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  • Writer's pictureMatias

Must-try Japanese restaurants in East and North London

Updated: Feb 26

Japanese cuisine is my favourite in the world, and there are many reasons for that. Their food culture is rich, diverse, and deeply rooted in tradition, emphasising freshness, seasonality, and presentation. This is even recognized by UNESCO as Washoku, the traditional dietary culture of Japan, designated as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. But Japanese food culture is not just about eating; it's also about appreciating the craftsmanship, seasonality, and harmony in every aspect of the dining experience. This experience is tied to the simplicity and minimalism of their food. Dishes are often prepared with just a few ingredients, allowing the natural flavours to shine through. This simplicity is even reflected in the presentation, where clean and elegant arrangements are always favoured.

That’s why one can describe Japanese food as a celebration of simplicity, seasonality, and craftsmanship, where every dish is a work of art designed to delight the senses.

Continuing the Japanese culinary legacy with Shokunin chefs

Japanese food is heavily influenced by its rich cultural heritage, including traditions like tea ceremonies, kaiseki dining, and seasonal festivals. These traditions deeply enrich the dining experience, even shaping the training of Japanese chefs. Becoming a Japanese cook often requires years of apprenticeship under a master chef, during which apprentices learn various culinary techniques, knife skills, and the importance of attention to detail. For instance, to become a sushi Itamae (sushi master), apprentices typically spend around 5-10 years perfecting their skills. It’s this dedication to craftsmanship that makes Japanese cuisine so special and highly praised worldwide.


When I reflect on Japanese food, the array of dishes, techniques, and rituals that have made their way to the Western world, particularly the UK, is remarkable. Let’s start with the most essential element: rice, which forms the cornerstone of various meals, including sushi in its evolved form. From there, we delve into noodles, which feature prominently in staple dishes such as Ramen, Soba, or Udon, and of course, in instant noodle soups. Needless to say, Ramen is one of my favourite comfort foods ever, and you can find out where to eat the most delicious ones in London here. And let's not forget the creation of Miso Soup, a staple served in Japanese restaurants worldwide. Additionally, the delicate method of frying food, such as vegetables and prawns, known as tempura, is another notable contribution. And who can overlook the famous Bento boxes, featuring a collection of delicious bites neatly packed into a box?


When discussing rituals, Kaiseki cuisine takes centre stage, representing a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner. Then there's Izakaya, an informal tapas culture enjoyed at bars across Japan. And moving away from Japanese rituals, perhaps the most notable and my personal favourite flavour concept they've introduced is Umami, referring to the fifth basic taste. This rich flavour sensation is often achieved through ingredients (and combinations) like soy sauce, miso, seaweed, and bonito flakes, adding depth and richness to various Japanese dishes.


The Japanese island

As a seafood lover, the location of this fertile island in the waters of the Asia-Pacific Ocean provides an abundance of seafood, making Japanese cuisine uniquely diverse. Ingredients such as sea urchin, tuna, and seaweed thrive in Japanese cuisine, offering different shapes, textures, and preparations. Without a doubt,  the most famous and exquisite ingredient from Japan is Kobe beef, a unique breed of cattle with a designated origin that is fed and bred uniquely throughout the animal’s life. The breeding process includes music, massages, and other pampering rituals to produce the most tender and marbled piece of meat any meat lover can imagine. 

On my only trip to Japan, I had the opportunity to experience this type of meat in its full glory and specifically travelled to Kobe one night to savour a prime cut of this exceptional beef at its source. While the experience was incredibly expensive, it resulted in the best piece of meat I've ever tasted.


The extravagance of ingredients from both the sea and the land, coupled with various techniques and culinary diversity, provided several mind-blowing and memorable moments. From simple dishes to the most elevated experiences at seafood Michelin-starred restaurants, I had the privilege of trying most of the staple dishes from Japan, each showcasing the best ingredients from the land of the rising sun.

Pictures: A mix of my Japanese travel, from Uni to Kobe beef

 

Japanese steel

The last element worth mentioning, which is an essential part of their culinary heritage, is their famous knives. One thing that comes to mind is the memorable scene in Kill Bill about Japanese steel>

Japanese cooks are renowned for their exceptional knife skills, which they combine with the use of special knives for different tasks. They can expertly slice, dice, and fillet ingredients with clinical precision thanks to their tools. Therefore, Japanese knives are indeed the pinnacle of craftsmanship, representing a millennia-old art of crafting the sharpest and most durable blades a chef can own.


If you visit any knife shops in London, you'll likely find that the most expensive and badass looking knives are Japanese. For those who enjoy cooking like myself, investing in quality knives can greatly improve your overall cooking experience. Sharp knives not only make cooking easier but also make it safer. If you're looking for a local Japanese knife shop in North/East London to get yours, then look no further and get them from Kitchen Provisions in Stoke Newington.


My Japanese knives

Picture: My Japanese knives

 

Sacred potions

Japanese excellence extends beyond their food to their drinks as well. While green tea, especially matcha (powdered green tea), and sake are the beverages most commonly associated with this ancient culture, in recent years, two spirits have taken the West by surprise, particularly the London scene: Gin and Whisky, the latter being truly exceptional.


Japanese Whisky has swiftly claimed the shelves of bars, exclusive restaurants, and shops in London with remarkable speed. The craftsmanship behind the creation of Japanese Whisky is a significant reason for its popularity. These efforts have not gone unnoticed in the Western world and have even rivalled the rich British Whisky culture by earning accolades such as being awarded the best single malt in the world in 2020.


Over the last decade, I've had the joy and privilege of sipping Whisky in Scotland, as well as in Ireland (where I lived for a year), other parts of the UK, and Japan.

During that trip to Japan, I had the opportunity to sample a significant number of Whiskys, with one in particular leaving a lasting impression: Nikka coffey.


For those interested in experiencing a variety of Japanese Whiskys in East London, I highly recommend heading to the cocktail bar MAP Maison. I visited there last week, and their overall Whisky offering is absolutely mind-blowing.

Pictures: Japanese Whisky


Indeed, Japan's cultural heritage extends far beyond its cuisine. This millennia-old culture, with its beautiful writing, art and fashion, adds layers of depth to its heritage. It's easy to get carried away when discussing Japanese culture and its cuisine, so for the purpose of this post, I'll stick to the original plan and share some of my favourite places in North and East London, where one can have delightful culinary experiences.

 

Best Japanese restaurants to try in East and North London


Uchi | Clapton

Uchi is my go-to place for Japanese cuisine, offering an authentic experience in their gorgeous restaurant. It has been featured in various media outlets as one of the most picturesque restaurants in London. In fact, the main picture on my blog was taken at Uchi, and every time I visit, I can take endless snapshots that look as perfect as ever. 

Treat yourself to their amazing sushi and immerse yourself in Japanese culture at this lovely restaurant.


Mu | Dalston

Mu is the perfect blend for those who want to enjoy Japanese tapas in a cool atmosphere. I tend to visit this place when I'm craving more than just food, as it's a jazz/Japanese Izakaya bar - a marriage made in heaven. What can you expect? Delicious little bites, great sake and cocktails, as well as outstanding live jazz music, all in the heart of trendy Dalston.


Aun | Stoke Newington

This restaurant brings the Japanese concept of 'wakon yosai' to the heart of Stoke Newington. The idea emphasises learning Western techniques without losing the Japanese spirit, and their food is served in Izakaya style.


Dotori | Finsbury Park

Dotori is a no-frills Korean and Japanese canteen in lively Finsbury Park. While it offers more than just Japanese dishes, this cosy spot serves up simple and delicious food. They don't take reservations, but if you're willing to queue, the experience is well worth it.


Kampai Sushi | Highgate

When you're craving sushi, Kampai is the place to be, with its comprehensive selection of quality rolls. Although located a bit further north in London, this restaurant is definitely worth sharing in this post.


Sanjugo | Angel

Sanjugo is known for providing a true Japanese experience across various locations in London. Despite being a popular chain, they never compromise on quality and flavours.

 

Have you tried any of the restaurants mentioned in this post? Let me know and share other Japanese gems worth trying beyond East and North London.

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