The day: 9th Decmber 2007, Dinner.
The place: 14 Hanway Street, London W1T 1UD (020-7637 7720)
The venue: Kikuchi Restaurant
The food: Japanese
The drinks: Japanese beers and sake.
In the year when the Michelin critics regaled Tokyo with an amazing array of stars, including three for a sushi bar in a station, it seems appropriate to pay a visit to Kikuchi, our favourite Japanese joint in London town. It’s tucked away in a seedy street off Tottenham Court road; if you notice several Mercedes parked there, be aware that they are not for Kikuchi customers but rather for the nearby much posher venue of Hakkasan.
The interior is Spartan with wooden tables
but very pleasant, tastefully decorated, warm, inviting, with embellishments, hygiene certificates and knives hung here and there
And of course the sushi counter (of which we could not take a detailed photograph not to disturb the other guests seating there) with Mr. Kikuchi himself, in traditional attire, concentrated on his delicate and refined cutting tasks – needless to say, this is not your easy-going Yo Sushi with pre-prepared sushi and sashimi items rotating on a conveyor belt and slowly oxidising: the fish is cut and assembled in front of you just before you eat it, a spectacle in itself:
The menu offers some fixed price set selections (sashimi, or teriyaki, or tempura) all at £35. We instead go a la carte, which offers an extensive number of choices. We begin with one of our favourites,
Saba no ponzu ae (Horse mackerel in ponzu) at £8.50 (from the list of specials).
First, the small plate you see beside the fishbowl is a little present that you get when you order alcohol (beer or sake). We did have a couple of Asahi beers, and this time (the offering varies every time) we were presented with this delicate finely cut marinated aubergine.
Now to the mackerel. This dish embodies for us (admittedly totally ignorant and naïve in the matter) all the best in Japanese cuisine: the stark, elegant and yet vivid presentation; the neatness of the flavours; the delightful freshness and melting, buttery consistency of the fish. Not to mention that the fatty acids in the mackerel are good for you…what do you want more? We could eat wagon loads of this stuff…
…but for the sake of variety we don’t, going instead next for some Edamame (soy pods steamed and salted, at £3.80) which we did not photograph since (1) they look like in any other sushi bar (2) our camera batteries were running low since one of us two which is not ‘me’ (!) had forgotten to change them…we shall spare you the argument between Man and Woman, which could only be placated by this:
Hotate Kinoko Butter (scallops fried in butter with mixed mushrooms), £ 8.00 (from the list of specials).
Scallops at their best are a treat for your palate, at their worst just a rubbery inconvenience: we can assure you these were a treat, perfectly fried so as to be both tender and gold coloured, with a nutty butter flavour, and very well matched by the mushrooms.
Next, of course, comes the sushi. There are two ‘chef sushi selections’ (besides the a la carte choices), one with 12 pieces and one with 9, both priced at around £2 a piece. We go for the smaller one:
Just the week before we had had a sushi in a nice but inferior place, and it was good we did, because we could appreciate even more the quality of the sushi at Kikuchi. As you can see it comes simply served on a wooden tray, with radish paste and finely sliced ginger (bottom left corner). Tonight’s selection consisted of prawns, two types of roe, mackerel, tuna, salmon, scallop, and two white fishes that we admit were not able to identify. This ensemble regaled us with the usual kaleidoscope of soft textures and delicate flavours that come with top level sushi. Delicious…
..but we are still very hungry: we are two carbohydrate addicted Italians after all. So we decide to satisfy our craving with two noodle soups:
– Inaniwa-zaru udon or su udon, £6.00
– Zaru-soba or kake-soba, £6.00
The first soup has thick white noodles while the second one has thinner buckwheat noodles. They both come in cold or hot versions (we put both names above but we don’t know which is which…) , and given the miserable weather outside and our scooter means of transport, we thought well to store up some heat. Both were excellent, the broth clear and intense.
You won’t believe it, but we are still hungry. So we conclude with:
– Nasu dengaku (grilled aubergine with sweet miso), £7.50 (from the list of specials).
In fact this turned out to be an excellent way to conclude the meal: a sweet, glistening, dribbling, melting, nutty, luscious roasted aubergine presented .
With the two Asahi beers at £4.00 each, copious amounts of green tea for free (bottomless cup) and a 10% service charge, the bill came to £72.30. Moreover, the more cheap bastards among you will be pleased to know that you get a £5.00 discount voucher for the next visit for every £50.00 you spend.
The service is extremely efficient, almost verging on the martial though with a charming smile. When you enter or book you are warned that there is a minimum £20.00 food charge per person. But don’t be put off: this is a lovingly run operation, and many restaurateurs would learn from studying how Mr. Kikuchi organises his front room staff. We like the homely atmosphere, and the many Japanese people who crowd the room seem to think the same. And although the décor is rustic the prices for such quality of ingredients are truly remarkable.
As we said we are no experts in Japanese cuisine, still we find nothing but fresh, good flavours and textures at Kikuchi, and this is enough for us. The dishes we went for were mainly ingredient based, calling chiefly on the demanding skills of the sushi chef. Although every time we go we say we must try also the teriyakis, the tempuras and all the rest, every time we cannot resist the tempting call of top quality deftly prepared sushi and sashimi. Well, maybe we’ll manage next time…