The delights of Japanese food

Japanese food. There’s just something so special about it. Whether it’s because of Japanese social culture and how they love cutesy animate things, or how their seafood is so fresh and delicious, Japanese food is so special in both the way in which it is presented and how it is consumed. Fresh flavours of the sea and sweet treats made from green tea/matcha and sesame seeds are just some of the USPs of Japanese food that come to mind. Unique flavour combinations, textures, cooking methods, ingredients make Japanese food special. Japanese food is also very niche.

It’s niche in the sense that it caters to a specific kind of taste/person with those tastes. I wouldn’t say for example, that Japanese food was for everyone (well, is any cuisine really for everyone? It’s hard to judge that), but what I mean is that it’s so foreign to the food that people in the West for example, normally eat that when sushi was first introduced into the UK, people balked at the idea of eating raw fish. Today, there are so many different takeaways, restaurants and smaller vendors which specialise in Japanese food or just sushi. It’d be hard to not find a Japanese restaurant in Central London within a 15-minute walking distance. They’re everywhere.

And as it happens with popular culture, when something becomes ubiquitous, it kind of loses its flavour a bit and becomes less appealing. Like how Justin Bieber was once really cool and now he’s lost his coolness because that original definition of what it meant to be ‘cool’ redefined him as a person and made him uncool now. I have clearly digressed here but the point is, that Japanese food is now so easily found in the UK that it’s become tricky to navigate the waters of authenticity when it comes to eating the cuisine.

There are lots of great Japanese restaurants in London and there are bound to be more, better ones as the popularity of Japanese food grows. Of the Japanese restaurants in London, of which I’ve been to a few, my favourite are Nizuni on Charlotte Street and Eat Tokyo near Holborn. Eat Tokyo is less expensive, but also less refined and has poorer service. I used to like going to Soho Japan as well, but they’ve since closed their Wells Street branch and I’ve never had the opportunity to sample their wonderful food again, which is sad.

For more upmarket Japanese restaurants with (perhaps) more fusion flavours, I’d definitely recommend Dinings on Harcourt Street. Their food blew me away last time I went – more than a year ago. If it were less expensive, I would definitely re-visit. That meal cost me about £50, which is not a pretty sum for a casual dinner. I’ve also been to Sake No Hana, which was good and very stylish. The food was not amazing, but it was good and I expected to be paying that price anyway for the location and ambience.

Miyama felt much more authentic in terms of decor and food. It’s definitely one of the more understated restaurants, but the food is good and I enjoyed eating there. It’s a good place to bring business associates for lunch or for more formal occasions. Yashin sushi serves great sushi at reasonable prices, but due to its location (High Street Kensington), this means reasonable for that area

Of the numerous Japanese noodle eateries in London at the moment, Shoryu Ramen I’ve visited twice, Bone Daddies once and Tonkotsu once or twice. I liked all of them but thought that the Shoryu Ramen branches have different service levels – the newer one in Soho on Denman St. I found better than the Regent St. branch – but this was when the Denman St. branch first opened.

When sourcing for ingredients to create authentic Japanese dishes, there’s really only one place one can go to source for Japanese ingredients in London. Japan Centre near Piccadilly Circus can satisfy all your Japanese cooking needs. I do like the calmness and ambience of the store; its entrance entices you by showcasing all their wonderful Japanese snacks. The staff are great and they serve food in the supermarket itself too. Japanese dishes served there include udon/ramen (noodle) soup, vegetable tempura (batter-fried vegetables), gyoza dumplings and a range of sushi and sashimi. Japan Centre is the perfect lunch spot on a busy day because its quite quiet early on; they have two large shared casual seating tables. There is also a stall in front of Japan Centre selling Hirata buns which can be filled with pork belly/mushroom/beef – depending on what you choose. I didn’t get to try one because the stall was not opened yet – I was early at 11.50 – 10 minutes prior to the stall’s opening time.

The Hirata Buns are so popular in London now. We call them ‘kong ba pao’ or roast pork buns back at home and it was a distinctly chinese dish with the roast pork being marinated with star anise and cloves – among other spices. Different places serve them with different condiments/ingredients but we always had ours with just the roast pork meat – no salad onions or cucumbers – and they tasted delicious.

I remember travelling to Japan about 13 years ago when I was 10 or 11 and vaguely remember enjoying hot green tea on a tatami mat and thinking about the simplicity and wonderfully fresh flavours of Japanese food. While it is evident that there is a plethora of Japanese restaurants/food places in London, there is still something lacking. I feel like the Japanese restaurants here lack the pull and authenticity that Japanese restaurants even in Taiwan for example, have. I hope to find a place that brings me back to that experience, even though I don’t think I’ll ever find it. And they call me an optimist.

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