Art historian Rossella Menegazzo, Professor of East Asian Art History and the co-author of WA: The Essence of Japanese Design joins us on Luxeat to talk about the reason we’re so drawn to the simple, clean and minimalist designs we associate with Japan.
My Top Japanese Spots in London
When it comes to Japanese restaurants in London, the last two decades have been all about big, loud, dimly lit spaces; the complete opposite to the spirit of Japanese cuisine. The trend started with the opening of Nobu on Park Lane in 1997. Suddenly it seems that everybody wanted to replicate its success and follow the same formula of “black cod” or “yellow tail with jalapeño”.
While I understand the economics behind why this type of restaurant works in a capital like London, Japanese cuisine is so much more than what some restaurateurs label it to be.
The good news is that London is slowly changing with more and more dedicated chefs and artisans opening small restaurants and eateries. They make no compromises, and prioritise commitment to their craft above only caring about profit margins.
The list below comprises places for all budgets and for occasions, is organised by specialty and is in random order. The main criteria for my choices are that the chef is in the kitchen, that they use the very best ingredients they can get hold of, that they have a very good knowledge of Japanese techniques and, most of all, that they have the humility of a shokunin (artisan) in its truest sense.
I will be updating this list as well as creating lists for new cities, so please stay tuned for more.
Kazutoshi Endo at Endo at the Rotunda
One of the best sushi masters in Europe at the moment, Kazutoshi Endo runs this Michelin-starred omakase restaurant at the BBC Center in White City. Endo-san follows traditional edo-mae style while using the best European and British ingredients. What is so special about him is the way he keeps evolving and reinventing. Advance booking is essential.
Must try: evening tasting menu.
Shinya Ikeda at Yashin Ocean House
Shinya Ikeda is the chef and co-owner of Yashin Ocean House and Yashin Sushi restaurants, both of which are a modern take on Japanese cuisine. What makes the Yashin Ocean House experience exceptional is booking omakase with Shinya-san at the counter of Yashin Ocean House. His ingredients are top-notch, and his skills can be easily compared to those of the best sushi masters from Japan. If you opt for a regular à la carte meal at Yashin Ocean House, I would recommend going there for lunch rather than dinner.
Omakase by Fukushima-san at Cafe Japan
Cafe Japan might not be a natural choice for someone visiting London, as it’s quite a ride to Golders Green. That said, you will not regret it. It is owned by Japanese ingredient and sake supplier Atari-ya Group, who mainly do wholesale to the best Japanese restaurants. Fukushima-san is the head chef of Cafe Japan, and is probably the most underrated sushi master in Europe. Book the counter when Fukushina-san is there and request an omakase.
A relatively small, sexy and cosy izakaya-style restaurant in Knightsbridge. Chef Masaki Sugisaki uses traditional techniques to create modern, sometimes fusion dishes. Masaki-san pays particular attention to the exquisite quality of ingredients, which he sources from the best suppliers in Britain and Europe.
Chris Restrepo at Kurisu Omakase
Chris Restrepo is a new generation chef who runs a sushi omakase from his mother’s restaurant Ichiban Sushi in Brixton. The young Thai-Colombian chef trained in Tokyo Sushi Academy, and is definitely one to watch in London’s Japanese scene. Advance booking is essential.
Sumi is the second, more casual restaurant by Kazutoshi Endo, and is run by head chef Akinori Yasuda. The menu is quite small, but whatever is on it is spot on. Expect very good quality fish, miso soup like no other, and must- order beef rice served in a piping hot clay pot at your table.
Temaki Handroll Bar
Shaulaan Steenson is another new generation non-Japanese chef with a promising future. Shaulaan trained in Tokyo, does private omakases, and now runs a Temaki Handroll Bar in Brixton. I visited when it had just opened, so maybe it still needs some adjustments, but it’s definitely worth a return.
TRADITIONAL/TASTING MENU/ IZAKAYA
An old-school Japanese institution in Mayfair. Traditional izakaya style fare is cooked behind the counter in front of you. Here you can have anything from sashimi to grilled pork belly with miso and garlic.
Authentic, low key, great quality and good value Japanese restaurant in Ealing, where you’ll find good value lunch menus and a broad selection of specialities from excellent sashimi to various cooked dishes.
The restaurant is run by Ryugin and Umu-alumni Daisuke Shimoyama, who opened his own restaurant 4 years ago. With tasting menus in the evening or a more casual bento box for lunch, Shimoyama san specializes in Wagyu dishes such as excellent Wagyu ramen or Wagyu rice.
A traditional, old school and “just like in Japan” izakaya in Soho. Try to sit at the counter and enjoy an array of authentic Japanese dishes by chef Yuya Kikuchi, who cooks in front of you.
Japanese small plates, sushi and home style cooking run by a husband and wife team. Chef Jun Takagi used to work at famous Japanese restaurant in London before starting his own venture.
Handmade udon noodles and small plates. The udon is as good as it can get in Europe.
Menya Ramen House
A little ramen shop just steps away from the British museum, run by a Korean chef. The ramen broth is clean, pure and very tasty. Ironically, it’s probably the best ramen I’ve had in London over the recent years.
Another recent ramen discovery in London, which I enjoyed. Its founder Ian Wheatley used to live in Osaka and learnt ramen making art in his kitchen when back to London. The handmade noodles served in hearty soup were delicious.
Casual eatery specializing in okonomiyaki – savory pancakes cooked on teppan with various toppings.
Osakan specialities, namely okonomiyaki by Osakan native entrepreneur Moto Priestan. She arrived in London 20 years ago with “no money and only one suitcase” and now runs three authentic restaurants in London that feel just like Japan.
Happy Sky Bakery / Rise Bakery & Bar
Bakery by Japanese baker extraordinaire Motoko McNulty. She specialises in traditional shokupan as well as various other sweet and savory pastries.
Must try: The Tokyo milk loaf.
Japanese sweet and confectionery specialist from Japan. Think of mochi and daifuku, deserts made with sweet Azuki bean paste or savory rice crackers.
Probably the most established Japanese pastry shop, with locations in Covent Garden and Ealing Broadway. The cakes – with favourites including strawberry shortcake or matcha rolls – look as beautiful as they taste.
Artisanal coffee shop from Tokyo.
Hiden – Japanese Curry Lab
Japanese specialty curry shop in Coal Drops Yard – a tiny operation by an Osakan born chef Hideaki Yoshiyama. Can take away or dine-in.
Makes Miso Hungry
Premium Japanese “do it yourself” kits by lawyer turned chef Yoko Nakada. Yoko-san makes Japanese cooking easy and accessible while keeping it authentic.
Sakaya at Pantechinkon
Fine sake and Japanese whiskey shop that often organises sake tasting master classes. Check out their website when is the next one.
Japanese deli owned by chef Yoichi Iguchi, who previously worked at Mayfair’s Nobu. Deli/takeaway/canteen style restaurant offering affordable bento, sushi rolls and onigiri.