Sakagura

SAKAGURA

Sakagura is an upscale Japanese restaurant snugly hidden behind Burberry’s flagship store right off Piccadilly. The street-side entrance does in no way betray its interior: a glitzy post-modern izakaya with strategically positioned lighting and judiciously chosen Japanese memorabilia. The management team are from Kyoto, the original Japanese seat of the imperial court, where a high culture of luxury and sophistication has matured over one thousand years. Those influences of high culture were apparent throughout our dinner at Sakagura.

We started with maguro tartare with yuzu dip (£16) which was served on a tiny wooden tray lying on a bed of ice and decorated with multi-coloured edible flowers. There was also a layer of black capelin roe which added an exquisite visual touch as it created a contrast with the tuna’s pink. The tuna was delicious, as was the yuzu dip. The array of accompanying Japanese condiments that came along with it – wasabi, pickled ginger, toasted sesame seeds – also worked really well with the tuna.

Sakagura - London Food Blog - Tuna tartare

Sakagura – Tuna tartare

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Tootoomoo Islington

Tootoomoo

Tootoomoo offers a Pan-Asian Tapas-style menu designed by Chef Ricky Pang. The restaurant appears to have more of a reputation as a takeaway; however, the Islington branch was well located (a few minutes from Highbury & Islington station) and reasonably popular on the weekday evening we visited. As the menu covers key dishes from different parts of Asia, we were eager to order dishes across the breadth of the menu.

Tootoomoo - London Food Blog

Tootoomoo

The drinks list was not extensive but covered a handful of classic cocktails, wine, beer and spirits selection enough to cover most tastes. To begin with we were offered cocktails (all priced at £7.50) and we chose the Elderflower Tootoomoo and a Lychee Caipirinha. Both were served as long drinks in glass jars. They were refreshing, quite sweet but balanced. We could not taste the lychee in the caipirinha and wonder if it was missed by accident.

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C&R Izakaya

C&R IZAKAYA

Walking along the multicultural and diverse cuisine street of Westbourne Grove, you are spoilt for choice as to what to have for dinner. One of them is C&R Izakaya, a relatively new kid on the block. The location use to house a Malaysian restaurant which has now been transformed into a Japanese restaurant.

The restaurant has a slimmed down, parred back interior design, and so it doesn’t quite induce the buzzy atmosphere that you might otherwise encounter in a central London restaurant, say in the West End. When we entered for our sitting at 6:30pm, modern pop music was playing and there were a sufficient number of tables available with a few other patrons dotted around. The table was set in a simple style with a wine glass, small plate, chopsticks and soy sauce. The lighting was soft, with individual downlights granting appropriate visibility of the extensive menu.

The menu reminded us of similar casual restaurants in Japan, what with its bright colours and photos that teased you with the variety of options available. The pricing is not on the light side, and did make one wary of how much to order, but in the end we decided to go for a varied selection of items from the menu.

The Aki sashimi set (18 pieces, 6 kinds – £25.50) came first which three pieces of each fish, white tuna, tuna, yellow tail, salmon, scallops and sea bass. This was well presented on a bed of ice. The slices were large and substantial – too large to in fact be considered a technically correct cut of sashimi fish. But we didn’t mind as it was all the more for us to eat. All the fish was delicious and fresh. However, the main delight for us was the white tuna. Having never tried white tuna before, we were intrigued as to its flavour and we were certainly not disappointed. The white tuna was excellent, with a softer texture to normal tuna and a longer lingering taste on the palate. If at this point, the meal had ended, we would have all gone home and been happy.

C&R Izakaya - London Food Blog - Aki sashimi set

C&R Izakaya – Aki sashimi set

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Oliver Maki

OLIVER MAKI

Oliver Maki, a Japanese restaurant located on Dean Street, Soho, was founded by Lebanese-Canadian Oliver Maki and his family. The Zeitoun family come from a long line of olive grove farmers (Zeitoun means ‘olive’ in Arabic) and the influence of olives can be felt throughout the restaurant, from the impressions of olive trees on the mirrors in the restaurant, to the use of the word Oliver in the restaurant’s name (alluding to the word olive). But even so, the restaurant is about combining the traditions of Japanese food with modernity. At the helm is Executive Head Chef Louis Kenji Huang, formerly a sushi chef at Nobu in Las Vegas.

Oliver Maki has a number of branches throughout the Middle East, and the Soho branch is the first in Europe. The restaurant is set on two levels and is modern, understated, chic and comfortable.

The menu is deal for sharing and is divided into various sections, ranging from the Cold and Hot Appetisers, to the signature sashimi to the mains, but to name a few. The first was Filo Ebi Tempura Shots (£12.90), consisting of three beautifully presented pieces of prawn, wrapped and fried in vermicelli rather than the traditional batter, and served semi-submerged in a spicy creamy sauce in a shot glass. The prawns were perfectly cooked and worked well with the hint of chilli in the sauce. On the side was a yamamomo peach which was a nice accompaniment as it offered a touch of acidity.

Oliver Maki - London Food Blog - Shrimp tempura shot

Oliver Maki – Shrimp tempura shot

Hamachi Chilli Sashimi (£10.90), slices of yellowtail dressed with ponzu, extra virgin olive oil, slices of jalapeño and coriander cress proved to be very tasty and well presented. The yellowtail was fresh, but had been cut quite thin, perhaps a touch too thin, but it went well with the acidity of the ponzu and the hint of chilli.

Oliver Maki - London Food Blog - Yellowtail sashimi

Oliver Maki – Yellowtail sashimi

Unagi Tacos (2pcs – £8.60) was a fine dish using chopped eel, avocado, spring onions, cucumber and wasabi emulsion, the use of which combining to create a lovely explosion of flavours on the tongue. The tacos themselves were a little too thick in texture, but otherwise this was a very enjoyable dish.

Oliver Maki - London Food Blog - Eel taco & nigiri

Oliver Maki – Eel taco & nigiri

We tried a selection of nigiri including sea bass (£3.50), a nicely proportioned piece of fresh seabass on well vinegared rice. The aburi o-toro (£6.50), a torched flame fatty tuna was delicious, although the aburi wagyu beef (£8) was decidedly chewy and difficult to eat.

For maki we chose the interesting sounding wagyu burger maki (6pcs) (£18.00) made from Australian wagyu with a mushroom sauce, avocado, Japanese pickles, tomato and cucumber on a base of rice. We weren’t particularly impressed with this dish. Expecting a more luxurious texture from the fat content that is typically found in wagyu, we found the beef to be a tad dry.

Oliver Maki - London Food Blog - Wagyu maki

Oliver Maki – Wagyu maki

To the mains, and a matcha yuki udon (£13.70) consisted of stir fried homemade green tea udon with thinly sliced scallops, shiitake, black truffle oil and dill. The scallops were over cooked and overall the dish was very salty, resulting in the flavour of the truffle oil being lost. Conceptually the idea was good, but the execution could have been better.

Oliver Maki - London Food Blog - Green tea udon

Oliver Maki -Green tea udon

Gindara (black cod) shiitake (£27), a dish of miso grilled black cod with shiitake, was a very well cooked dish. The fish was moist and succulent, and the miso sauce was lovely and rich.

Oliver Maki - London Food Blog - Black cod

Oliver Maki – Black cod

For dessert we opted for the Terrarium matcha tiramisu (£8) made up of fresh mascarpone, white and dark chocolate, green tea, and “rock” chocolate on the side (chocolate made to resemble the appearance of a piece of rock). Served in an elongated see-through glass jar, the presentation was made to look like a garden and was very appealing. What’s more, it tasted delicious, although there was some unevenness in how the tiramisu had been layered.

Oliver Maki - London Food Blog - Green tea tiramisu

Oliver Maki – Green tea tiramisu

From the mochi (£3 per piece) selection we chose green tea, mango and toasted sesame. These were excellent with the right level of consistency in the rice casing and each filled with delicious and well-made ice cream.

Oliver Maki - London Food Blog - Mochi

Oliver Maki – Mochi

Oliver Maki makes a nice mark in the world of Japanese fusion cuisine, balancing traditional Japanese food with a contemporary culinary approach. On the whole, the food was well prepared, interesting and affordably priced, especially for a Soho location. The menu including the drink menu was very extensive, meaning diners are spoilt for choice. There were a few elements in the food that we didn’t like (avoid the wagyu), but overall there was a high level of consistency in the well judged cooking.

We liked the service, finding it very effective and appealing.

Summary Information:
Likes:
1. Filo Ebi Tempura Shots
2. Unagi Tacos
3. Hamachi Chilli Sashimi
4. The matcha tiramisu
5. The mochi

Dislikes:
1. Aburi wagyu beef nigiri
2. Wagyu burger maki
3. Matcha yuki udon

Food rating: 3.75/5
Service rating: 3.5/5

Prices: about £40 to £50 per head. Excludes drinks and service.

Website: http://www.olivermaki.co.uk/

Square Meal

Oliver Maki Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


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Bo Drake

BO DRAKE

Found in the heart of Soho, Bo Drake is the brainchild of Jan Lee (a former chef de partie at Roka). Bo Drake opened at the start of 2015 and is a modern East Asian restaurant with a Korean-style anju bar. It draws predominantly from Korean and Japanese inspirations with a bit of a European twist thrown in. The result is a contemporary experience that combines, for example, the sweet and pickled influences from Asia with slow-cooked BBQ methods of the West.

The interior can be best described as a sleek casual hipster joint, with exposed bricks, pipes and tungsten lamps. The centrepiece is the bar fashioned from iroko with tall bar stools. Alongside it is simple wooden tables and there is a small dining area at the back.

On the whole Bo Drake offered a fine eating experience. The dishes were well presented, nicely cooked and creatively constructed. The menu is essentially a sharing one, with la carte dishes priced at around £10. It was an enticing menu, covering a good choice of smalls, meat, fish, veg, bowls and sides.

We began with some smalls. The first was the bugolgi beef sliders (2pc – £10.80) which were excellent and the star dish of the day. The minced beef was succulent and moist, and had been topped with some delicious caramelised red onions and crispy pancetta, all sitting in a warm and gently toasted brioche bun. It was well presented with some miso mayo on the side which was tasty.

Bo Drake - London Food Blog - Bugolgi beef sliders

Bo Drake – Bugolgi beef sliders

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Koji – Visit no. 2

KOJI

I first tried Koji Japanese Restaurant in Parsons Green last year, not long after it first opened and had a fabulous dining experience. Koji was a collaborative effort between Nobuhisha Takahashi, the former sushi head chef at both Nobu London and Nobu Cape Town, and Mark Barnett, the former proprietor of the now closed Mao Tai Chinese restaurant.

In January 2015 Rolando Ongcoy joined the ranks, replacing Nobuhisha Takahashi, and took the food at Koji up another notch. A Japanese chef for some 33 years, he began his career in the Philippines before coming to London. In recent years he has also been the head sushi chef with both the Nobu group and Uni in Pimlico.

The ethos at Koji is to provide diners with first class Japanese food in a highly elegant setting, but without any pretentiousness. The Koji menu centres around contemporary Japanese cooking, ranging from fresh sushi and sashimi, to meat and seafood on the robata grill, to a variety of modern Japanese dishes that draw upon European and South American influences.

Second time round, and I found Koji to be that much better than first time round – no mean feat considering that the benchmark standard had been set pretty high during my first visit. At Koji, only the finest ingredients are used. This coupled with the finest of techniques makes for splendid dining experience.

We shared a variety of dishes as is customary with Japanese food, and one of my favourites of the evening was the salmon tartare with caviar umami jelly (£19). This dish was divine. The salmon itself was fresh and flavoursome, but it was the umami jelly – a thin layer of jelly placed over the salmon – which electrified the tartare. The umami jelly was abundant with flavour and it paired perfectly with salmon.

Koji - London Food Blog - Salmon tartare

Koji – Salmon tartare

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Kanada-Ya Panton Street

In December 2015 the well-known ramen bar Kanada-Ya on Giles Street opened a second, bigger branch on Panton Street near Trafalgar Square, offering the same selection of authentic tonkotsu ramen made famous by the Holborn flagship restaurant. The noodles are made on site using a special machine imported from Japan and many of the tonkotsu broths have been slow cooked for 18 hours for an authentic intense flavour. Along with the tonkotsu ramen noodles, Kanada-Ya Panton Street has introduced several new dishes such as chicken karaage and Japanese spicy kale. There is also a reasonable drinks menu including bottled cocktails, Japanese beers, wines and some rare Japanese Whiskeys. Moreover, Kanada-Ya Panton Street offers reservations on a limited basis. Therefore no more queuing!!

We tried some truffle edamame (£4) with black truffle salt. The edamame was a little oily, but overall they were pretty tasty with a fresh firmness to them, helped in no small part by the deliciousness of the truffle aroma.

Kanada-Ya - London Food Blog - Truffle edamame

Kanada-Ya – Truffle edamame

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Umu Japanese Restaurant at Frieze Masters

Umu Japanese Restaurant in Mayfair is a favourite of the many who work at the Japanese Consulate, and understandably so. Executive Chef Yoshinori Ishii previously spent nine years at Japan’s three Michelin-starred Kyoto Kitcho and recently won Umu its second Michelin star. Chef Ishii’s haute cuisine approach to Japanese cooking means his food at Umu is graced with a touch that is both elegant and precise.

Every year Umu runs a pop up restaurant at Frieze Masters, the annual 5 day art fair that brings together several thousand years of art from over 130 of the world’s leading galleries. The last day of Frieze Masters was on the 18 October, but I managed to squeeze in a visit to the Umu pop-up restaurant before Frieze Masters finished. The Umu pop-up only offered a limited selection of starters, sushi, sashimi, and mains from the original Umu menu, but it was still a great showcase of the flavours of Umu, drawing on similar dishes and ingredients from the same sources. Umu Head Chef Yoshinori Ishii remained in charge of the pop-up and worked the sushi bar as we ate. Also in attendance was a legion of full time staff from Umu in Mayfair.

From the starters a tuna tartare salad (£17) was deliciously meaty and sweet from a fabulous shiso dressing. Dressed with micro cress, the tartare was topped with some thin and crunchy lotus root chips that worked a treat with this generously portioned dish. A seafood salad (£17) with prawn, scallop and abalone was also delectable. The seafood was delightfully fresh and sweet and worked well with the lovely lightness and acidity of the accompanying tosazu jelly.

Umu Japanese Restaurant - London Food Blog - Tuna tartare

Umu Japanese Restaurant – Tuna tartare

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