Oh we do love a food trend us Londoners and one that is currently grabbing the capital by the goolies is Japanese. And not just your standard sticky yakitori skewers, hand-made sushi rolls and slices of delicate sashimi - but flavour combos that take Japanese tradition and send it down an unfamiliar road of culinary tangents and cultural roundabouts. Lost? Perhaps this guide will bring you back to a path of understanding...
Before we take you off piste, we might as well start with a newbie already showing signs of becoming a classic. Engawa, in Soho's Ham Yard Village, opened in March and specialises in Kobe beef. Put to impossibly good use in a multitude of ways (slow-cooked with ponzu jelly, finely chopped with dashi stock, grated yam and spring onions, cooked shabu shabu-style to let it's buttery glory shine...). We highly recommend going for broke and ordering the eight course-tasting menu but, if time or budget doesn't allow, another excellent option are the bento served in bespoke painted pottery (perhaps the prettiest lunch boxes that ever existed). Engawa also boasts an authentic interior with open kitchen (showcasing near-silent chefs of alarming skill) and one of the friendliest GM's in London.
Born from the team behind Bone Daddies, Shackfuyu was blessed with the power of buzz before it so much as served its first Korean fried wing. Which, of course, means it's been full of foodie folk ever since. Good news is this Japanese junk food pop up has a basement bar, jollying up the wait for a table by way of boozy cocktails laced with yuzu and sake. When you do finally get a table, be sure to order plenty of small plates (faves include the 'prawn toast masquerading as okonomiyaki' and the cauliflower with orange miso ponzo). FOMO sufferers shouldn't miss the kinako French toast either. A dessert that EVERYONE is talking about it.
Beer & Buns
We'd highly recommend heading east to check out this fun-filled Izakaya-style eatery situated upstairs @K10 on Appold Street, if only for the wings washed down with a bottle or ten of Japanese beer. The main event soft-steamed hirata buns are perhaps not the finest we've found, but they make a pretty decent effort (particularly the Karage Chicken with indecently glutinous glaze). The joint has an infectious party atmosphere, so gather a group of thirsty friends and drop in for a late night feast. But it's another of those pesky pop-ups, vacating the building at the end of July, so move quick.
An oldie but a goody, this Soho joint specialising in udon (that's the fat kind for those not up on their noodle speak) could probably be attributed as a forerunner for the current trend for all things Japanese. Sometimes in this crazy city it's hard to know a good restaurant from a bad one, but using Koya as an example there are a few handy hints. Is it ALWAYS busy? Do people still talk about it even though it's not new? Is it ALWAYS busy?
Should you manage to get in, a personal favourite is the Butajiru Atsu-Atsu (a melting pork broth so piping hot it doubles as a fat-laced face steam) with side mound of vegetable tempura *swallows mouth full of saliva*
NB. The team are upping sticks back to Japan and closing Koya at the end of May but Koya Bar will remain open with another outpost rumoured.
That's the thing about trends. They just keep on rolling. Highlighted with the upcoming arrival of Mommi to current culinary hot spot Clapham (it seems every restaurant rave of late has come from the land of yummy mummies) in June. From the pre-opening whispers this Japanese-Latin raw bar and grill is going to be GOOD - offering the sort of sexed up small plates of questionable authenticity but maximum flavour that make this craze for foodie mashups so interesting. One to put on the summer to do list me thinks.