At times, my friends call me a moaner.
At times, they are right.
One particular thing I like to constantly complain about, is the lack of decent Japanese food in London. I’m not talking about Itsu and Wasabi or even Wagamama. That’s fake Japanese which is something to offend as much as drinking beer out of wine glasses. When people ask me why it disgusts my sensibilities so, I fall back to the time tested remark, it just isn’t something that is done.
So if you want to try some real Japanese food in London, you have something of a quandary at hand. On account of it being either obscenely hard to get in (Sushi Testsu), or just unashamedly not pretending to be that authentic (but thankfully still good (Temaki). There is of course the stalwart I like, Kiku, although inflation is pushing that price up a bit too much (50% is kind of a lot). Then there is the place which has a bit too much excitement and a rather rude owner (Jugemu) but much as I like the food there, I do prefer a certain modicum of service. So in leafy, rather pleasant and much too expensive Hampstead, is a small Japanese restaurant staffed by native staff.
Tori kara, seasoned and sliced chicken, deep fried in batter served with Ponzu sauce. This was rather crispy, oil free and nicely complemented by the ponzu sauce. If I could level some criticism, it would be that the meat wasn’t as juicy as I would have preferred, as I suspect they didn’t use leg meat for this. No matter, it still made me happy.
Shiso maki, grilled skewer of shiso leaf and pork rolls with Teriyaki sauce. Alright, if fairly nondescript. Minced pork balls wrapped in a spiced leaf, although the shiso just wasn’t strong enough to make a noticeable difference.
Tsukune, grilled skewer of chicken meatballs with Yakitori sauce. Crispy on the outside, meltingly delicious inside. Something to try again.
Negitoro, Chopped Fatty Tuna with Yellow Pickled roll. Meaty and filling, you could also be forgiven for thinking this was some type of minced meat. Instead, clear deep tuna flavour shone through.
Take, today’s 10 piece chef’s selection. Flounder, tuna, salmon, fish roe, prawn, mackerel, octopus, yellow tail, red snapper, squid. Great, even if I have had better elsewhere. What let this down was the temperature control. The fish and the rice seemed to be rather warm where as I prefer a slightly more chilled sushi to highlight the taste of the seafood set off with vinegar rice.
Yakinasu, grilled aubergine with Bonito flakes. Here, I demonstrate one my many failings. An example of not getting what I wanted. Although an accurate description, I had thought (and hoped) that this would be similar to the grilled aubergine with miso paste I’ve had on top. This instead was lacking the heavier flavouring we sought. On the plus side, the texture was good.
Gyutan, grilled skewer of ox tongue with salt. I do not know why more places do not offer this. It was deliciously chewy and bursting with umami. Of the many off cuts I would eat in yakitori joints back in Japan, ox tongue and chicken heart were my favourites. Although, I didn’t see the latter on the menu.
Gindara, grilled black cod marinated in white miso served with ginger. They had gone a little too easy on the miso here, as the taste was not as deep as I expected and preferred. It was decent though. Then again, perhaps it is my fault for having this previously at western Japanese joints, which tend to slather the cod perhaps overzealously.
Buta Shouga, pan-fried sliced pork with ginger sauce and spicy Miso served from hot pan. Great with caramelized onion as you got caramelized miso and rather addictive as you picked up the small onions in which all the pork juice had coagulated.
Una Kyu, grilled eel with cucumber and sesame roll. In my desperate search for eel in London, I couldn’t resist this when I saw it on the menu. I would often dream of this, as during my first residency in Japan, a kind friend treated me to unagi. That Changed My Life. This poor eel did not do that justice. Instead, wrapped up in rice, it was rather sadly done as it seemed that being wrapped up in rice made the eel strangely bouncy and robbed it of its flavour.
Yama Gobo, pickled mountain burdock with sesame. Crunchy and refreshing. A fitting way to finish this off.
Green tea. To complement the above, between bites, I washed things down with some green tea. A apt refreshing cleanser.
I have recently been reminded of the sandwich method of feedback. Otherwise known by its more rude moniker, the s*** sandwich. So I guess the same can be applied to my critique. The majority of the dishes were good, clearly of better standard than most other places in London for Japanese food, the atmosphere slightly cramped but authentic in that way, but the spark of something excellent was missing. Not that the food was bad, by and by it was better than decent, but it missed that next step in evolution to make it something special. However, at this price, life is too short and I have other places to try instead, especially given the trek it took to get here. However, if I could afford to live around this area, I would probably be returning a more than healthy amount.
A quiet eating 8/10.
Dinner (all of the above for 2 people) was GBP80 per person excluding drinks and service.
73 Heath St,
London NW3 6UG