyebrow if ever there was one), it turned into a runaway success. So they’ve done the decent thing and made a long-term commitment to 14a Old Compton Street.
Because, cynicism aside, it’s great. Not perfect, but still everything a hip Londoner would look for in a meal: a sexy setting (shiny tiles, bare bricks and the trademark grungy soundtrack – on our visit, they were playing Pearl Jam); young, cheery staff with obligatory arm-and-everywhere-else tats; and ‘with-a-twist’ dishes. In this case, Japanese. There are large plates too, but everyone comes for the small ones, in particular the soft prawn toast/okonomiyaki (omelette) mash-up, with its sweet, smoky sauce and the sweet-and-sticky battered-then-slathered Korean-style chicken wings. The hard shell taku tacos (which on our visit came filled with tender marinated octopus and creamy avocado, plus lightly pickled cucumber) are a must-order, as is buttery kinako ‘french toast’, which comes with green tea ‘soft serve’ (Mr Whippy-style) ice cream. It’s all reasonably priced, too.
It seems that you can’t keep a good pop-up down, and we’re right glad of it.