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