Friday night in London. Bars for our ‘crawl’ were carefully picked and I was tasked to book the dinner venue. The criteria?
- – Japanese, preferably izakaya (bar food)
- – Within few blocks of the target Fitzrovia bars
- – Reasonably priced
A search through chowhound brought back nothing that fit, and I was about to suggest we loosen the criteria a little when I stumbled upon this post by Catty from The Catty Life. Her review of Soho Japan described a Japanese restaurant serving izakaya bar food in the surrounds of a former Irish pub. Strangely allured we booked ourselves in.
Don’t let the name fool you, Soho Japan is actually in Fitzrovia not Soho. Walking in, it’s not until you see the sushi counter that you realise you’ve found the place right. In fact, in our slightly alcohol fuelled state, the lack of signage meant we actually ended up in the bar/speakeasy downstairs before being shooed back into the dining room on the ground level. The restaurant has actually made little effort to hide the décor of its Irish pub past, which makes it a little quirky and suitably the restaurant has Asahi and Kirin beer on tap.
The menu is vast and offers a variety of sushi, hot dishes, robata grilled items and noodles to choose from. We opted to order a variety of food thinking it would be paced from the kitchen. Instead we were pretty much bombarded with food all at once. Our appetisers (£8.95 for three) consisted of marinated seaweed, chopped tuna tartare and crispy salmon skin. We ordered the seaweed on recommendation but were disappointed by the flavourless strips of seaweed. Tuna tartare was much better – fresh, topped with finely chopped shallot and wasabi. Crispy salmon skin was a bit of a star and was topped with a palatable soy mirin based sauce.
A few sushi rolls of spicy salmon and a California roll arrived next (£3.50-£4). Both were fairly pleasing with fairly fresh salmon fillings and vegetables. Rice was nicely vinegared.
Vegetable tempura (£9) arrived next and whilst decently fried was a little too small of a portion in my opinion. Unlike many other place in London, the serving of dashi dipping sauce was substantial (and hot!) and served appropriate with grated daikon.
Overwhelmed with the amount of food delivered to the table at once, Agadashi tofu (£4) was left sitting in its dashi broth for too long and unfortunately was a little soggy by the time we got to it. There was a nice cornflour ‘film’ to the batter though and I imagine it would have been much nicer had we eaten it hot.
From the grill, we ordered salt and pepper chicken wings which tasted as described really.
Our last dish, Nasu dengaku or grilled aubergine with white miso paste was a little bit of a disappointment. This is generally one of my staples at a Japanese restaurant, but this version was a little bland.
At this stage we actually intended to revisit the menu and start ordering from the robata grill – what izakaya is most famous for. Unfortunately we were already struggling to finish what we had ordered so didn’t quite get a chance.
We walked out paying £22/person including a beer or two each which I thought was really reasonable. There are very few Japanese places within that area, so this find is definitely good. On the friday night that we visited, the restaurant was fairly busy with a mainly Oriental crowd. I will return hopefully sometime soon just to try a few more things from their robata grill.
52 Wells St
Greater London, W1T 3PR
I’m glad you enjoyed your visit to Soho Japan! It’s so obscure that I think if more people knew about it, it would really take off. I’ve been a couple more times now and have always enjoyed!
I absolutely agree. There is def a gap for that ‘level’ of japanese food in central London. It’s no date night restaurant, but it’s very decent food and whilst I booked, seemed like the type of place that you could walk in and easily get a table.
Looks like a fantastic place …. I use Chowhound a lot, but not for London…. Must change ….