Thursday, 16 April 2009

A Japanese restaurant I love to bits.

Let’s start by saying that this place is very good, its aspirations (the food that is) are quite clearly knocking on Monsieur Bibendum’s door. If someone ever asked what would the food taste like in a two star restaurant, I think this would be it and that’s regardless of whether it’s supposed to be haute French or invariably only to be eaten with a knife and fork. Otherwise the ‘two stars’ accolade bestowed on this place can only exist in a hypothetical manner, for there are three simple reasons responsible for this and they’re all disturbingly forlorn.
Firstly the location can only be described as ‘tumbleweed alley’; this place actually makes Dagenham more beautiful than it already is. Access to this place by public transport is not great, a degree of walking (and hopefully without loosing your bearings) is necessary to reach here.
Secondly the lack of ambience in the main dining room, situated in the basement is plethoric; I suppose the loveless-ness of the location required the room to reciprocate accordingly unless someone is trying to kid me into thinking I don’t appreciate Japanese minimalism. Lastly the rather indifferent service would probably obstruct the place immediately from getting a one star. Although friendly the waitresses possess what I perceived is the polar opposite of being all clued up, mega disheartening. And the maître d'/manager/captain/‘God’ fella who operates at the front of house, can I just whisper something into your ears- take good heed of your customers and most of the time they’re right, any ignorance would be deemed hardly constructive and duly unwise!
Came here for lunch with daughter and Cass (who incidentally tells everyone that Japanese food is a deffo fave but steers well clear of raw fish). Most of the folks who venture here during lunch opt for the set menus that include noodles, sushi, pocari sweat, donburis (one bowl meals)…come to think of it the list is impressively comprehensive. To include a non-intoxicating drink one can get away with under twenty quid per person for lunch, it’s worth every penny I sincerely state.
The three of us ordered our own sets plus two extremely ostentatious dishes from the today’s specials (this place is fabled for their daily specials, what you see on the board is what’s been bought from Billingsgate at al that morning. So if dining here with either Sugar-parents, go and fall in love with everything on the board, order the lot!)
We waited for an awful long time, my daughter started to snack on the Jelly Belly beans that were bought from Selfridges earlier. Cass’ tummy rumbled and I was getting increasingly grumpy. Half an hour later I questioned one of the waitresses on the whereabouts of our food (by this time three other tables who came after us were already tucking in) and she simply went all doe-eyed and blushed. She muttered something about a beef dish holding things up. I tackled her with a rebuttal of ‘at the very least we could have the miso soup first! She scampered away to oblivion…I fear the worst if these waitresses were part of the cabin crew in a plane that’s experiencing difficulties! Approximately five minutes later, the food all turned up at once, rather like the bus 30 in droves.
Daughter’s set of mixed sushi rolls. All consumed in record time, she was hungry the poor girl. Her verdict was ‘it’s alright’ which in her own teenspeak means excellent.
Cass’ Beef Steak Donburi. Sorry with the blurry pic as I was agitated with hunger. So this was allegedly the culprit that held our lunch up. Now we know, for the pieces of beef were too overcooked; chewy and rubbery come to mind. The sauce was actually brilliant, a spiced miso variety, perfect for coating the rice with deliciousness. Glad to say that Cass finished the lot despite the overcooked cow.
My Chirashi Donburi. This was a sure-fire candidate for a Death Row meal. The fish as expected were beautifully fresh, delicate, melty and stupendously delicious. The rice was cooked perfectly (due to the nature of London’s hard water, rice in Japanese restaurants are often undercooked or over, but hardly ever perfect, that’s a fact coz I said so!)
All donburis come with the said miso soup (rather good), token portion of Edamame and a choice of either sashimi salad or mixed tempura. Being the good parent that I am, my choice of the tempura was surrendered altogether to satisfy my daughter’s craving for battered food. Spiffing, she declared and that included the veg!
Ostentation 1 of Lobster Tempura with three sauces. This wouldn’t look out of place on Charlemagne's Tablecloth. Lobster at the best of times is overrated, it can never compete with the humble brown shrimp or king prawn on taste alone. But this beast is rather different, I hope it’s native in all as well; it was astoundingly sweet and mind-blowingly scrumptious. Philistines that we were, I don’t think we actually bothered with the dipping sauces that came with it, the morsels of the lobster were good enough on their own.
I was telling myself £20 for a whole lobster was remarkably good value for money, that his until my daughter, ever the ‘rubber’ of salt, hollered that the claws were missing! Cass even mentioned that some lobsters were clawless. On this occasion I’m not even going to dispute on the missing limbs of the crustacean, as I was more than happy with the dish. Together with my donburi, they were the highlights.
Ostentation 2 of Wagyu Steak and three sauces. Big time disappointment. Cooked beautifully rare, but lacked the beefy taste, the inclusion of the sauces is no excuse.
The meat was a little gristly and unfortunately fatty. This apparently most pampered cow was devoid of any dignity on the plate. Cass’ overcooked beef donburi tasted immeasurably better than this. Poor, bland and waste of money.

Bovine dishes aside, this place is absolutely the tops, sod the fusion tag, I think it currently serves the best Japanese fish dishes in the capital. Sure it’s expensive, but it’ll cost you a lot more in places like Umu, Yumi or Matsuri. As you can see from the additional photos shown below, this is not my first time here, it’s my favourite Japanese in London after all. I’m such a positive person that I’m sure the clueless service will soon be gone. A celestial recommendation

NB Oh did I mention the name yet…I’m not even going to bother as it’s so achingly naff sounding.

22 Harcourt Street
London W1H 4HH


14 Mar 2008:
I've never been to Nobu, but... The first paragraph is totally appropriate for this place, as the chef/owner of Dinings, being ex-Nobu, allowing us the chance to sample what the A-list celebs nibble on at reasonable prices and none of that 2 months waiting time for a table. You don't come here to gawp at the celebrities nor for that matter to be gawped at. Fine food is simply what it's all about, you come here for the freshness of the ingredients, the glorious technique and cooking of the dishes, the well informed and friendly staff and finally the aftermath of the whole experience that can only suggest; ''I'm saving up for my next visit''. My fifth visit with my daughter since they opened confirmed that consistency is still upheld. When visiting for the first time, always go for something on the blackboard for the daily specials. We're talking Japanese here, so they'll want to serve the freshest from Billingsgate. Most of the daily specials are somewhat fusioned, but they work; imagine Prawn Tempura Rolls with Taramasalata sauce or seared fatty tuna on wakame sauce; synergy! Other dishes ordered included King Crab that can be dangerously addictive and expensive, as well as the glorious Razor Clams. The noveau twist on the traditional dishes like sushi and sashimi is pretty much world class. One of the most memorable dishes was the Nasu Miso(Aubergine baked with sweet miso) recommended by our Spanish speaking waitress. Well the best tip to order this dish is towards the end, it was so unctously delicious and sweet, we declared it a pudding. For solo diners or pairs, ask for table 1. Tis the the best. The only qualm I had with this place was its location, tumbleweed alley seeking Paradise Lost. PS. A great gem of a restaurant in an otherwise strange street in the middle of no where!


Hollow Legs said...

Seriously - can I be your daughter?

The chirashi looks curiously rice-free...

bellaphon said...

A son would be preferable, every other weekend at the Emirates with pork pies, tea, Fabregas etc.

The rice lurketh under the fish in abundance!

eatmynels said...

cheers!....keen for Hortons again soon and it would be good to meet you, whens a good wednesday?

bellaphon said...

Weds are ever so difficult, I shall prod you when I'm able to ;)

Helen Yuet Ling Pang said...

Wow, great review as always, and I LOVE your photos! I want to be your daughter too...

Browners said...

Super stuff. I've only been once but loved it. It's the perfect distance from my office. Far enough to avoid any unwelcome colleagues but close enough to squeeze in at lunch.

That lobster looks incredible. What a dish.

bellaphon said...

HYLP and Browners-

theundergroundrestaurant said...

Better than the Japanese we had recently methinks...

theundergroundrestaurant said...

Oh and thanks for changing the top photo that was so off-putting.

bellaphon said...

theundergroundrestaurant- No way comparable, the one we went to wasn't even Japanese, just happened to be another London restaurant serving raw fish with some rice.

The Tayyabs curry was only picked because I couldn't find the KFC bucket!