Bincho Yakitori brings a Londonised Japanese izakaya experience to Soho. In Tokyo, izakayas are usually fun little bars closeted away behind unlabeled doorways in dark, forbidding alleys or among the murky depths of the underground metro system. Climb a narrow staircase and you will find yourself sitting before a grill drinking Sapporo beers and watching your dinner being charcoaled to perfection by a man in a bandana.
Bincho brings the flavours, style and the cooking prowess to Soho, but its brazen location on busy Old Compton Street (formerly in the Oxo Tower) and its less intimate setting detract from the full authenticity of the experience. However, while we didn't have the living daylights scared out of us by the traditional welcome greeting, our waitress was helpful and absolutely lovely. We entrusted her with the pivotal task of selecting our copious supply of dishes for the evening.
And so this became the story, not of Tokyo, but of an American, 3 Dutch persons, 2 Australians and an Englishwoman in London. An introduction that sounds like it needs a punchline (what, no Irishman?), but the tale is serious one of feasting on the good stuff and swilling our sake to excess.
Yakitori are grilled chicken skewers, while kushiyuku cover all other skewer varieties. Generally, they are cooked with salt and lemon, or a tasty "tare" sauce (comprised of sake, mirin, soy and sugar) which they are dipped into during the grilling process.
Our delicious array included pork belly (fatty goodness), tebasaki (this may be the only time I will ever recommend chicken wings), aigamo (duck breast, spring onion and wasabi - yes, lovely), salmon, cherry tomato and bacon, chicken and bacon, gorgeous perfectly grilled asparagus, and giant eringi mushrooms which were so scrumptious that, if a mushroom could ever beat a piece of meat, might even have been my favourite dish.
The only oddity arrived in the form of the yuba salad consisting of spinach leaves, grated cheese (or was this the yuba? - dried bean curd) and bacon. Call it what you will, it was basically a caesar salad.
Along with a constant supply of moreish edamame, Asahi beers, a flask of sake (for Greedy) and an impressive flow of wine bottles, we also shared some scrumptious rice bowls - tori yaki meshi - rice with chicken and mushroom (silky and nutty flavoured).
The Greedy Diva always finds the atmosphere is somewhat lost when one moves away from sitting at the bar, gullet poised near the grills, in establishments such as this. However, it's just not feasible for large groups and unfortunately we were down in the dungeon next to the loos. This is my only real criticism of the place (apart from the offending salad), which appears tiny from the street but seems to have lots of hidden pockets in which to sup. If I was going again, I would try to nab a seat at the bar or a table upstairs, although if you have enough sake and lovely food, it doesn't really matter.
I had walked past Bincho before and wasn't overly drawn to it. So thanks Ray, my trusty Tokyophile, for the tip! Arigatoo GozaimashiTAAAA!
Bincho Yakitori, 16 Old Compton Street, Soho, W1D 4TL