The 4 best Japanese restaurants in London (+1)
One of the things I love most about London is the infinite choice you have about food and restaurants, as shown in my Essential London Food Guide.
Do you wake up one morning fancying Eritrean cuisine? A 5 seconds Google search offers you at least 10 different restaurants you can try. Do you want to eat something from Sri Lanka? Italian? Done and done. There is really something for everybody out there, and most places now offer also vegetarian and vegan options.
Do not believe the “Italian cuisine is good only in Italy” myth. I know us Italians are quite snobby about our food, but as an Italian living in London I can confirm there are places here in the city that offer food as good as my grandma’s ragù. And the same thing applies to all cuisines in the world. You do not have to go to Thailand to eat a good pad thai, you just need to know where to look in the city. But I’m digressing.
With this post I’m starting a serie of articles in which I want to share with you all the best places to taste cuisines from all over the world right here in London.
And I’m starting with… Japanese cuisine!
Sushi, ramen, noodles, tempura, mochi… I’m starving just thinking about it.
Japan has a special place in my heart and always will have. When I moved to Tokyo after uni, I found myself not only in a foreign land, but in an alien land. I needed help and a dictionary to do basic things like use the microwave. Or flush the toilet. I mean, have you ever seen a Japanese toilet? It comes from outer space and brings a heated sit that will make your bum the happiest on earth. However, before your bum reaches nirvana, you have to understand how the whole thing works first, and why there are at least 30 different buttons on the wall, on the toilet seat and everywhere around you.
Nevertheless, I embraced the difficulties and I ended up having the best time of my life. I learned to interact with people who couldn’t understand me, I learned to embrace the fact that yes I was different, a physical difference I could not hide: I had green eyes and yes, everyone was staring at me but my green eyes were beautiful anyway (I also felt like a fish in an aquarium, but I learned to embrace that, too). And another thing I learned, the most important of them all, was to not be scared of the different. Which translates perfectly into my passion for food and life in general.
Let me be honest: the first few weeks in Japan, 90% of the time I had no clue what I was eating. I couldn’t read all the kanjis and to make random choices was a given. And that’s why I stopped questioning and started trying, ending up discovering that I liked even things like the famigerate natto (natto is made out of fermented soybeans, it has a very strong taste and a lot of Japanese people hate that thing with a passion).
As for all types of food and cuisines, London offers millions of options if you want to eat Japanese food.
I have collected my 4 favorite places in the city (+1 bonus, a Japanese bakery for all of you out there with a sweet tooth like mine).
- Address: 16 Old Compton St, Soho, London W1D 4TL. I always go to this one in Soho but they do have different branches scattered here and there.
- Contact: 020 7439 9887
- Favorite dish: Salmon Teryaki Bento. However, anything you order I swear it comes from heaven. The sushi is super good, too. When I go I always take the Salmon avocado rolls as well.
- Tip: You can book a table during the week (Monday-Thursday).
(Salmon Teriyaki Bento)
- Address: 35 Great Queen Street, London, WC2B 5AA.
- Contact: email@example.com
- Favorite dish: Shoryu Ganso Tonkotsu (I mean, if a dish has the name of the place in it you can’t go wrong). I also recommend the Shoryu Buns, they are all good. Special shout out to the Wagyu Shoryu Bun (made with a highly prized beef yakiniku – meat).
- Tip: You can book online. If you know you are going, book in advance so you don’t have to queue.
(Shoryu Ganso Tonkotsu and Hakata Shihou Tonkotsu + Soy marinated chicken karaage bun)
The Japan Centre is not a restaurant per se, but it definitely deserves a spot in the list. It rapresents everything that is Japan here in London. They sell Japanese food (fresh food, too), pottery and everything Japan related. You can find things like a rice set to make your own kawaii (cute) onigiri (rice balls) shaped like smiling pandas, or everything you need to cook your own udon at home. Or if you are lazy, you can grab something freshly made like sushi or bentos or cakes from the bakery, take that home and pretend you are in Japan.
They recently opened a new and bigger Japan Centre in September 2017, and now you have also a basement full of Japanese street food stalls. This is a real thing in Japan. All shopping centers have a food court in the basement, and the Japan Centre created one in the London city center (yes, you can tell they made me really happy).
- Address: 35b Panton St, London SW1Y 4EA.
- Favorite dish: Takoyaki. I’m biased here because they are the one thing I loved eating in Tokyo when I was going out for drinks with my friends. They are ball-shaped snacks cooked in a special pan and filled with octopus. Looking at someone preparing Takoyaki is mesmerizing, how can they flip the balls so fast I really don’t know.
- Tip: Buy the Melon Pan from the supermarket (baked fresh daily). Another one of my favorites. In Japan you can buy Melon Pan for 100yen (not even 1£) from any Konbini and 7Eleven in the city. It’s a sweet bread made with a particular dough covered in crisp cookie dough. AKA heaven.
Yamagoya UK was born as a pop up ramen place in Soho that now has its own new location. Don’t expect a fancy place, it looks like a Japanese fast food. You go up to the till, you pay, they give you a buzzing thing like at Shack Shack that will notify you when the food is ready and you go and collect it yourself. However, I loved it. If you are looking for an informal and cheap eat, this is definitely recommended: the ramen is amazing.
- Address: 49 the Cut, SE1 8LF.
- Contact: 020 7923 2093
- Favorite dish: Yamagoya Ramen.
- Tip: I have tried the famous rain drop cake, the water jelly. I don’t even know where to start describing it. It tastes like nothing, but at the same time it does not, if you really pay attention when it melts in your mouth. It comes with sugar syrup and soybean flour, and when you add that to the mix the experience is definitely… interesting. If you are up for something different go for it and try. If you end up hating it, you wasted only 3£.
+1 Minamoto Kitchoan (Japanese Bakery)
Minamoto Kitchoan is one of my favorite bakeries in London. If i’m feeling down and want a peculiar sweet, that is my to go place. Japanese sweets (especially traditional ones) are not for everyone, I must tell you. I have tons of friends who don’t understand my love for matcha. One time I brought some mochi home as a gift and my dad’s reaction was asking why I wanted to feed him gum. Just saying.
However, if you have never tried traditional Japanese sweets, or if you are like me and you adore them, definitely pay a visit to Minamoto Kitchoan.
- Address: 44 Piccadilly, Mayfair, London W1J 0DS, UK
- Favorite sweet: Shimizu Hakuto Jelly. It’s a white peach and seriously, it’s heaven on earth. When you bite into it, the taste explodes in your mouth and I’m always brought back to my childhood, when I was 5 and eating peaches picked straight from my grandad’s peach tree in the garden. Another sweet I love is Tsuya (a Japanese pancake filled with red beans). Or, if I want something salty I go for senbei (salty rice crackers).
- Tip: They have seasonal sweets, so do go more than once if you want to try something different.
(Shimizu Hakuto Jelly)
What about you? Do you have any favorite Japanese restaurants in London?
Leave me the name in a comment and I’ll definitely try them out.