There’s a time and a place for the Nobus, the Yens and the Dinings of the food world, but sometimes we want to satiate our love of Japanese cuisine with something a little more relaxed and, dare we say it, affordable? Enter the fuss-free Japanese. There are plenty of excellent options in the capital, from Ramen joints that feel like the backstreets of Tokyo (well, kind of) to robata-style restaurants that cook up your dinner on open flames in front of your eyes.
Read on to find out our favourites…
Step inside this modest Soho restaurant to find a hotbed of sake cocktails, sharing plates and their celebrated robata skewers.
‘Robata’ literally means ‘fireside,’ hence this place specialising in grilled charcoal cooking, a Japanese tradition that was first introduced by ancient fishermen who took boxes of hot coals with them on their boats to warm their food at they gathered the day’s catch.
While the cooking method has largely stayed the same, the menu is a modern interpretation of some of Japan’s most prized dishes as well as a number of ROBATA signatures sure to please Western palate
Order popular dishes such as the Iberico Pork Pluma and the Beef Fillet, smoked and cooked over burning hay, the Soft Shell Crab Bao Buns and the Kimchi Gyoza, for a feast that will excite all five senses.
ROBATA, 56 Old Compton Street, Soho, London W1D 4UE
They may have a shiny new restaurant in Covent Garden but Dalston is where it all started for Jidori. The yakitori sticks and Japanese small plates are the creation of chef Brett Redman and are a must-try if you’re in the area.
Relaxed and cool, it’s the perfect place for a Friday night dinner with friends or a relaxed midweek date night. Our tip? Don’t even think about leaving without trying the katsu curry Scotch egg.
Jidori, 89 Kingsland High Street, Dalston, London E8 2PB
Don’t even think about leaving without trying the katsu curry Scotch egg.
Hidden just off Regent Street you’ll find Sakagura, one of the best places to go for yakiniku barbecue and sake.
Inspired by old-style Japanese drinking houses, the interiors are dark and moody but the service is anything but. These guys know their stuff when it comes to sake and can guide first timers through the menu with ease. Plus, the food is fun, unfussy and great for sharing,. Book in for one of their traditional yakiniku barbecues and get grilling a selection of meats, seafood and veg DIY-style at your table
Sakagura, 8 Heddon Street, London, W1B 4BS
As chain restaurants go (there are nine of these dotted around the capital) Sticks ‘n’ Sushi might just be our favourite. The name kind of gives it away but they do sticks – flaming yakitori straight from the grill and, you guessed it, sushi – traditionally served and great quality for the price.
Order the spicy miso soup to start for a serious kick; the Sushi Sister platter – Daikon with shrimp, seared salmon, mackerel, scallops, tuna, sea bass with truffle oil, tamago with miso aïoli and trout roe, hiramasa and salmon – ooph! Before moving on to the chargrilled sticks that range from beef with miso and herb butter to asparagus and chunky wafu and, our favourite, the black cod.
Various London locations
Japanese with a side helping of Peru is the USP at Flesh & Buns, so expect everything from pillowy, meat-filled bao buns to a button on your table that allows you to call a special waiter for pisco sours – that poor guy must make hundreds of the things on the reg.
Piscos aside, the food is seriously tasty and the atmosphere fun. Top tip? Book the private dining room for a birthday party and have a Japanese-style, booze-filled banquet.
Flesh & Buns, 32 Berners Street, London W1T 3LR
Is there anything more comforting than a steaming hot bowl of ramen? The soup for the soul has become hugely popular in London but, let’s be honest, there are few and far between places that actually nail it. Tonkotsu is one of them.
They use a mid-century noodle-making machine imported from Japan to make their three types of noodles – Tokyo, Tsukemen and Tonkotsu. They also start making their rich, signature ramen stock before 6am every morning to make sure it tastes as good as possible.
Topped with tender chicken, succulent pork or earth shiitake, enoki and shimeji mushrooms and the glossiest Burford Brown you’ve ever seen, Tonkotsu is fuss-free, affordable and essentially a hug in a bowl.
Various London locations
From the outside this looks like any other Islington pub, inside, you’ll be transported to a Tokyo kitchen. The izakaya has great selection of noodles, grill and deep fried dishes intended to be shared, but it’s the sushi and sashimi really worth waxing lyrical about.
Watch as the chefs make it fresh before your eyes at the bar, while sipping on a great selection of sake and shochu from Japan.
Akari, 196 Essex Road, Islington, London N1 8LZ
Osaka-born Founder of Okan, Moto Preistman arrived in London with just one suitcase, no money, no English and no contacts. There are now three outposts of the restaurant in London and the Brixton one is regularly cited as one of the best restaurants in the area.
The sizzling sounds and the smells of Okan’s open-kitchen will transport you to Osaka and probably have you wanting to book a plane ticket, pronto.
Brixton Village, Brixton East and Southbank
Within the minimalist spectacular that is the London Japan Centre – an exhibition space, coffee shop, store and basically all things honouring the stripped back yet intelligent style of Japan – you’ll find Akira. Named after Chef Shimizu Akira, the restaurant presents a Japanese dining experience based on Akira’s ‘trinity of cooking’ principles – food, tableware and presentation.
So expect tasty dishes from robata-cooked meats to Umami-rich skewers and bursting-with-colour sushi; as well as some of the most theatrical displays of gastronomy behind the open-kitchen and seriously chic tableware you’ll be tempted to pop in your bag.
101-111 Kensington High Street, Kensington, London W8 5SA