Feb 062016
 

Ichiryu brings fast food udon noodles to London’s increasingly diverse Japanese dining scene and it’s about time!

In the last 5 years, ramen has spread its wings and there are now umpteen London restaurants specialising in ramen – including a few small chains – selling delicious bowls of the much-loved Japanese noodle soup.

But udon noodles haven’t enjoyed the same rate of growth; not yet at least. Koya, particularly loved by the fooderati, has been a stalwart of course, but the main restaurant closed it’s doors last year, leaving only Koya Bar still in operation; in any case there was never any expectation of the brand expanding. Den Udon in King’s Cross was open for mere months before it closed its doors again, perhaps a victim of its rather out-of-the-way location. And so the best bet for udon-loving Londoners is usually a general Japanese restaurant that happens to offer one or two udon dishes amongst the sushi, katsu and teriyaki.

Ichiryu Udon Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle -7917

As one of those udon-loving Londoners, I’m hoping that 2016 is the year that udon makes more of a splash!

Ichiryu Udon Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle -7938 Ichiryu Udon Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle -7943

Located on New Oxford Street a few steps away from Tottenham Court Road station, Ichiryu Hakata Udon House, to give it its full name, is another business venture from entrepreneur Tak Tokumine, founder of the long-established and much-loved Japan Centre in 1976, as well as Shoryu Ramen — now a chain with five locations. Tak’s hometown is Hakata, in Fukuoka city, Kyushu which claims to be one of the birthplaces of udon in Japan. Just as Shoryu’s original menu focused on Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen (there are now multiple styles of broth available), Ichiryu also looks to Kyushu for inspiration.

Note that Ichiryu is set up for fast dining, though not as fully self-service as your usual burger or chicken joint.

Guests are seated and given a menu as in most restaurants, but must place and pay for their orders at the till, giving their table number on ordering. Food and drinks are then served to the table by staff, and tables are cleared by them too.

The menu focuses on udon and tempura with a range of sides, a few rice bowls and some sushi and onigiri.

Ichiryu Udon Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle -7918 Ichiryu Udon Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle -7921

The Hakata Bun (£4.50) with its filling of BBQ pork, Cod Tempura or Chicken Tempura inside a pillowy white steamed bun will be familiar to Shoryu customers, and it’s just as delicious here. I love the combo of pork, lettuce, cucumber, Japanese mayo and barbeque sauce.

Tempura is hit and miss for me. The single Tempura Prawn (£2) is decent; the batter light and crisp and the prawn cooked just right. But the mixed vegetable Kakiage (£2) is very unwieldy to eat and very quickly goes soggy as steam gets trapped within the ‘nest’.

Ichiryu Udon Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle -7930 Ichiryu Udon Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle -7931

After these snacks it’s on to the udon. For those of you not yet familiar with these noodles, they are thick and white with a distinctive chewy texture that is enormously satisfying. Ichiryu’s udons are made fresh daily using Japanese wheat flour.

From the Hot Udon list we choose Niku Beef (£11.50) described as sukiyaki beef, spring onion in tsuyu bonito soup.

The broth is light yet with a decent beefy flavour, and the noodles are cooked to retain that lovely chew. My surprise on tasting this is that the generous portion of thinly sliced beef is plain and not marinated in a soy, sugar and mirin mix as I’d expected from the sukiyaki label. That makes the dish a little blander than I’d like, overall. It’s good but doesn’t blow me away; when it comes to soup noodles I’d prefer a bowl of intensely rich tonkotsu ramen.

Ichiryu Udon Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle -7926 Ichiryu Udon Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle -7936

Our choice from the Cold Udon list is something far more special.

Ontama Egg (£8.40) comes with an ontama poached egg, spring onion, ginger and tempura pieces in tsuyu bonito sauce. There’s a dollop of fresh ginger paste too.

This dish shows off the udon noodles far more successfully, and the first mouthful of noodles, slippery from the sauce and studded with a few crunchy bits of tenkasu, transports me immediately to Japan. It’s an immediate visceral reaction that remains with me through subsequent mouthfuls. The cold perfectly poached egg, the soft raw ginger, the fresh spring onions and the crunchy tempura fragments combine with the noodles and sauce in perfect harmony.

This is the dish I will be returning for again and again and again.

Ichiryu Udon Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle -7947 Ichiryu Udon Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle -7950

For dessert, Pete enjoys a Kagua Rouge Craft Beer (£6.30, 330ml, 9% abv), brewed on license in Belgium.

I can’t resist Mochi Ice Cream (£6 for 3 pieces) and am delighted to find that they are Little Moon ice cream mochi, which have admired since they launched a couple of years ago. From front to back, they are matcha, sesame and yuzu flavours.

Ichiryu Udon Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle -7937

With it’s fast food approach, Ichiryu doesn’t take reservations. Opening hours are Mondays to Saturdays 12 – 22:30 and Sundays 12 – 21:30. Last orders 30 minutes before closing.

Do yourself a favour and find time to drop in for a Hakata Bun and a bowl of Ontama Egg Cold Udon. You will not be sorry!

 

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Ichiryu Hakata Udon House.

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Ichiryu Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Once upon a time, the Old Man of the Moon decided to visit the Earth. Disguised as a beggar, he came across three friends who lived together in the forest – Fox (Kitsune), Monkey (Saru) and Rabbit (Usagi) and asked them for something to eat. Monkey leapt up into the trees to gather fruit and nuts; Fox ran to a stream to catch a fish; these they presented to the old man. Rabbit raced around the forest grassland finding nothing but grass and returned forlorn to the teasing of his two friends. Desperate to help their visitor, Rabbit asked him to build a fire. Leaping into the flames, he offered himself to the old man to eat. Quickly the beggar changed back to his true form and pulled Rabbit from the fire, restoring him to life. He thanked each of the forest friends for their generous kindness but to Rabbit he said, “Your selfless sacrifice was the kindest of all. I will take you to the moon with me!” To this day, if you look up at the moon, you can see Rabbit there, pounding mochi in his mortar and pestle.

This is the story of Tsuki no Usagi (Moon Rabbit), told to me recently by a Japanese friend.

The myth originated 2400 years ago in the Indian Buddhist Jātaka tales, stories about the previous lives of Buddha in both human and animal form. One such tale tells the story of a monkey, an otter, a jackal and a rabbit, similarly called upon to find food for a beggar. When the rabbit offered himself in the fire, the beggar revealed himself as a god and drew the likeness of the rabbit on the Moon for all to see.

As is often the case, the details of the story changed as it spread. In China, the rabbit pounds medicinal herbs to make an elixir of life for Chang’e, the Moon Goddess.

Only in Japan is Rabbit thought to pound rice for the creation of delicious mochi (rice cakes).

Short-grain japonica glutinous rice (known in Japan as mochigome) has a higher protein concentration and less amylose in its starch than other types of rice, which results in a soft but firm consistency – it is delightfully chewy, the gummy elasticity a highly prized texture.

Traditional mochi are made by pounding soaked and steamed mochigome into a smooth paste. The paste is formed into a variety of shapes, often with a filling of sweet azuki bean paste. In other variations, flavourings are mixed into the paste itself, and these days there are many different fillings to choose from. Mochi is enjoyed in many dishes, savoury and sweet; one of my personal favourites is mitarashi dango – solid balls of mochi served on a stick with a sweet-savoury soy sauce glaze.

Another popular sweet is mochi ice cream – a ball of smooth, delicious ice cream wrapped in a thin layer of chewy mochi. These are a relatively recent phenomenon, appearing for the first time in the early eighties but they have quickly gained popularity across Japan.

Little Moons Tsuki Mochi on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7671 Little Moons Tsuki Mochi on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7684

I first encountered Little Moons mochi ice creams two years ago, at a pop up dinner by United Ramen. Asking afterwards about the utterly gorgeous ice cream mochi dessert, I learned they were made by Little Moons, a fledgling company launched by entrepreneur siblings Howard and Vivien Wong. Several months later, I came across them again when I visited Kanada-ya ramenya just after they opened. Today, Little Moons are served by several Japanese restaurants across London including Bone Daddies, Tonkotsu and Shoryu Ramen. Ramenandmochitastic!

Howard and Vivien worked with Nobu’s head patisserie chef, Regis Cursan to develop their range, and have updated the new Japanese classic by using artisan gelato fillings in six flavours – currently Vanilla, Toasted Sesame, Coconut, Matcha Green Tea, Mango and Raspberry. Little Moons mochi are hand-rolled in London to the traditional Japanese method, and the range is free from artificial flavourings, colours or preservatives. The mochi are also gluten free and less than 100 calories per ball.

The Wongs have also created a second brand, Tsuki Mochi under which they sell mochi truffles. The Dark Chocolate ones are filled with Belgian chocolate ganache and dusted with cocoa. Tsuki Mochi also make a Yuzu Lemon Cheesecake edition which I must, as a yuzu addict, try soon!

Little Moons Tsuki Mochi on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7674 Little Moons Tsuki Mochi on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7681
Little Moons Tsuki Mochi on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7676 Little Moons Tsuki Mochi on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7683

Last weekend I hosted a lovely afternoon tea featuring all six Little Moons mochi ice creams and the Tsuki Mochi dark chocolate ganache mochi. We enjoyed these with some delicious Adagio Teas served in an absolutely beautiful Japanese teaware set with an elegant metallic grey finish.

The mochi ice cream were as good as I remembered (though I do miss the wonderful pineapple flavour I first fell in love with at the ramen pop up dinner). My favourites were the mango and the matcha, though I loved them all. Pete’s favourite was the toasted sesame – he also loved the flavour of the raspberry gelato but wasn’t sure it worked so well in a mochi wrapping. Our guests both favoured the rich vanilla, flecked with vanilla seeds, with the coconut and mango also winning high praise.

All four of us adored the mochi truffles – these had a superbly rich, dark chocolate flavour and a light mousse-like texture within.

On the tea front, we started with Adagio’s kukicha, a blend of green tea leaves and stems. The tea had a powerful aroma as it brewed, but was light and refreshing to drink. Later we switched to genmai cha, the nutty flavours of toasted popped rice were particularly satisfying on a cold November day.

Of course, mochi are far more than a sweet treat to enjoy with afternoon tea – they make superb desserts after a meal, particularly the mochi ice cream which are stored in the freezer and need just a few minutes to soften before serving. Although small, they are surprisingly filling and just one or two balls would be perfect after a meal.

Little Moons come in a box of six and are currently stocked by Whole Foods (£5.99) and Partridges (£6.95). Tsuki Mochi truffles come in a box of four and are available from Selfridges (£4.50).

Kavey Eats received product samples from Little Moons / Tsuki Mochi plus a Japanese teaware set and Adagio teas, to host a Japanese afternoon tea.

 

Luiz Hara aka The London Foodie was one of the first fellow bloggers I met shortly after launching Kavey Eats in spring 2009. I can no longer remember how we met but I do know that we built a friendship on that most important of bases – food!

Born in Brazil to Brazilian-Japanese parents, Luiz moved to London at the age of 19, fully intending to return to Brazil once his studies were completed. But fate intervened, he met his partner and settled down in the UK instead. His family background gives him an amazing range of cuisines to draw from in his cooking. I went to some of his earliest Japanese supperclubs which were a delight, and also loved his Cooking Club, during which each guest took a turn to cook a dish to the evening’s theme, creating a multi-course extravaganza.

I remember when Luiz decided to leave behind the world of finance and dedicate himself wholeheartedly to food, kicking off with a diploma course at the Cordon Bleu cooking school and including a stint learning more about traditional Japanese cooking in Tokyo.

His supperclub has continued apace to become one of London’s best; places are highly sought after and sell out within moments of going on sale. Although the food is predominantly home-style Japanese, Luiz regularly adds touches of South American influence, not to mention techniques from classic French cuisine, providing a feast of dishes you would be hard-pushed to find anywhere else in London.

NIKKEI_JACKET

The good news is that his first cookbook, Nikkei Cuisine: Japanese Food the South American Way, shares many of the recipes he has developed and perfected over the last few years.

In Luiz’ own words:

At its simplest, Nikkei cuisine is the cooking of the Japanese diaspora. When my family and millions of other Japanese people migrated to South America at the start of the 20th century, they recreated their native cuisine using local ingredients. This style of Japanese cooking is known today as Nikkei Cuisine. For historical reasons, Nikkei cuisine is mostly associated with Peru and Brazil (where I was born).

The book is his personal collection of over 100 recipes and includes family favourites and contributions from Japanese and Nikkei chefs he met during research trips, as well as the many recipes Luiz has developed himself.

Recipes are divided into chapters for Small Eats; Sushi, Tiraditos & Ceviches (a chapter which really brings home the parallels between the South American and Japanese approach to raw fish); Rice & Noodles; Soups & Hotpots; Mains; Vegetables, Salads and Tofu and Desserts. There is also a chapter on mastering the basics of Sauces, Marinades & Condiments.

Photographs are colourful and appealing, with handy step-by-step illustrations for trickier techniques such as Japanese rolled omelette and Maki (sushi) rolls.

The good news is that I have two copies of Nikkei to give away. Scroll down for the chance to win this beautiful book.

In the meantime, enjoy Luiz’ delicious recipe for Nikkei Sea Bream with Yuzu & Green Jalapeño Rice.

Seabream 1

Nikkei Sea Bream with Yuzu & Green Jalapeño Rice

Tai gohan (sea-bream rice) is a classic of Japanese home cooking and is a dish I have always loved. It can be made in a rice cooker or in a clay pot or elegant pan to be served at the table for added wow. The fish is cooked over the rice, imparting a delicious flavour to the dish. Here I give my Nikkei interpretation, by adding a dressing of olive oil, yuzu juice and jalapeño green chillies, mixed into the rice just before serving. It’s like traditional Japan embracing the spice of South America.

Cooked in a Clay Pot

Serves 8–10

Ingredients
600g (1lb 5oz/2 ¾ cups) short-grain white rice
550ml (19fl oz/2 ½ cups) dashi (Japanese fish and seaweed stock) or water
100ml (3.fl oz/ ½ cup) mirin
100ml (3.fl oz/ ½ cup) light soy sauce
2.5cm (1in) piece of root ginger, peeled and cut into fine julienne strips
4 sea bream fillets, scaled and pin-boned
a sprinkle of sansho pepper
For the yuzu & green jalapeño dressing
1 green jalapeño chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
4 tbsp finely chopped spring onions (scallions)
4 tbsp yuzu juice
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Method

  • Wash the rice in a bowl with plenty of fresh water using a circular motion with your hand.
  • Drain the water and repeat this rinsing three or four times until the water runs clear. Let the rice drain in a colander for at least 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, prepare the soaking and cooking broth. Combine the dashi or water, mirin and light soy sauce and set aside. Soak the drained rice in the cooking broth in a clay pot or a rice cooker (see below) for 30 minutes.
  • Rice cooker method: After the soaking and before cooking, scatter half of the ginger strips over the rice, lay the sea bream fillets on top and turn the rice cooker on. It should take about 15–20 minutes to cook. Once the rice cooker’s alarm beeps indicating that the rice is cooked, let the rice rest for at least 15 minutes before opening the rice cooker.
  • Clay pot method: Tightly wrap a tea-towel (dish towel) over the lid of a Japanese clay pot (known as donabe) or if you do not have one you can use a heavy casserole pan (Dutch oven). After the soaking and before cooking, scatter half of the ginger strips over the rice, lay the sea bream fillets on the top (I like to arrange the fillets to look like an open flower), place the lid on top and bring to the boil. Once boiling, bring the temperature down to the lowest setting and cook for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, and without opening the lid (don’t open the lid at any stage of the cooking process), rest for a further 15 minutes.
  • Up to this stage, this rice is a traditional Japanese tai gohan or Japanese sea bream rice and can be served as it is – it will taste delicious. But for added va-va-voom, I like serving this with a yuzu and green jalapeño dressing, which I pour over the fish and rice just before serving. To make the dressing just put all the ingredients in a bowl and mix together well.
  • Take the unopened clay pot to the table, open it in front of your guests and, if desired, carefully remove the skin of the fish. Pour the dressing over the fish and rice then using a wide wooden spoon, fluff the rice well, breaking the fish into tiny pieces and mixing it together with the dressing into the rice. Mix thoroughly. If you are using a rice cooker, follow all the above steps but do not take the rice cooker to the table! Make all the necessary preparations and serve the rice in individual bowls at the table.
  • To serve, place the rice in individual rice bowls, top with the remaining julienned ginger in the centre of each bowl followed by a sprinkle of sansho pepper and serve immediately.

Seabream 2

Recipe and images extracted from Nikkei Cuisine: Japanese Food the South American Way by Luiz Hara. Photography by Lisa Linder. Published by Jacqui Small (£25).

GIVEAWAY

Jacqui Small are offering a copy of Nikkei Cuisine: Japanese Food the South American Way by Luiz Hara to two lucky readers of Kavey Eats! The prize includes free delivery within the UK.

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the giveaway in 2 ways – entering both ways increases your chances of winning:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment telling me about your favourite Japanese or South American dish.

Entry 2 – Twitter
Follow @Kavey on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter! Then tweet the exact sentence (shown in italics) below.
I’d love to win a copy of Nikkei Cuisine: Japanese Food the South American Way from Kavey Eats! http://bit.ly/KaveyEatsNikkei #KaveyEatsNikkei
(Do not add my twitter handle or any other twitter handle at the beginning of the tweet or your entry will be considered invalid.
Please don’t leave a blog comment about your tweet either; I track twitter entries using the competition hash tag.)

Rules, Terms & Conditions

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 4th December 2015.
  • The winner will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • Each (of two) prizes is a copy of Nikkei Cuisine: Japanese Food the South American Way by Luiz Hara, published by Jacqui Small. The prize includes delivery within in the UK. We cannot guarantee a pre-Christmas delivery date.
  • The prize cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prize is offered and provided by Jacqui Small.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. You may enter both ways but you do not have to do so for each individual entry to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey at the time of notification. Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contact.
  • The winners will be notified by email or Twitter so please make sure you check your accounts for the notification message.
  • If no response is received from a winner within 10 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

Kavey Eats received a review copy from Jacqui Small . Nikkei Cuisine is currently available from Amazon UK for £19.99 (RRP £25) (at time of posting).

 

I’ve been visiting Shoryu for their tonkotsu ramen since the first branch opened in Regent Street in November 2012. It was diagonally opposite Japan Centre, though that’s now moved a couple of hundred yards to the South West end of Shaftesbury Avenue. There are now additional branches of Shoryu in Denman Street (a few steps from the current Japan Centre site), Kingly Court off Carnaby Street and Broadgate Circle just behind Liverpool Street station or a short walk from Moorgate. There’s also Shoryu Go, a delivery and takeaway only branch, and even a Wagon from which Shoryu sell their wares at street food market locations and festivals.

I mention Japan Centre because Shoryu, like Japan Centre, was founded by Tak Tokumine and the brands are both operated as a family-run business. Like Japan Centre, Shoryu has a strong focus on presenting real Japanese food to its customers, and certainly based on my two visits to Japan, it does a great job.

Of course, there are other purveyors of ramen in London these days – indeed it’s a niche that’s exploded in the last few years. I am also a big fan of Kanada-Ya – their ramen is fantastic but they fall down on lack of sides – onigiri is not, to my mind, a side I associate or want to eat with ramen; and these days there’s often a queue to get in. Tonkotsu are good too – it took me a long time to finally visit a branch and I enjoyed their menu when I did. There are many others too, some of which I like far less than others seem to, some of which I have never visited because I’m not a fan of queuing or waiting in a bar before I’m seated for my meal and some which have a very different slant on ramen which is cool but not for me. Shoryu is the one I keep going back to – the Dracula version of their tonktusu is a garlicky porky delight and their sides are always excellent.

Recently, I heard about the extended robata menu – food cooked over a charcoal grill – in Shoryu’s newest Liverpool Street branch, and was keen to try. Pete and I headed down after work one evening, determined to allow no ramen to pass our lips – tonight’s visit was all about the robata, with a few additional dishes for balance.

193720-Shoryu Liverpool Street Restaurant Review - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle

Our visit was on a warm Monday evening in August and revealed the one big downside of the location; Shoryu sits at the lower level of Broadgate Circle – a two story development housing a slew of food and drink venues – and on a warm summer’s evening the outdoor courtyard area is rammed with office workers grabbing a drink and, more crucially, a cigarette; with the glass frontage of the restaurant completely open to the courtyard, anyone sat on a table near the front of the restaurant had better not be bothered by the stink of wafting cigarette smoke, not to mention the surprisingly loud volume of all that collected chatter!

Luckily for us we had a table at the back – tables extend in a ‘U’ shape around a central kitchen area that houses the robata grill at the front, the ramen station to one side and the rest of the kitchen on the other side and towards the back. I quite like the open kitchen approach and staff seem pretty good at keeping an eye on all the customer tables.

9388-Shoryu Liverpool Street Restaurant Review - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle

First to arrive was not from the robata but an old favourite that’s also available at the other branches; Black Sesame Tofu (£6.50) with sweet miso sauce and tenderstem broccoli. Someone ranted about this dish on twitter recently and I wanted to check whether it was as delicious as I remembered – it was. Both of us loved this dish of sesame-flavoured wobby tofu in a sweet miso dressing; still a firm favourite.

You can also see my cup of Nigori Sake Cloudy Sake. A 120 ml serving is £4.80 and comes in a gorgeous wabi-sabi jug. I am a huge fan of nigori sake; if you’d like to learn more about what sake is, how it’s made and the different types available, read my recent Beginner’s Guide to Sake post.

9399-Shoryu Liverpool Street Restaurant Review - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle

Very reminiscent of those often offered in Japan, the Yakitori Beer Set (£12.50 / £11) offers a discounted price for a skewer each of Yotsumi Chicken Thigh (usually £3.00), Negima Chicken Thigh (usually £3.00), the Kurobuta (usually £3.50) and either a pint or half pint of Kirin Nama draft (£5.20 / £3.10). Bought separately, these would come to £14.70 / £12.60.

The Yotsumi Chicken Thigh with teriyaki glaze was superbly grilled; the meat tender and moist and yet the surface had that pleasant texture and flavour from a touch of charring.

Likewise, the Negima Chicken Thigh with spring onion was expertly cooked and delicious.

My favourite, which I adored so much I order another skewer later, was the Kurobuta berkshire black pork belly, a skewer of succulent pork meat with generous layers of fat, grilled until the fat was melty inside and gorgeously browned on the outside.

Pete’s beer, by the way, was offered regular or frozen; the latter came cold in a chilled glass with a super cold head of foam.

9397-Shoryu Liverpool Street Restaurant Review - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle

We’ve had some amazing wagyu in Japan. On our first visit, we went to a restaurant in Takayama specialising in Hida beef, and even the non-premium grade blew me away. Since then I’ve had the good fortune of enjoying more wagyu not only in Japan but here in the UK, where I tried some superb imported New Zealand wagyu.

The Shoryu wagyu skewers are pricy but that’s to be expected since wagyu is not a cheap ingredient; we gave the Wagyu Beef (2 pcs £11.00) a try.

The meat was glazed with teriyaki, though only lightly – the flavour of the beef came through clearly. And the flavour was certainly excellent, really distinct and delicious. The problem was that the texture didn’t resemble at all the highly marbled melt-in-the-mouth wagyu we’d experienced before, indeed this beef was chewy – moist, juicy, excellent flavour, but chewy rather than melt-in-the-mouth. I’m not sure that £5.50 per skewer of this is justified.

9392-Shoryu Liverpool Street Restaurant Review - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle

Served joined by their crisp bottoms (formed by the starch and liquid in the pan creating a lacy pancake of sorts), the Hakata Tetsunabe Gyoza (3 pcs £4.00) were light and tasty, served immediately when ready in a hot cast iron pan. Whenever Pete and I ordered ramen in Japan, we could never resist a side of gyoza to go with.

9393-Shoryu Liverpool Street Restaurant Review - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle

Kushikatsu (2 pcs £7.00) – generous pieces of belly pork coated in panko breadcrumbs and deep fried – were served with katsu sauce drizzled over; also known as tonkatsu sauce, this is based on British brown sauce. Again, the pork was perfectly cooked, tender and juicy and full of flavour.

9419-Shoryu Liverpool Street Restaurant Review - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle

The Ginger Salmon Tatsutaage (£6.50) was not only a great dish but a great bargain too given the generous portion for the price. Oily salmon flesh works well with the zing of ginger, and is not at all dried out by the frying. Served with shichimi tōgarashi (a Japanese spice mixture) and mayonnaise, this is a classic dish and if it’s made traditionally (I didn’t ask), tatsutaage uses potato starch rather than wheat flour, so may be a good choice for those on a gluten-free diet.

9410-Shoryu Liverpool Street Restaurant Review - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-3 9413-Shoryu Liverpool Street Restaurant Review - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle

When asked if I like brussel sprouts (one of those universal Christmas-season questions), I usually say no but after trying Shoryu’s Brussel Sprout Tempura (£6.00) I will have to change my response. Baby sprouts were cooked to perfection inside a marvellously light and crisp tempura batter with a heady aroma and flavour of truffle oil, heightened by judicious use of the black pepper dipping salt. These really were a revelation and one of the star dishes of the meal.

In the foreground is a dish of Goma Kyuri Cucumber (£4.50). I am sure I’m not alone in occasionally fighting the urge to dismiss a dish because it’s so darn simple, and made with such inexpensive ingredients to boot, that it surely doesn’t merit my paying good money for it. But having tasted this simple dish of sliced cucumber, sesame oil and a generous topping of shichimi tōgarashi on a previous occasion, I knew it would be a refreshing balance to all the rich meat and fish dishes we ordered. Simple, sure, but a lovely balance of textures and taste.

9406-Shoryu Liverpool Street Restaurant Review - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle

My second order of Kurobuta (£3.50) was also a delight. The flavour of this pork was just phenomenal, and the cooking of flesh and fat perfect.

9425-Shoryu Liverpool Street Restaurant Review - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle 9426-Shoryu Liverpool Street Restaurant Review - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle

The Yuzu Rolled Cake (£6.00) was decent though surprisingly bland – the Japanese are so skilled at creating patisserie with elegance and flavour that I found this example a little disappointing.

But the amazing Sorbet (2 scoops £6.00) made up for it! The scoop of yuzu packed a huge flavour punch (everything the rolled cake lacked) and was refreshing, balanced and delicious. But the winner was the plum wine sorbet which not only had an incredible flavour but a strange tacky, almost chewy texture about it that I found utterly compelling.

I finished with a small pot of Gyokuro Green Tea (£3.50), a lovely shade-grown green tea with wonderfully rich umami flavours.

The menu at Shoryu has certainly grown since the launch of the first branch, and it now offers far more than a traditional ramen-ya alone – more akin to a ramen-ya-cum-izakaya (a casual Japanese pub or snack bar). Of course, the ramen is super and hard to resist, but I would urge you to give some of the other items on the menu a try, and do visit the Liverpool Street branch for the robata grill items.

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Shoryu Ramen.
Shoryu Ramen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Square Meal

 

One of my food and drink goals in recent years (and certainly for the next few too) is to learn more about sake. Not just how it’s made (which I understand pretty well now) and the different categories of sake (which I finally have downpat) but – most importantly of all – working out what I like best in the hope of reliably being able to buy sake that I love.

Here, I share what I’ve learned over the last few years plus some of my favourites at this year’s HyperJapan Sake Experience.

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Images from shutterstock.com

What is Sake?

Sake is a Japanese alcohol made from rice.

Although it is referred to in English as rice wine, it is often pointed out that the process is more akin to brewing beer, where one converts the starch to sugar and the resulting sugar to alcohol. In wine making, it is a simpler process of converting the sugars that are already present in the fruit. Of course, it’s not entirely like beer making either as the sake production process is quite distinct.

Wine is typically around 10-15% ABV. Beer is usually lower, with most beers coming in between 3-8%, though there’s been a trend towards ever stronger beers lately. Sake is brewed to around 18-20%, but often diluted to around 15% for bottling.

Until a few years ago I’d only ever encountered cheap sake served warm and was not a huge fan. However, since trying higher quality sakes served chilled, I’m an absolute convert.

In terms of typical flavours, my vocabulary is woefully lacking, but for me the core flavour is a subtly floral one – perhaps this is intrinsic to the rice and rice mould? The balance of sweetness and acidity varies though classic sake is not super sweet. Sometimes it is fruity and sometimes it has a more umami (savoury) taste. I am often able to detect clear differences on the palate but unable to define these in words – clearly I need to drink more sake!

 

How is Sake made?

Sake is made from rice, but usually from varieties with a larger, stronger grain with lower levels of protein than the rice varieties that are typically eaten.

The starch sits within the centre of the rice grain, surrounded by a layer of bran, so rice is usually polished to remove the outer layer before being made into sake. The more the rice is polished, the higher the percentage of starchy centre remains, but of course this is more expensive as it needs far more rice to produce the same volume of alcohol.

After polishing and being set aside to rest, the rice is washed, soaked and steamed. kōji rice mould (Aspergillus oryzae) is sprinkled over the rice which is left to ferment for several days. This mould helps to develop the amylase enzyme necessary to convert starch to sugar. Next, water and yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) are added and the mixture allowed to incubate. Water and yeast are added multiple times during the process. The resulting mash then ferments at 15-20 °C for a few weeks.

After fermentation, the mixture is filtered to extract the liquid, and the solids are often pressed to extract a fuller range of flavours.

In cheaper sakes, varying amounts of brewer’s alcohol are added to increase the volume.

Sake is usually filtered again and then pasteurised before resting and maturing, then dilution with water before being bottled.

These days you can also find unpasteurised sake and sake in which the finer lees (sediment) are left in. I’ve even had some very thick and cloudy sakes where more of the solids have been pureed and mixed in to the final drink.

 

What are the different categories of Sake?

Because the most desirable bit of the rice is the core of the grain, the amount of polishing is highly relevant. Labels must indicate the seimai-buai (remaining percentage) of the original grain.

Daiginjo means that at least 50% of the original rice grain must be polished away (so that 50% or less remains) and that the ginjo-tsukuri method – fermenting at cooler temperatures – has been used. There are additional regulations on which varieties of rice and types of yeast may be used and other production method restrictions.

Ginjo is pretty much the same but stipulates that only 40% of the original rice is removed by polishing (so that up to 60% remains).

Pure sake – that is sake made only from rice, rice mould and water – is labelled as Junmai. If it doesn’t state junmai on the label, it is likely that additional alcohol has been added.

So Junmai daiginjo is the highest grade in terms of percentage of rice polished and being pure sake with no brewer’s alcohol added.

Coming down the scale a little quality wise, Tokubetsu means that the sake is still classed as ‘special quality’. Tokebetsu junmai means it’s pure rice, rice mould and water whereas Tokebetsu honjozu means the sake has had alcohol added, but is still considered a decent quality. In both cases, up to 60% of the original rice grain may remain after milling.

Honjozo on its own means that the sake is still rated above ordinary sake – ordinary sake can be considered the equivalent of ‘table wine’ in France.

Other terms that are useful to know:

Namazake is unpasteurised sake.

Genshu is undiluted sake; I have not come across this yet.

Muroka has been pressed and separated from the lees as usual but has not been carbon filtered. It is clear in appearance.

Nigorizake is cloudy rather than clear – the sake is passed only through a loose mesh to separate the liquid from the mash and is not filtered. There is usually a lot of sediment remaining and it is normal to shake the bottle to mix it back into the liquid before serving.

Taruzake is aged in wooden barrels or casks made from sugi, sometimes called Japanese cedar. The wood imparts quite a strong flavour so premium sake is not commonly used for taruzake.

Kuroshu is made from completely unpolished brown rice grains. I’ve not tried it but apparently it’s more like Chinese rice wine than Japanese sake.

I wrote about Amazake in this post, after we enjoyed trying some in Kyoto during our first visit to Japan. Amazake can be low- or no-alcohol depending on the recipe. It is often made by adding rice mould to whole cooked rice, allowing the mould to break down the rice starch into sugars and mixing with water. Another method is to mix the sake solids left over from sake production with water – additional sugar can be added to enhance the sweetness. Amazake is served hot or cold; the hot version with a little grated ginger to mix in to taste.

 

HyperJapan’s Sake Experience

Last month I tasted a great range of sake products in the space of an hour’s focused drinking as I made my way around Sake Experience in which 11 Japanese sake breweries shared 30 classic sakes and other sake products.

Once again, this was my personal highlight of HyperJapan show.

For an extra £15 on top of the show entrance ticket, one can visit stalls of 11 Japanese sake breweries, each of whom will offer tastings of 2 or 3 of their product range. You can learn about the background of their brewery, listen to them tell you about the characteristics of their product and of course, make up your own mind about each one.

One reason I love this is because tasting a wide range of sakes side by side really helps me notice the enormous differences between them and get a better understanding of what I like best.

A large leaflet is provided as you enter, which lists every sake being offered by the breweries. A shop at the exit (also open to those not doing the Sake Experience) allows you to purchase favourites, though not every single sake in the Sake Experience is available for sale.

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Kavey’s Sake Experience 2015 Picks

My Favourite Regular Sakes

Umenoyado’s Junmai Daiginjo is made using yamadanishiki rice and bottled at 16% ABV. The natural sweetness is much to my taste and the flavour is wonderfully rich with fruity overtones, and a spicy sharp piquancy that provides balance.

Ichiniokura’s Junmai Daiginjo Kuranohana is made with kuranohana rice and bottled at 15-16% ABV. This one is super fruity; the brewery team explained that they use a different yeast whch creates a different kind of flavour. There is less acidity than usual, which emphasises the sweetness.

Nihonsakari’s Junmai Ginjo Cho-Tokusen Souhana is made with yamadanishiki rice and bottled at 15-16% ABV. To me, this Junmai Ginjo represents the absolutely classic style of sake; it has a hint of dairy to the aroma and a typical sake flavour, subtly floral and very crisp.

My Favourite Barrel-Aged Sake

Sho Chiku Bai Shirakabegura’s Taruzake is barrel-aged and bottled at 15% ABV. The wood flavour comes through clearly, though it’s not overpowering – this is a clean, dry style of sake with a hint of greenery. Although it’s not hugely complex, it’s well worth a try.

My Favourite Sparkling Sakes

Ichinokura’s Premium Sparkling Sake Suzune Wabi is made with Toyonishiki and Shunyo rice varieties and bottled at 5% ABV. Unlike some sparkling sakes on the market that are carbonated artificially, the gas is 100% natural, produced during a second fermentation. This sake is sweet but not super sweet, with a fruity aroma balanced by gentle acidity. If I understood them correctly, the brewery team claimed that they were the first to develop sparkling sake, 8 years ago. Certainly, it’s a very recent development but one that’s become hugely popular, a way for breweries to reconnect with younger markets who had been turning away from sake as their drink of choice.

Shirataki Shuzo’s Jozen Mizuno Gotoshi Sparkling Sake is made with Gohyakumangoku rice and bottled at 11-12% ABV. Although most sparkling sakes are sweet, this one breaks the kōji (mould, kōji, get it?) as it’s a much dryer style, though not brut by any means. I can see this working very well with food.

For the sweeter sparkling sakes (which are usually marketed almost exclusively to women by the breweries), Sho Chiku Bai Shirakabegura’s Mio and Ozeki’s Jana Awaka are
sweet, tasty and affordable.

My Favourite Yuzu Sake

Some of the yuzu sakes I tried were perfectly tasty but very one dimensional, just a blast of yuzu and nothing else. One was a yuzu honey concoction and the honey totally overwhelmed the citrus.

Nihonsakari’s Yuzu Liqueur is bottled at 8-9%. The yuzu flavour is exceptional, yet beautifully rounded and in harmony with the sake itself. It’s not as viscous as some of the yuzu liqueurs certainly but has some creaminess to the texture. Be warned, this is one for the sweet-toothed!

My Favourite Umeshus

Learn more here about umeshu, a fruit liqueur made from Japanese stone fruits. Umeshu can be made from sake or shochu, but those at the Sake Experience were, of course, sake-based.

Urakasumi’s Umeshu is bottled at 12% ABV. Made with fruit and sake only, no added sugar, it’s a far lighter texture than many umeshu and has an absolutely beautiful flavour, well balanced between the sweetness and sharpness of the ume fruit. Because it’s so light, I think this would work well with food, whereas traditional thicker umeshu is better enjoyed on its own.

Umenoyado’s Aragoshi Umeshu is bottled at 12% ABV. A complete contrast from the previous one, this umeshu is super thick, in large part because the ume fruit, after steeping in sake and sugar, are grated and blended and mixed back in to the liqueur. The flavour is terrific and I couldn’t resist buying a bottle of this one to bring home.

My Favourite Surprise Sake

Ozeki’s Sparkling Jelly Sake Peach comes in a can and is 5% ABV. The lightly carbonated fruity liqueur has had jelly added, and the staff recommended chilling for a few hours, shaking really hard before opening and pouring the jellied drink out to serve. The flavour is lovely and I’d serve this as a grown up but fun dessert, especially as it’s not very expensive at £3 a can. I bought a few of these home with me!

 

HyperJapan in Images

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Kavey Eats attended the event as a guest of HyperJapan.

 

I ought to write more about local restaurants, since we visit our favourites far more often than any in central London… and certainly more often than those in “upped and comed” areas of East London that are hip and happening but a pain in the arse to get to!

Sushimania is the latest new face in North Finchley; the fifth in a chain that also has outlets in Edgware, Golders Green, Brighton and Reading.

We’ve visited three weekends in a row.

We are very taken by the excellent cooking and half-price lunch deal, but consistently disappointed by lacklustre service.

Luckily, there’s not a huge amount of interaction required as an order slip and pen are provided and each item in the menu has a number to write into the boxes provided. I’ve only once resorted to taking my slip to the counter (table service is provided, if you can attract a member of staff). On subsequent visits we’ve taken to sitting right by the counter so that we can attract attention more readily. Staff do bring the dishes out in timely, if sometimes utterly disinterested, fashion. Occasionally they will stand in confusion holding a freshly cooked dish, unable to work out that clearing empty dishes first will allow them the space to serve new ones.

The half price menu applies to virtually the entire a la carte list  with the exception only of the sushi set platters; this brings the prices down to a pretty reasonable level –that said, I’d never visit in the evening as the full prices are steep. If you go, go for lunch!

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horenso no goma-ae and nasu dengaku

Appetisers is probably my favourite section of the menu. It includes Agedashi Tofu (£4.20 → £2.10), Horenso No Goma-Ae (spinach with roasted sesame dressing, £3.00 → £1.50), Chicken Gyoza (£4.60 → £2.30), Nasu Dengaku (aubergine with miso glaze, £5.00 → £2.50) and Tori Karaage (fried chicken, £4.20 → £2.10).

All of these have been consistently excellent every time we’ve visited.

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tuna tataki

Oddly, the next short and sweet section is called Starters. We certainly enjoyed the Tuna Tataki (£8.80 → £4.40), though I think it’s a little pricy compared to other dishes.

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tempura moriawase

Thus far we’ve skipped straight past the Salads section and on to Tempura. Both the Tempura Moriawase (2 king prawns, 2 fish and 4 vegetables, £8.80 → £4.40) and the Yasai Tempura (7 pieces of vegetables, £5.80 → £2.90) have been excellent – the batter is very light and crisp and the seafood and vegetables always perfectly cooked within.

Kushiyaki is another tasty selection with Yakitori (£3.60 → £1.80) and Gyu (£4.60 → £2.30) both basted in a tasty marinade.

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tempura phoenix roll futomaki

Sushi is divided into Nigiri (oblongs of rice with topping laid over) and Gunkan (battleship shaped nori wrapped sushi, often used for roe toppings), Hosomaki (small rolls with nori on the outside), Uramaki (medium sized rolls, usually with two or more fillings), Futomaki (larger rolls, usually with nori on the outside), Temaki and Sashimi.

We’ve ordered from all of these sections… so far we’ve tried Salmon Nigiri (2 pc, £3.20 → £1.60), Seabass Nigiri (2 pc, £3.80 → £1.90), Squid Nigiri Mackerel Nigiri (2 pc, £3.20 → £1.60), Egg Omelette Nigiri (2 pc, £3.00 → £1.50), Salmon Roe Gunkan (2 pc, £3.80 → £1.90), Spicy Tuna & Cucumber Uramaki (6 pc, £ 4.20 → £2.20), Crispy Duck & Cucumber Uramaki (6 pc, £ 4.00 → £2.00), Tempura Phoenix Roll Futomaki (salmon, tuna and cucumber futomaki that’s deep fried in tempura batter, 4 pc, £7.20 → £3.60), Spicy Tuna & Cucumber Temaki (1 pc, £4.00→ £2.00) and Salmon Sashimi (3 pc, £3.60 → £1.80)!

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various sushi, agedashi tofu, chicken gyoza, tori karaage, chicken teriyaki and garlic fried rice

We’ve not ordered a great deal from sections beyond. From Side Orders we liked the Garlic Fried Rice (£3.20 → £1.60) – this is also where you’ll find miso soup, stir-fried vegetables and mixed pickles.

From A La Carte we have tried only Chicken Teriyaki (£9.80 → £4.90) – great flavour and served with a lovely vegetable stir-fry but the chicken breast was a little dry for my liking.

Future visits beckon – I’m keen to try Sweet Black Cod (£14.80 → £7.40), Tonkatsu pork (£7.80 → £3.90), various soba and udon noodle dishes and ramen and rice bowls.

Perhaps service will improve. I certainly hope so as it’s the only black mark against an otherwise deliciously strong offering and a welcome addition to the area.

Sushimania on Urbanspoon

 

In the last few years I’ve discovered that I have a taste for sake. I’ve learned the basics about how it’s made and the different types available, but haven’t sampled enough to get a handle on my preferences. There’s a very distinctive taste that most sakes have in common, despite their many differences and it’s a taste I like very much. But having one or two sakes in isolation once every few months serves only to let me choose my favourite between the two – such tastings are too few and far between for me to build up a coherent library of taste memories in my head, and thereby gain more confidence on choosing well in the future. One of the outstanding items on my Food & Drink To Do list is to immerse myself more fully in the world of sake and work out which styles, regions and even producers I love the most.

The Chisou restaurant group have been running a Sake Club for about a year now, a regular evening of tutored tastings with matched Japanese snacks provided. I’ve been meaning to attend since they launched, but have singularly failed.

What finally spurred me to action was actually a deviation from the norm – a special umeshu tasting.

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The tastings are held in a private room – in Chisou Knightsbridge this was the upstairs dining room – properly separated from regular diners. We shared a table with a couple who were also first timers to the Sake Club, Gareth and Nirvana, and had a lot of fun talking about food and drink, life in London and visiting Japan.

Chisou’s Marketing Manager Mark McCafferty hosted the evening and started by giving us an introduction to umeshu, though a printed crib sheet was also provided for each guest. He introduced each of the six drinks, and the snacks that were served with them, sharing tasting tips and notes throughout.

Although umeshu is usually described in English as plum wine, the ume fruit is not actually a plum; although nicknames include both Chinese Plum and Japanese Apricot, it’s a distinct species within the Prunus genus (which also includes plums and apricots); if a comparison is still needed, the ume is a stone fruit that is closer to the apricot than to the plum.

Why did Chisou decide to hold an umeshu night as part of their Sake Club series? Because umeshu is traditionally made using surplus sake or shōchū – a distilled spirit made from a variety of different carbohydrates – or to use up batches which have not turned out quite as planned. That said, as it’s popularity has increased, many breweries make umeshu as part of their standard product range, and some use high grade sake or shōchū and top quality ume fruit to do so.

The method is very straightforward and will be familiar to those who’ve made sloe gin or other fruit-based spirits – strawberry vodka, anyone? Whole ume fruit are steeped in alcohol – the longer the period, the more the fruit breaks down and its flavour leaches into the alcohol. Some umeshu is left to mature for years, allowing the almond-flavour of the stone to become more pronounced.

In many cases, additional sugar is added to the umeshu, to create a sweeter liqueur. Many households make their own umeshu when the ume fruit is in season, as it’s a very simple drink to make.

The whole fruits are often left in the umeshu – both in home made and commercial versions – and served alongside the drink. Take care, as the stone is still inside!

The welcome drink, as everyone settled in and we waited for a few late arrivals, was a Kir-style cocktail of prosecco and Hannari Kyo umeshu. With this we enjoyed orange-salted edamame beans and wasabi peas.

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Next, an Ozeki umeshu on the rocks served with a generous plate of pork scratchings with individual bowls of an umami-explosion shiitake mayonnaise. In Japan, the highest quality of fruit is often very expensive, and Mark explained that this particular brewery use top quality ume for their umeshu. For Pete, this was “reminiscent of a sherry” and Nirvana liked the “aftertaste of almond”. I loved this umeshu, one of my favourites of the evening.

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Third was a cloudy version – Morikawa umeshumade with a ginjo sake (using highly polished rice), so quite unusual. For me, this tasted stronger than the previous one, but in fact it was a slightly lower ABV – I think this may simply have been because more bitterness was evident in the taste. Mark suggested we should “warm it up like a mulled wine, to make the most of it’s spiciness”. Gareth particularly enjoyed the “mouthfeel” of this umeshu. Pete thought it would an amazing match with a cheese – a perfect replacement for port.

With this came a small skewer of smoked duck with apple cider, miso and fresh ginger, served theatrically beneath a smoke-filled dome. I could have eaten an entire plate of these, instead of just one!

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I was surprised how much I liked the fourth option, as I couldn’t imagine the combination on first reading the menu. The Tomio Uji Gyokuro umeshu combines traditional shade-grown green tea with umeshu to add a rich umami note to the finished product. Oxidisation means the drink is amber rather than green, but the meaty and medicinal notes are evidence of the presence of green tea.

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Next was a cocktail combining Hannari Kyo umeshu with Yamagata Masamune sake, lime juice and angostura bitters. I found this a too bitter and dry for my tastes, so asked if I could taste the Hannari Kyo umeshu on its own, as we’d only tried it with mixers thus far. It’s a lovely umeshu but couldn’t compete with the Ozeki umeshu or the Tomio Uji Gyokuro umeshu for me.

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Last, we were served a cup of good quality vanilla ice cream with warm Morikawa umeshu to pour over the top, affogato-style. As you’d imagine, the sweet and sour notes of the fruit liqueur really work well with cold vanilla ice cream, making it what Nirvana called “a very grown up ice cream”. As Mark commented, “warm it up and it really comes alive”.

Pete and I decided to stay on and order a few dishes from the food menu to soak up the alcohol before heading home, umeshu-happy.

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agedashi tofu, gyoza, pork with kimchi, chicken karaage

After such a great evening, we are keen to attend more Sake Club events. Umeshu night was very well priced at £40 per person and was a great learning experience, a fun social evening and very delicious. If you book Sake Club, do take care that you go the right location. The club is alternately held at different branches of the restaurant and it’s not uncommon for regulars to go to the wrong one, resulting in a mad dash across town.

Kavey Eats attended the Umeshu tasting as guests of Chisou Knightsbridge. The additional dishes pictured at the end were on our own tab.

 

Tombo, Japanese for dragonfly, is a small deli and cafe in South Kensington, just a minute’s walk from the tube station. It offers a small menu of modern Japanese food and quality tea. I’m a particular fan of it’s Japanese desserts, which often feature ingredients such as azuki (red bean paste), matcha and sesame.

On my latest visit, I tried the Tombo Afternoon Tea; served from 3 to 5pm, this is a lovely variation on traditional sandwiches, scones and cakes.

The standard afternoon tea (£12.90 per person) includes your choice from Tombo’s selection of teas, or for £19.90 you can upgrade to sparkling sake instead. I went for genmaicha which Tombo unusually combine with matcha. My friend chose peppermint tea, as she was looking for a non-caffeinated option. The teas were excellent and hot water is provided for top ups, automatically – a nice touch.

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For the savoury course, we enjoyed temari sushi (salmon and prawn) and maki sushi rolls (salmon and french beans). Having checked it was possibly before our visit, my friend requested that all seafood items were switched for vegetarian/ chicken ones, she is currently on a restricted diet. I would ask Tombo to take more care with requests such as this – one of the sushi rolls served on the non-seafood plate contained salmon. That aside, in terms of quality and flavour, the sushi was very enjoyable.

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On the lower layer of the slate food stands came a selection of desserts. On my visit these included azuki doriyaki (filled pancake), matcha cream doriyaki, matcha gateau, azuki gateau, a pink macaron and a chocolate. My friend wasn’t as keen on the azuki doriyaki or matcha gateau – she preferred the other desserts in the selection. My favourites were the matcha gateau and the macaron.

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Both of us really enjoyed Tombo’s afternoon tea – the sushi alternative to sandwiches is a really novel and welcome approach and the price very reasonable for the quality of food and drink.

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Press images courtesy of Tombo Deli & Cafe

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Tombo Deli & Cafe. Thanks also for the two additional images of cafe exterior and afternoon tea stand.

Feb 212015
 

I love udon noodles! There’s something utterly compelling to me about these thick, white and slightly chewy Japanese noodles that other noodles just don’t match, though I’m a fan of pasta in pretty much all its forms. Recently launched restaurant Den describe themselves as udon evangelists’’ and their menu is suitably udon-heavy.

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In King’s Cross, but quite a walk from the station, I suspect the location will most appeal to those who live or work in the area. For me, it’s actually quicker to travel a few extra stops into Central London, where most places are nearer to the nearest tube station – particularly appealing with it’s dark and cold or wet. The restaurant sits in a former pub, and the conversion is stark and modern, attractive though a little bare, perhaps.

The sleek communal tables will no doubt enable more diners to share the space when busy, but bench seating isn’t particularly comfortable. Then again, Den seems a short visit pit stop rather than a settle-in-for-the-evening kind of restaurant.

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I visited on a really, really, really cold day so immediately asked which teas are available to warm myself up.

I enjoy a range of Japanese teas so I was a little disappointed that only a single option is available – Japanese green tea (£2). I’d have liked to choose from genmaicha, sencha/ gyokuro, houjicha and so on. Although the glass is very pretty, serving a very hot drink in such a thin glass makes it difficult to pick up until it’s cooled down a fair bit (unless you have asbesthos hands, which I sadly do not possess); I’d rather drink it when it’s hotter. And the glass doesn’t insulate its contents well so the tea is quickly too cool to enjoy. A ceramic cup would be better.

We (and other) guests were served a complimentary snack of deep-fried udon noodles, labelled as udon pretzels on the menu. These, as anyone who’s deep fried spaghetti can attest – what? it’s good! – were delicious.

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Red wine stewed pork belly (£6) was my friend’s favourite tsumami (small plate). It’s long-braised and full of flavour. I liked it a lot, though oddly the meat wasn’t as tender as I expected, given that the fat had certainly become melt-in-the-mouth soft.

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My favourite tsumami was seasonal vegetables in sesame sauce (£4.50) which, on the day of our visit, included beetroot, mange tout and green beans. These were an excellent combination of flavours and textures and the dressing, though not visually attractive, was delicious.

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Crispy mackerel (£6) was sadly not crispy at all, not even a little bit. Soggy and slightly mushy, this dish was left uneaten on the table.

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At this point, we had sufficiently warmed up that we were ready for a drink. Director, Cristoforo Santini (formerly at Matsuri St James) suggested the Nigori crème de sake (£5). Oh, this was marvellous, we both loved it! Unlike the more common clear sakes I’m used to, this one is unfiltered and thicker in texture. It’s also a touch sweeter, still with that wonderful distinctive sake flavour.

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When it comes to the main affair, the focus is – of course – on udon. The menu divides into hot noodles in hot soup, hot noodles without soup and cold noodles with dipping sauce. For many of the hot soups, diners have a choice between black and white broth (with vegetarian versions also available). The non-vegetarian broths are both dashi – an infusion of katsuobushi (bonito flakes) and konbu (seaweed) with either a little soy (white broth) or a bigger dose of dark soy added. The vegetarian versions replace katsuobushi with mushrooms for the infusion. For some of the dishes, only a white broth is recommended, to better balance with the chosen toppings.

We shared salmon miso and chinese cabbage (£9), which was full of beautifully made udon noodles, soft salmon, cabbage still with a little crunch and lots of mizuna leaves (aka Japanese mustard).

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Our other choice was a bowl of den Carbonara (£8), hot udon noodles topped with egg, katuobushi and nori. I couldn’t really detect the egg (I assumed it would be beaten and tossed through the noodles) but the simple flavours of katuobushi and nori worked well, with an added sprinkle of shichimi powder. And of course, this dish is a great way to really showcase the udon noodles, made in house.

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Diners can also order from a short selection of donburi (rice bowls topped with various items) and there are also extra condiments, or toppings, available including crispy tempura batter (£0.5), natto (£1.5) and ume (£2). I didn’t spot the natto, but would definitely order it next time – the pungent sticky fermented soy beans pack such a punch of flavour.

There are no sweet options, not even a cleansing yuzu sorbet or matcha ice cream – the stalwart endgame of so many UK Japanese restaurants, and that’s a little disappointing. We are offered a fresh fruit plate (not listed on the menu) but decline. Perhaps a future iteration of the menu will introduce some dishes for the sweet toothed?

If you’re a fan of udon noodles, Den is a great place to enjoy them, though the location may prove off-putting to some – certainly it makes me less likely to drop by regularly, during the winter months.

Kavey Eats dined as a guest of Den Udon.

Den on Urbanspoon
Square Meal

 

Pete and really loved yakiniku dining during our two visits to Japan; I have written previously about our yakiniku experiences, along with the history of yakiniku.  Considered a Korean import, the Japanese version is no longer an exact copycat of its Korean inspiration, not least in the range of meat cuts and marinades and the selection of side dishes. While there are plenty of restaurants offering Korean BBQ in London, Kintan may well be the first yakiniku restaurant, as it claims.

Brought to London by a company that is successful across Japan as well as in Hong Kong and Jakarta, Kintan boasts a prime location on High Holborn, and was doing brisk business on the January weekday we visited for lunch.

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The interior is very attractive, simple but with beautiful details. I particularly loved the various tiles used on different walls around the deceptively spacious interior, and also the beautiful wooden booths, tables and area dividers. There are touches of tradition in the sake barrels and smiling Asahi maneki-neko (beckoning cat) but it’s essentially a modern style.

We were invited to try the Premium dinner menu, £44.50 per person. There are other dinner options at lower and higher price points, plus some very reasonable lunch deals (£8 to £18 for yakiniku, less for non-grill options) to appeal to the office workers in the area.

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We started with a sparkling sake, a brand that’s stocked by quite a few Japanese restaurants here. It has the distinctive flavour of sake but is lighter in alcohol, sweeter and with bubbles. A friend called it the babycham of the sake world, a spot on analogy!

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First to be served were the Kintan salad and edamame beans with salt. The beans were… well, edamame beans. The salad was delightful, light crunch from raw shredded cabbage, mixed salad leaves, cherry tomato and hard boiled egg all dressed in a light but richly flavoured mayo.

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Hot oil seared salmon was super, with blanched ginger matchsticks and a light sesame oil citrus dressing.

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Tuna tartar volcano was a highlight – a light tuna mayo with spring onions, chives and caviar on a crunchy deep-fried block of rice that was both crispy and chewy and a gentle kick of heat too. A real winner!

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There were seven dishes listed under “Mains” for the Premium dinner menu. We were served only five, though I didn’t realise until we’d left (when I took another look at the photo I took of the menu). On one hand, we certainly had plenty to eat, and enjoyed everything we were served; but on the other, a failure to deliver two out of seven dishes seems quite an oversight and one I’d be crosser about had I not been invited as a guest.

A fourth plate of (skirt) beef may not have been a big deal but the lack of halloumi, when I remembered it, was such a shame – I adore barbecued halloumi!

Most guests will look at the menu to order but can hardly be expected to memorise dishes, so it’s important for restaurants to serve all that is ordered (and charged for).

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Unlike the yakiniku restaurants we tried in Japan, at Kintan the grill is recessed below table level but that’s a good safety feature and we liked it. It did have the clever Japanese smokeless extraction system that whips away smoke before it rises above grill level, meaning you shouldn’t walk out smelling like a bonfire!

Be warned, the grill radiates a phenomenal amount of heat and you’ll certainly feel hot sitting around it. Perfect for winter but probably less appealing in the heat of summer.

What really surprised us was how long it took for the grill to heat up enough to cook our meat. Even after the elements started glowing red, it took much longer than expected to get even the hint of a sizzle when we placed a slice of beef onto the grill.

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Once it finally got to temperature, everything was good with the world. We loved the three different meats that were served – salt and pepper fillet, premium rib eye and premium kalbi short rib, the latter two in different sticky marinades, the fillet with an accompanying yuzu ponzu dipping sauce. There were also two delicious dipping sauces on the table.

The prawns were tasty too but the scallops were pitiful. I wondered, from the waiter’s instructions to make sure we cooked them very thoroughly for at least two minutes on each side, whether they’d been frozen and then defrosted but he assured me not. From the texture and lack of taste of the scallops, I remain unconvinced. A pity, when the beef was so enjoyable.

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Our miso soup came near the end, as we’d requested when asked earlier on in the meal. It’s listed as a starter, but more commonly enjoyed at the end of a meal in Japan, and I prefer it that way.

Also delivered quite late, when we’d nearly finished the meat and seafood, were garlic fried noodles. Also listed as a starter, I’d have preferred these to come out at the same time as the proteins were served. They were very tasty, but I must give you Pete’s description which sounds odd but is exactly right – they tasted just like garlic bread! And yet were chewy, like udon noodles! So strange, but rather good, regardless. I wondered if they were made in house, but our waiter thought not; he said that the company is quite a large one and most of their sauces and many ingredients are supplied by the chain.

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Mochi ice creams to finish were lovely. The salted caramel was Pete’s favourite but too sweet for me; I loved the matcha and sesame flavours.

At £90 for two, plus drinks and service, this is not a cheap dinner, somewhat at odds with the situation in Japan where we found yakiniku prices if not quite low budget, certainly very affordable. Some of that will be down to the central London (Holborn) location, but I suspect it’s also a case of charging what people will pay for an unfamiliar experience.

We had a good meal (albeit missing two dishes on our set menu) but I can’t help comparing the price to several Korean BBQ dinners we’ve enjoyed at our local Yijo restaurant in Central Finchley; we’ve been hard-pressed to spend more than £25 a head there and eaten at least as much as we did at Kintan. Of course, Yijo and Kintan are not exactly like for like – while the grill meats are very similar the non-grill dishes at Yijo are firmly Korean with lots of kimchi, pickles and spice; at Kintan it’s more of a modern Japanese mix.

If you’ve not tried yakiniku, this is a a good place to try and the lunch deals seem to offer a great value option.

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Kintan restaurant.

Kintan on Urbanspoon

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