Ok so here we are again, these are some short reviews of restaurants and cafes I visited while in London. There are a huge variety of Japanese places to eat in London, hopefully next time I’ll get to a few more. Obviously these are just my experiences and your mileage may vary based on the staff that are on each day and the time of your visit.
Ichiryu – 84 new Oxford Street WC1A 1HB
If you only visit one of these places while in London make it Ichiryu. I thought this was a great udon restaurant. Udon often gets sidelined in favour of the more popular and trendy ramen but I love both of them equally. The row of shops it sits in felt very new and had a modern yet traditional vibe.
They make the udon fresh here everyday and honestly it tastes great. Soft and chewy, not overly salty. I had their special matcha udon, it didn’t have a super strong flavour but it was there. The broth was really light and flavourful. I also had tempura prawn with my udon which was soft, juicy and slightly sweet without being heavy. You can order additional toppings from the menu and they also have a variety of origiri and sweets.
A few reviews of Ichiryu online suggested that their service wasn’t great and while we were mostly left to ourselves which is fine I didn’t feel service was lacking. Maybe just the minimum level of interaction that’s required, staff were being very attentive and polite in dealing with customers. Most udon restaurants in Japan are self service and the way the place was laid out I was half expecting this to be the case here. I guess it depends on how you define service or how much of it you want. I also found the prices here to be very reasonable for central London.
Tombo – 29 Thurloe Place SW7 2HQ
I visited two Tombo cafes while in London; one in Soho and the other in Kensington opposite the British Museum. It specialises in rice dishes and matcha tea. These shops also have a modern feel although the buildings they occupy are quite old. Their interiors have a minimal look and I preferred the Kensington branch for its layout.
I tried their standard matcha latte and felt it maybe could have done with more matcha flavour. The taste of it was being masked by the milk, having said that it was well blended and slipped down nicely. I also tried their poke bowl, poke is a dish that seems to be becoming very popular and easy to find in London. This one featured a variety of fish, roe, tofu and edamame beans. There were some great cuts of fish here and the rice was perfect so although expensive it was a great dish beautifully presented. Perfect for the hot weather.
Finally I also tried the Doriyaki which you can find at both shops. I tried two; red bean and the red bean with matcha cream. The pancakes were soft and fluffy but I preferred the plain red bean as the matcha cream didn’t have enough flavour for me. Service here was good and attentive, it actually felt somewhere between a cafe and restaurant.
Abeno – 47 Museum Street WC1A 1LY
I picked Abeno because it’s pretty rare to find a Okonomiyaki restaurant in the UK. It is becoming more popular driven by people who directly have an interest in Japanese cuisine but the quality you’ll get varies tremendously. They did the cooking in front of you which I liked so you could see the technique.
Edamame and Gyoza were a great start to the meal. Both these small dishes can reveal a lot about how much care a restaurant puts into even its smallest plates. I’m happy to say the Edamame here was perfectly cooked and seasoned, the Gyoza was fat and juicy. Probably the best Gyoza I tried on this trip, perfect
For the okonomiyaki, it was basic pork with added noodles so Hiroshima style. I thought this tasted great and reminded me of my own home cooking so I really enjoyed this. The staff were very attentive and since they were cooking in front of you there was a choice; you could talk with them or ignore them either way I don’t think they’d mind. The place had a relaxed feel away from the hustle and bustle of the main shopping areas of London, I have heard Abeno Too generally is busier due to its location. It reminded me a lot of restaurants I’d been to in Osaka, the only down side was I think the tables were a little too close together for comfort.
Bake – 9 Wardour Street WD1
Bake is becoming infamous on the Internet for its Taiyaki without it I actually think this would just be any other Chinese bakery selling buns and cakes.
Taiyaki here comes in two varieties – small custard ones and ice cream cones. The small custard ones are made by an automated machine in the window. They’re a little more like custard cream puffs than Taiyaki so they were a bit of a disappointment. Size matters when it comes to Taiyaki obviously.
The cone was actually pretty nice and chewy, not really what I think of when it comes to Taiyaki but still good – you could really taste the butter! The ice cream was maybe a little bit firm for soft serve but it did have a good flavour even if the texture was a little off. It’s pretty easy to find this place it’s right next to the crossing point at Trafalgar Square near the M&Ms shop if your heading up to Chinatown.
Tsujiri – 47 Rupert Street W1D 7PD
I had high hopes for Tsujiri based on their website and I expected it to be more like Tombo. What I found was more like an ice cream parlour and while there’s nothing wrong with that I was just a little surprised. This little shop sells a variety of parfait ice creams, blended drinks and shaved ice. All either have a yuzu, matcha or hojicha flavouring
The soft serve texture here was great, not too firm and well churned. It could have done with a touch more matcha as the tea taste got a bit lost under the sweet milky flavour. It was still a pleasant little stop off!
Sushi Hiroba – 50-54 Kingsway WC2B 6EP
If there was one place on this list I was most disappointed with it was this one. I thought I’d take the opportunity to visit a sushi kaiten that wasn’t a Yo Sushi and to an extent I can see why Yo is popular even in London. I was prepared for it to be more expensive but I thought it might be worth it and as a bonus it was close to the hotel.
So the sushi itself in Hiroba wasn’t bad, in fact it was actually quite tasty. Their Takoyaki was the best I’d tasted in London but it was cold on the belt and the staff wouldn’t allow us to order it fresh. The quality of the fish itself was very good but the selection was maybe a little samey. The ratio of fish to rice was very different to most sushi places in that the amount of rice was small and you were getting a little more fish. Without the carbs to fill you up though it was pretty easy to stack up plates.
It wasn’t until about half way through that I noticed a lot of the dishes looked quite Korean as they had a lot of hot sauce or they’d been deep fried or both. Under this restaurant was a Korean isakaya so I guess the sushi had a Korean flair from the chefs.
The service I experienced here was by far the worst part, we were asked if we had a reservation which we didn’t. I did wonder if this was part of the frosty reception to get us to leave quickly. Anyway I don’t think we would have gotten a drink if we hadn’t flagged down the staff and they took away the menus immediately after we ordered drinks to prevent us from ordering anything else. We were left to our own devices despite the food actually being alright. In hindsight I kinda wish we’d just had a small handful of plates and left, it felt like I was the unwanted guest at a party.
Gyoza Bar – 66 St Martin’s Lane WC2N 4JS
This unassuming little shop near seven dials was actually a first port of call when arriving in London. It had that modern industrial look that’s so popular in London. The shop here does the weird paper slip cross in the box ordering system, I came across this twice while in London and I can’t say I liked it.
It was hot so time for a beer and Gyoza. It was quite expensive but I was willing to give it a go, I love a tasty Gyoza stop. We ordered the selection which featured two of each type including meat, fish and vegetable. The best of the selection was actually the prawn which had a slight sweetness and the salmon. The meaty texture of salmon really went well in the Gyoza skin. I wasn’t mad keen on the mushroom, it all just ended up a bit too sloppy even though it had a great taste.
It was good especially the variety of flavours but the better Gyoza was to be found at Abeno. In addition to the Gyoza you can also get ramen here and I’d suspect it’s location makes it quite busy on an evening.
Jugemu – 3 Winnett Street W1D 6JY
I’ve never been to a restaurant that felt quite so new before in London. I actually loved this tiny shop, it was hard not too. It was a combination Japanese coffee shop playing light jazz and part isakaya. It even had the vertical menu boards that isakaya change daily but here it was in English, Japanese and Chinese.
We just stopped in for tea and we were the only people in this pretty little shop. I got the feeling it’d be the sort of place to go on an evening for that cozy sitting at the bar vibe. We also ordered Takoyaki which after the disaster which was Hiroba I’d say that all round this was easily the best. Served hot and with a good amount of octopus in there – the effort for just a couple of customers paid off.
Attentive staff and tasty food made me want to make a return trip sometime. I’d highly recommend this little out of the way spot, I hope they do well with their new shop!
Wasabi – Kings Cross Station
Just about every trip I end up in Wasabi at least once which isn’t a bad thing. They sell mainly boxed sushi but also hot meals like katsu curry. Well priced it’s your typical self service style shop with modern easy to clean fittings.
I often find the sushi here tastes pretty good, it’s made daily and you get a good ratio of fish to rice. Their onigiri is also pretty good too, perfect for a quick on the go kind of meal. As a side note there are never enough tables at the branch at Kings Cross!