For a long time Japanese cuisine in London has been a choice between the rather pricey Nobu and utterly horrible supermarket sushi. But Japanese cuisine is finally becoming more accessible, from the excellent, grab-and-go sushi of the Wasabi chain to pop-ups and ramen shops. We’ve tracked down 14 of the best across London… Itadakimasu!
Words by Victoria Purcell
1 Sticks N Sushi, Greenwich & other locations
Sticks ‘n’ Sushi is big in Denmark and rapidly expanding here – the latest branch opened in Greenwich in early 2015 and there’s another soon to open in Canary Wharf. The restaurant, as the name suggest, focuses its efforts on yakitori (essentially things on sticks) and sushi, but the menu also includes Japanese-style salads and small sharing dishes like kimuchi and edamame. Sushi highlights include the Spicy Tuna Roll (tuna, spicy sauce and cucumber) and the Formidable Roll (avocado and cucumber tossed in sesame oil, topped with salmon tartare and trout roe). When it comes to the sticks, the miso-marinated black cod is out-of-this-world and the beef melts in the mouth.
Price: Set menus from £17pp, sushi and sticks prices vary
Eat: The Spicy Tuna Roll and the miso-marinated black cod on a stick
Go: 1 Nelson Road, Greenwich SE10 9JB; 020 3141 8220; sticksnsushi.com
2 Sapporo Ichiban, Catford
This Catford restaurant and takeaway is unassuming from the outside, but step inside and you’re greeted by a little fish pond and a horigotatsu-style seating area (where you sit on the floor and pop your feet into the sunken area below the table – there are standard tables and chairs too). The menu covers all the Japanese, casual dining favourites, from chicken katsu curry to bento boxes, fried udon with beef, ramen and oodles and oodles of sushi, sashimi options (nigiri, maki, temaki, chirashi-zushi and the locally-famous fashion sandwich, which is essentially a sushi sandwich and tastes fantastic). FYI: Sapporo is a region to the north of Japan, where the sushi is supposedly the freshest, and ‘ichiban’ means number one.
Price: Bento boxes from £7, nigiri sushi (2 pieces) £3.20-£3.60
Eat: The fashion sandwich with tuna, avocado and Japanese mayonnaise (4 large pieces, £5.20)
Go: 13 Catford Broadway, Catford SE6 4SP; 020 8690 8487
3 Locale, Blackheath
A firm favourite in Blackheath for years, Locale offers up a great selection of seafood, grilled meats and, as of this year, sushi and sashimi. Sous Chef Noel Hernandez, having worked in many award-winning restaurants including Zuma and Inamo St James, has taken to Locale’s specially built new kitchen like a duck to water, putting together your usual salmon and avocado rolls as well as a tuna tartare with spring onion, miso and spicy mayonnaise with avocado and pickled shallots, black tiger prawn tempura with dashi, soy, mirin, grated ginger and radish, and a salmon cervice in ponzu sauce. Served Wednesday to Sunday with special offers on Wednesday night.
Price: Salmon nigiri and tuna nigiri are both £4 (2 pieces)
Eat: The salmon cervice in ponzu sauce
Go: 1 Lawn Terrace, Blackheath Village SE3 9LJ; 020 8852 0700; localerestaurants.com
4 M&D Japanese, Deptford
M&D Japanese restaurant and takeaway in Deptford expertly prepares all sort of sushi at excellent prices. The sushi roll boxes with 8 pieces are only £5, or you can get a salmon platter for £8 with 2 salmon nigiri, 3 salmon sashimi, 2 salmon maki and 4 salmon and avocado. They also have a range of yakisoba dishes, teriyaki dishes, Japanese curry dishes and chocolate mochi for pud! Delivery (within a 3-mile radius) is available too.
Price: Sushi roll boxes (8 pieces) are £5
Eat: The California and Deptford Rolls
Go: 117 Deptford High Street, Deptford SE8 4NS; 020 8694 9328; manddjapanesedeptford.co.uk
5 Akari, Islington
Akari on Essex Road is an Izakaya, which is a drinking establishment that also serves food to accompany your beverage. Don’t expect large courses; it’s all about being adventurous here, where you are encouraged to try various dishes along with a wide range of Japanese drinks, from edamame to grilled yellowtail cheek served with salt, vegetable tempura and tofu served cold with bonito flakes, ginger and spring onion.
Prices: Prices from £2.70 for miso soup to £12.50 for grilled cod in miso
Eat: Karamiso yakiniku (pan-fried beef marinated in miso)
Go: 196 Essex Road, Islington N1 8LZ; 020 7226 9943; akarilondon.co.uk
6 Den, Kings Cross
Den, which opened in King’s Cross in early 2015, touts itself as an udon evangelist. Udon, thick wheat flour noodles, are a firm favourite in Japan, particularly among the health-conscious since the bowls of steaming noodles have fewer calories than ramen or soba. All of Den’s dishes are made using its Japanese dashi (broth); white dashi, made with bonito flakes, dried seaweed and a touch of soy sauce, and black dashi (white dashi mixed with strong soy sauce for a richer taste). Den also serves smaller plates called Tsumamis, which include red wine stewed pork belly, crispy mackerel and miso-marinated salmon. Home delivery is also available to WC1X, WC1N and N1 postcodes.
Price: Udon noodles in hot soup are priced £6.50-£11.50
Eat: Prawn tempura udon, a delicious classic
Go: 2 Acton Street, King’s Cross WC1X 9NA; 020 3632 1069; den-udon.uk.com
7 United Ramen, Islington
United Ramen is the go to place for, well, ramen. They take it very seriously: everything on the menu stems from ramen, which is made daily with deep, rich broths and served with either thin straight noodles or thick waxy noodles. Yes, there are other goodies on the menu, but when you have British Bulldog Roast Beef Ramen – rare roast beef, mini Yorkshire puddings, menma carrots, bok choi, spring onions, wasabi gravy, beef and chicken bone broth, and thin noodles – there really is only one place to start.
Price: Ramen dishes are priced £10-£12
Eat: The British Bulldog Roast Beef Ramen – where East meets West
Go: 105-106 Upper Street, Islington N1 1QN; 020 7183 3433; unitedramen.com
8 Tenshi, Islington
Tenshi’s authentic and unpretentious Japanese food is served up in simple, intimate surroundings along Upper Street. There are no fads or flamboyance, just top-quality sushi dishes. The standard roll, an inside out roll with the rice on the outside, futomaki (a thick sushi roll), temaki (hand rolls), sashimi selections and more. Tenshi also offers takoyaki (balls of fried octopus, a rare find in London and highly recommended), yakitori, yakisoba, tempura, udon, donburi… the works!
Price: salmon sashimi is £4.50 (3 pieces) and nigiri £3.50 (2 pieces)
Eat: Takoyaki (fried octopus balls with sweet BBQ sauce) is a rare find in London
Go: 61 Upper Street, Islington N1 0NY; 020 7226 4665; tenshilondon.com
9 Beer & Buns, Shoreditch
Beer & Buns combines the pop-up trend with excellent beers and an izakaya-style approach to food, that is, good quality bar snacks to complement your drinks. Beer & Buns offers the UK’s largest range of Japanese craft beers and soft, pillow-like steamed ‘Hirata’ buns – the B&B Signature Bun (chicken karage with yuzu koshu slaw) and chashu pork belly bun with braised red cabbage and mustard mayo are out of this world. They also serve up crispy Korean-style jumbo chicken wings. They’ve got retro pinball and fussball tables, too. Oh and mines an Asahi Black.
Prices: Hirata buns £3.50 each; chicken wings £4.50 for two
Eat: The chashu pork belly bun with braised red cabbage and mustard mayo
Go: Upstairs @ K10, 3 Appold Street, Shoreditch EC2A 2AF; beerandbuns.co.uk (until end July)
10 Ippudo, Canary Wharf
Ippudo was founded in 1985 in Japan’s ramen capital of Hakata, in the Fukuoka region of Japan (the south). With over 80 stores in Japan, Ippudo will open its second London branch at Canary Wharf’s brand new Crossrail station this summer. Ippudo serves up authentic, award-winning tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen, with the option to add extra toppings like boiled egg and pork belly. A selection of other dishes, including salads, fried chicken and tofu dishes are also available.
Prices: Ramen dishes are priced £10-£12
Eat: Keep it simple with the Shiromaru Hakata Classic
Go: 1 Crossrail Place, Canary Wharf E14 5AR; ippudo.co.uk
11 Woodstock Kushiyaki, Oxford Street
Woodstock Kushiyaki, just off Oxford Street, opened in March 2015 and is the capital’s first authentic izakaya – dark wood interiors, a laid-back atmosphere, an extensive Japanese-led drinks menu (draft beers, sake, shochu, umeshu… the works) where the idea is to call in for a ‘pint and skewer’ before heading home. The menu offer over 20 varieties of skewers, divided into kushiyaki (grilled skewers with salt or teriyaki sauce) and kushiyage (fried skewers with miso and dashi sauce). The pork belly kushiyaki is out of this world, as is the soft shell crab kushiyagi with wasabi mayo. There are also a couple of snacks including the meltingly gorgeous crispy calamari with Japanese mayo and yuzu salt.
Price: Skewers are priced from £2.50 for two
Eat: Pork belly kushiyaki
Go: The Woodstock, 11 Woodstock Street W1C 2AE; thewoodstocklondon.co.uk
12 Tokyo Diner, Soho
This absolute gem of a place is always busy in weekends and has a substantial menu of bento boxes, sushi, sashimi, udon, soba, donburi (a rice-bowl dish toped with fish or meat – the salmon-don is good and the calorie-laden katsu-don, topped with a fried pork cutlet, is a top hangover cure) and more. It’s also has a no-tuna policy and clear food allergy information/gluten content information. What’s more, it’s been doing it longer than anybody else – serving up good priced, authentic Japanese food since 1992.
Prices: Salmon nigiri (2 pieces) is £4.20, salmon don is £10.60
Eat: The salmon-don is you’re on a health kick, the katsu-don if you’re not
Go: 2 Newport Place, Soho WC2H 7JJ; 020 7287 8777; tokyodiner.com
13 Sake No Hana, St. James’s
Okay, Okay, casual dining it is not, but Sake No Hana’s Umai Saturdays is incredibly good value at £37 per person (minimum of two sharing). The five-course lunch menu starts with white miso soup and a phenomenal sesame spinach with cassava chips. You can then choose from either thinly sliced sea bass sashimi with chilli ponzu dressing or seared rib-eye beef with sesame dressing (a tough call but the sashimi had it for me), before you’re served a plate of sushi – spicy tuna maki, salmon avocado maki and crunchy yasai maki (pepper tempura with cucumber). Then comes the main course – sukiyaki (a soupy-stew with rib-eye beef or chicken, vegetables, tofu and mushrooms) topped with a big puff of yuzu candy floss, alongside salmon teriyaki and prawn and vegetable tempura. It’s all served with a miniature bottle of light, sparkling sake and a more potent still sake and rounded off with a beautifully decorated seasonal dessert.
Price: £37 per person (minimum two sharing)
Eat: The whole lot – it’s some of the best Japanese food I’ve ever had
Go: Saturdays 12noon-4pm, 23 St James’s Street SW1A 1HA; 020 7925 8988; sakenohana.com
14 The Japan Centre
The Japan Centre in Piccadilly has long been the saving grace of Japanese expats looking to buy Japanese groceries, and they have a great sushi deli counter for takeaway sushi too. Excellent value and just as sushi should be – super fresh fish (it’s prepared on the premises daily), proper sushi rice (not that hard, over-refrigerated stuff you get with supermarket ‘sushi’), and no nonsense toppings like smoked salmon with cream cheese (ugh). Their mackerel nigiri is one of my absolute favourites, along with the salmon, tuna and California rolls. Pick up a green tea ice-cream or some mochi for pud while you’re there!
Price: Price’s start from £1!
Eat: Mackerel nigiri followed by a green tea ice-cream
Go: 19 Shaftesbury Avenue, Piccadilly W1D 7ED; 020 3405 1246; japancentre.com