Thursday, 28 January 2010
Despite, or maybe because of, the dark and eery countenance of the sordid little laneway that is Hanway Street, I never fail to have a good time there. Tucked away discreetly in the midst of it all is Kikuchi - a Japanese restaurant that, with one peek in the window, we dared to dream might be something along the lines of which we had not encountered since our trip to Tokyo early last year.
It's small and basic, but jam packed with tables full of Japanese businessmen eating fresh sashimi and knocking back the sake like it's going out of style. We enter to cries of "Hirashaimaseeee" and a room buzzing with atmosphere. The sushi chef, with his carefully sculpted mo and sidies, works rapidly and ceaselessly at the counter, while the waitresses offer that amazingly friendly "can't do enough for you" service that is rarely seen outside of Japan. But just what do they cry out incessantly to each other, even when no-one seems to register a reaction??
Both the atmosphere and food are more authentic than anything I've found in London to date (noting I haven't yet been to Sushi-Hiro, which I've been hankering to try out - it recently won a Bib Gourmande in the UK 2010 Michelin Guide). At Kikuchi, there's a £20 per head minimum food spend, which means it's not exactly a cheap eats night out once you factor in the obligatory Japanese beers and sake, but on looking around at the food being delivered to nearby tables we were sufficiently caught up in the whirl of our new find and ready to take it on. And, given the quality, it turned out to be good value.
The waitress suggested sushi and sashimi are the house specialities. We didn't try them this time, but (we didn't realise at the time) Jay Rayner reviewed Kikuchi just a few weeks ago [GD: It's 2010 - his review was actually Jan 2009 - blonde moment] and raved about its sushi. It doesn't surprise me. Everything we ate was outstanding.
A little, freebie vegetable potato salad got the stomach juices flowing right from scratch. Our first starter, raw scallops with a smooth, sweet ginger sauce balanced beautifully with the seaweed and pickled vegetables around it. There was already a temptation for The Peanut Gallery and I to high five each other's chopsticks at this point.
Our prawn tempura was perfectly executed - light and crispy batter, with big, flavoursome, juicy prawns wrapped up inside. Another side of grilled eel with a cucumber and sesame salad in a sweet soy-like sauce was also excellent.
The grilled salmon skins with spring onion and radish was lush and crispy, while our chicken yakitori skewers were mouth wateringly tasty. We finished off with the chicken and vegetable hot pot - a clear, light broth with outstandingly tasty chicken pieces, delicious chicken "rissole" type balls, silky tofu, cabbage and spring onion.
Our food bill came to £42, although we would order more next time (we had initially set out for a light meal). TPG declared it - when we come back again (oh, we will be back) it will be hard not to order the exact same dishes. They were all fantastic.
But I really do want to try the sashimi bar. And I want to see how the festivities end up for all those hard core, sake drinking folk around me. If you love the food in Tokyo, I suggest you'll find this one's a winner.
[Postscript: I have since gone back (many times...) and reviewed the sashimi - see here.]
Kikuchi, 14 Hanway Street, London W1T 1UD