It’s Paddington versus Piccachu, the ultimate intergalactic battle. Marmalade up against Pokémon powers. Or, to be a little more accurate, ceviche versus sushi.
When Brazil banned slavery (this article just took an unexpected turn, right?), in the late 19th century, funnily enough the country found itself in need of cheap labour. This coincided with rapid mechanisation in Japan, which had recently opened up to the world and adopted all-things western (kon’nichiwa, top hats). In an early example of mass economic migration, Brazil (plus Peru and others) welcomed Japanese farmers, put out of business by new technology at home. And, of course, they took their food with them.
Which is where we get so-called nikkei cuisine from. Popular principally across Brazil and Peru, the food is a blend of traditional Japanese and South American flavours and dishes. And it’s increasingly popular in London. Here’s where to get your teeth (fangs if you’re Paddington) into some…
If you’re looking for confirmation that nikkei cuisine is big right now, Chotto Matte is it. In fact, it’s not only big right now, it’s three floors big right now. This vast restaurant, dedicated to Japanese Peruvian food is the nikkei go-to, with its multiple levels including a cocktail lounge, an à la carte restaurant, sushi bar and a Robata grill. The vibrant design, wide array of choice and decent nikkei fodder, make this Soho multi-storey eatery a must for anyone keen to experience this unique cuisine.
A cathedral to nikkei cuisine, welcome to SUSHISAMBA. For some reason SUSHISAMBA is in ALL CAPS, which is why I always SHOUT the name SUSHISAMBA. Weird when you make a reservation, but there it is. But reservations you should make, because this skyscraping aircraft hanger of nikkei is one of London’s must-visit experiences and one where the view takes back seat to what’s on your plate.
I realise that I’ve mentioned it a lot, but Zuaya is Dr Alex (off of Love Island)’s favourite restaurant. I’m not even sure it is, I suspect he gets paid to Instagram from whatever joints his people send him to, and let’s be honest, that’s probably tailing off right now. But the man does have taste. Zuaya, at High Street Ken, is intimate and stylish, and marries South American cuisine with a little Japanese stirred in for good measure.
There’s nothing coy about COYA, basking on the edge of Hyde Park, it’s what the Americans irritatingly describe as ‘upscale’. The interiors are grand, the atmosphere heady and the food combines Latin American flavours with Japanese, and also Chinese, to recreate the spirit of home. And talking of spirit, they brew their own piso, which is something a bit like tequila.
Something of an old hand now, as it enters its seventh year, Lima has proven so successful that it’s given birth to further restaurants, one in Fitzrovia and the other a little further afield, in Dubai. And it’s pretty clear why that is, and not just to a layperson like me; French tyre manufacturer Michelin might well have awarded them one of their Michelin stars…
SUSHISAMBA succeed where, say, Jeff Buckley or Alanis Morissette failed. Not in failing to drown in the Mississippi or grasp the concept of irony, but rather in producing a second album that lives up to the first. Somehow the Brazillian, Japanese, Peruvian restaurant, famously located up a Bishopsgate sky scraper has been recreated in one of London’s most iconic locations, slap-bang in the centre of Covent Garden.
Another spin off, this time from Chotto Matte, who weren’t content with just one hit Peruvian restaurant so opened Mayfair’s Black Roe Bar and Grill. Quite a different vibe, it’s smarter for a start, Black Roe succeeds to bring their Pacific Rim food to an upmarket audience while remaining true to the spirit and quality of Chotto Matte. Check out the Poke bar by the entrance.
WAKA have made the relatively simple commute down the Central Line from White City to the city to open a raw-fish-to-go restaurant. The fast-food nikkei joint on East Cheap brings the fusion food to desks across the financial district. And WAKA itself (I know, more all-caps) is designed to be clean, simple and rather attractive to boot.
Belgravia is officially the poshest bit of London. By comparison Chelsea is Chavsea, it’s where anyone-who’s-anyone in the undisclosed billions world hides out for three weeks a year in their £20m house. So you can bet that a restaurant here is going to be worth its weight in yellow fin tuna. UNI (as in brow, not place of higher education) fits in perfectly, the interior and food are exactly the place that oligarchs and noligarchs alike can dine in luxury.
Mommi sees your Peruvian/Japanese dining ouvre, and raises it by throwing Miami onto the table. PSYCH! Channelling Venice Beach, Miami, Peru and Japan the restaurant certainly delivers a twist on an already thinly stretched concept. Does it need to exist? No. Should it exist? Jury’s out. But are we glad it exists? You bet! This is nikkei cuisine with that American je ne sais quoi, namely carbs.
Fusing South American and Asian cuisine, Chino Latino not only serves excellent nikkei food but it’s also got some of the best views in town, looking out across The Thames toward the Houses of Parliament. Accompanied by live music, diners munch away in the dark and alluring restaurant or enjoy drinks in the cocktail bar at the best reason to stay at Park Plaza London Riverbank.
Where: Park Plaza Riverbank, Albert Embankment, London, SE1 7TJ, United Kingdom
Nearest station: Vauxhall (0.3 miles)