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Entries in Japanese (7)


Nobu Berkeley - All style, no substance

I'm not convinced that anyone dining at Nobu Berkeley is there for the food. They are there for the chance to meet a banker, a model, an oligarch, or some very average celebrity. They are there to enjoy some very entertaining people watching, or for an excuse to dress like a high-class call girl without looking out of place. Or to eat food in an atmosphere that perfectly prepares them for a night out.

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When people ask me what my favourite Japanese restaurant is - my reaction is always Dinings. This answer is always met with the same response - "Where? What about Zuma? Or Nobu? Or Umu?" Nope, as much as I love all three, there is something nice about the utilitarian approach of Dinings, where one gets the impression, that this place is serious about their food. There is little in the way of atmosphere, and the decor is bland, although service is perfectly acceptable. 

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22 Charlotte Street is  an unfortunate address for a sushi restaurant, opposite Roka, the constantly packed and incredibly scene Japanese restaurant. It's a bit like being a normal person forced to stand next to a supermodel in a group picture. In this case the normal person was actually rather good-looking. 

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About a month ago, I went through a stage where I failed to book any restaurants due to not knowing where The Boyfriend or I were going to be. Now we are paying for it.That is how we ended up at Sumosan, the only sushi restaurant we wanted to try that had availability last minute on a Friday night.

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Jin Kichi

I don't like to travel far for food. Its not that because I am an inherently lazy person, I am, but that is not the real reason I don’t venture too far from Holborn. The real reason is, I think it puts too much pressure on the experience, so it is almost always going to be a letdown. Take The River Cafe. It took The Boyfriend and I at least an hour to get there, 30 minutes on the tube plus another 30 wandering through the residential streets of Hammersmith, begging residents to point us in the right direction. When we did finally arrive, everything about the place was a letdown. Impressive, given I don’t recall hearing anyone say anything bad about the The River Cafe. Ever. The food, the service, the decor (don’t even get me started on that blue carpet), were all distinctly unimpressive. Anyway, this means I am wary about leaving Zone 1, or even heading to the edges, for a restaurant.

This made my trip to Jin Kichi last week, located in Hampstead very uncharacteristic. Whilst I didn’t go just for the food, I went for the company of two friends who live locally, the food lived up to all expectations. In fact, I would happily, make the effort again. In fact, I want to make the effort to go again.

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Roka Canary Wharf - Third Time's A Charm


I've had bad experiences every time I've been to Roka. Nothing to do with the food, mind. Just for some reason every time I go it immediately triggers a crisis at The Boyfriend's work. The first time we went he was two hours late for dinner, which meant that I actually ate alone. The second time, I had to sit and watch him talk on, not one, but two conference calls at the same time, (a phone at each ear) throughout our lunch. Surprisingly, each time I stil enjoyed myself because the food is so good I don't think I would even have been capable of talking. I'm pretty sure anything could happen in the restaurant around me and I would still be a supremely happy bunny. Which is why I will jump at any chance to go. My only real problem with Roka, (bar the Bank world collapsing every time I go) is that its too popular for its own good. It takes at least a week to get a table, and inside they've tried to squeeze too many people in, which also has consequences on the service, which suffers as a result.



I'd never really considered Canary Wharf as a place to go to dinner, (as I'm sure most people haven't, unless you work in the vicinity) but for the Boyfriend and I, starving at 7.30 pm on a Monday night, craving sushi and tired, Roka Canary Wharf seemed like a perfect choice. They had space last minute, (finally a good restaurant in London with space!) and on public transport took me only ten minutes longer than walking to Charlotte Street, and this way didn't involve any rain. Sold. 

The restaurant itself is basically a larger version of the Charlotte Street venue, except they probably have similar numbers of tables as these were evenly spaced. It was half empty but the atmosphere didn't feel as empty as it was.

We started with a Age Wari Gan roll - Soft shell Crab, cucumber, Kim Chi and Chilli Mayonnaise. The soft shell crab was crunchy but still soft and and the mayonnaise provided a bit of spice to the roll. However, the Kim Chi and cucumber flavours were lost due to the strength of the mayonnaise. Still, easily the best soft shell crab roll in London. My only criticism is the fact that they are five rolls instead of the traditional six which makes splitting them difficult especially when they are so good. Playing the " If you really loved me card" here is advisable.

We then had Fried Baby Squid, Schichimi and Lime - which was the low point of the meal. It wasn't that it was bad, it's that relative to the other things we ordered it wasnt as exciting. Poor ordering on our part. The lime flavour really dominated in this dish, which was a nice change to the usual plain calamari, again the Schichimi (a japanese spice mixture) flavour was either non existent or destroyed by the other flavours. They were nicely cooked though and not too greasy.

My highlight of the meal, actually scratch that, highlight of my life were the ribs. They were amazing. Sticky and spicy, in a barbecue sauce type glaze, but not smothered in sauce like your typical ribs. Crunchy cashews nuts and spring onion added an extra uumph. They were so good I didn't care that I looked revolting stuffing my face with the ribs  and ended up being covered in the glaze. None of it mattered because they were so damn good.

The Seabass arrived shortly after the ribs, luckily as after I started eating those I wasnt about to stop to take a photo of some vegetables, so I managed to get a quick shot of it. The Seabass is good. Its about the same standard as Nobu and the rest. I have never felt the need to touch the yellow sauce that accompanies it (no clue what it is) as the seabass is flavoured enough to make it redundant. It was perfectly cooked, as always, and fell away in flakes after a gentle poke with a chopstick. Lovely, but second fiddle to the ribs.

Aubergine and asparagus accompanied these two. The aubergine was baked in its skin and served with a little spoon with which to scrape it out. Covered in yet another sauce so good I couldn't believe that this could possibly be healthy. (To be honest, god knows what they put on it to make it taste like this, but it was a vegetable so I assume it has to be just a little bit healthy).The asparagus had been grilled on the Robata and was still satisfyingly crunchy. It tasted just like asparagus should which was refreshing after the rich glazes/sauces on everything else we had ordered.

All of this was accompanied by a nice carafe of some wine which, I liked as always but about which The Boyfriend seemed fairly apathetic. The service was perfect, the waiters really didnt miss a beat (probably helped by the fact the restaurant was half empty).

The total came to 50 a head, not cheap by any means, but when considered relative to the competition around it, (I'm thinking about you, Barbecoa) and given Roka is also an "it" restaurant, its a pretty good deal. I challenge anyone to find better Japanese in London for the same price. The Canary Wharf venue has none of the problems its older sibling does and comes off as less pretentious too. It seems to be more about the food. But maybe I'm just biased because for once at Roka I wasn't a Blackberry widow.

Roka Canary Wharf on Urbanspoon



Chisou - What a let down.

Chisou apparently means in Japanese either -

a) 'a treat'
b) 'a dinner'
c) 'delicious food' 

In our case it was one of these - dinner and not a very good one at that.

I find good sushi, at a last minutes notice, hard to find in London. My favourite places Dinings/Roka and god forbid Zuma all require a reservation at least 2 weeks in advance (actually about 2 years for Zuma - since my first trip in 2007, I've never actually managed to get a table) and on a Monday night who can really be bothered with all the hassle? Over booked restaurants are the thing I happen to hate most about London, screw the constant drizzle, how come every restaurant requires a booking a month in advance? 

So Chisou had space AND allowed you to book a table, (another pet peeve - no, I dont want to travel 30 minutes to your restaurant to find out I will have to wait another 2 hours for a table and can't even wait in the bar, thanks) so from the start things were looking up. Proximity to Holborn was another added bonus. This is were the good points ended.

So The Boyfriend, Boyfriend's friend and I all headed out. 

The service was average. Given my views on the quality of service in London at the minute that doesn't say a lot. My current criteria for judgement - do you have to refill your own glass of water (not difficult!) - they failed and given the very short wine list it seemed impressive that it took around 15 minutes to deliver the bottle of wine.

The restaurant itself was fine. Nothing particularly pretty - nothing special. At least the standard of decoration was higher than the food.

We started with edamame. Edamame is the easiest thing to get right, if Yo Sushi can handle it any place can. Fresh edamame, rock salt and not over cooked. Apparently not so easy for Chisou. Who would have thought? Edamame so old the ends were going brown with no salt/flavouring of any kind - Great!The edamame set the standard for what was to come.

Our soft shell crab was greasy and under seasoned much like the terrible one I had at Hakkasan earlier this year.

The sushi arrived at the same time. We had
- Salmon skin roll with spring onion
- Crab and avocado roll with unagi
- Prawn tempura and asparagus

Of the three, only the prawn tempura proved moderately satisfying. The crab and unagi roll lacked the necessary bite and the rice was far too sweet. In the salmon skin roll the ratio of salmon skin to rice was out. The spring onion was a lovely addition to the flavour but just not enough salmon skin to balance it. The prawn tempura was better but best of a bad lot doesn't really say that much.

The aubergine was fine but for a similar price I would prefer the one at Roka

The next round of dishes was worse and the order strange. They decided to bring all our fried dishes at the same time.

The tempura was good but at the end of the meal not what was needed. The deep fried octopus tasted like over fried chicken ordered at KFC and the spicy prawns tasted cheap just smothered in red, spiced form of mayonnaise.

In the words of Boyfriend's Friend "it would have been good if we were paying £10 a head". Unfortunately, we weren't. With the addition of a 45 bottle of lovely Pouilly Fuisse the total bill came to just under for £150.

Herein lies the trade off and the sad truth about dining in London. If you want good food you have to book because london diners are savvy and if you can get a table last minute even on a monday night its a sign that its not going to be good. From now on I'm going to book my Monday dinners in advance.

4 Princes St
London W1B 2LE
020 7629 3931
Chisou on Urbanspoon