Time for our first Japanese meal of the year. We are meeting our good friends Antonio & Elisabetta for lunch at Arigato in the centre of Newbury. Set in a Georgian building on the edge of the Avon & Kennet canal, Arigato appears to be a great setting for some interesting culinary experiences and for catching up with friends that we haven’t seen for a while.
We are running late so, when we arrive, Antonio & Elisabetta are already there. Antonio is enjoying a glass of red wine and, as it is impolite to let anyone drink alone, I order a pint of Asahi Super Dry. This is a clean, dry Japanese rice lager with some slightly sweet notes that can be picked up as it goes down. The more sensible and more generous ladies have ‘volunteered’ to drive.
Food soon arrives and the first dish is a Miso soup, made from a dashi stock of fish and seaweed, it is a pleasant beginning. Antonio and Elisabetta are both having sushi rolls – sesame covered sticky rice rolls filled with salmon and fish roe. Rock and I are sharing tuna Tataki with Miso and seabass tempura. The tuna is perfectly prepared – marinated, then just seared on the outside – then sliced to show the inside almost raw. It is lightly coated by something that is both a sweet and sticky and accompanied by a sharp and tangy sauce. The tempura batter is very delicate and the seabass inside is beautiful. Meanwhile, the next dish for Antonio and Elisabetta has arrived…crispy squid served with lime and salad vegetables.
The conversation is lively and covers a very wide range of topics – work, Yorkshire, appearing on TV, holidays and other great places to eat.
Chicken Katsu curry
Next Rock is having the vegetarian Gyoza, steamed Japanese dumplings served with a dipping sauce. Antonio & Elisabetta are enjoying the chicken Katsu curry – the breaded and fried chicken has been added to a silky rich curry sauce and served with rice and salad. I’ve moved on to the chicken Teriyaki noodles – ginger, honey and sesame oil flavours work their way through the dish and I’m really enjoying it.
Antonio and I still have room for dessert – he picks the green tea Mochi and, knowing Rock’s love of chocolate, I pick the chocolate Mochi. Very intense flavours, interesting consistency – well worth trying.
Green Tea Mochi
Good food and great company – it’s what lunch should always be about!
We’ve arrived early at Sosharu in Clerkenwell. This gives us the chance to have a drink at the bar and chat to Emily, the pastry chef, until Karla arrives to meet us for lunch. Kirin Ichiban, described as ‘Japan’s Premium Beer’ seems like a good way to start. It is highly carbonated, quite malty and not too sweet – it will work well with my lunch!
We watch the sashimi chef delicately shaving a variety of vegetables and neatly preparing fish with a huge knife and continue to chat to Emily as she creates a series of beautiful desserts. Sosharu is one of Jason Atherton’s restaurants and Emily has worked for Jason for 9 years. Very soon, however, she is leaving to work in a top New York restaurant. Karla soon arrives and we head to our table.
Karla always has the Bento Box when she is here at lunchtime and we cannot persuade her to change this habit. It is not surprising though – set out on a wooden tray (rather than a box) the seafood bento contains salmon teriyaki, a selection of seasonal pickled vegetables, a chirashi bowl of sashimi and sushi rice and a summer salad. It also looks fantastic.
Rock and I decide to mix it up a bit though. We select: the tuna open temaki with scallion tobiko, sushi rice, avocado and fresh wasabi; the chicken karaage with lemon salt; the stuffed chicken wings with pickled turnip; and the Kyoto stuffed peppers. The open temaki is sensational and easily our favourite savoury dish.
Tuna open temaki
Another Kirin Ichiban helps me toward the dessert course. Normally, Rock and I share a dessert but we are keen to try Emily’s creations and choose one each. Rock picks the strawberry & matcha roll with yoghurt & yuzu, I have the matcha mille crepe with matcha sorbet. This is a mistake – matcha is a green tea and has quite a distinct flavour – my dessert has too much matcha for me! Rock’s dessert though is beautiful to look at and beautiful to eat. This is Emily at her best!
Matcha mille crepe
Strawberry & matcha roll
Overall, the food has been a fabulous array of fascinating ingredients and beautiful flavours. Great service delivered in a relaxed and sophisticated environment.
It’s the morning of our flight and our normal breakfast stop at Heathrow, Plane Food, is closed for refurbishment. So, we decide to try breakfast with a touch of Japanese influence at Wagamama.
The menu reads like a pleasing confusion of British, Japanese and other international influences and we are fascinated as we watch a variety of plates and bowls being served to other tables. It is also good to see an open kitchen with dishes being freshly cooked to order.
We ask Katarzyna, who is looking after us, a few questions about the menu and then start with juice but… its not going to be a simple OJ. Rock selects Fruit a mix of apple, orange and passionfruit juice. But, after last night’s curry I need a Super Green – a combination of apple, mint, celery and lime. I am quite excited – it is very different to anything I’ve had at breakfast before and it’s very good.
I fall back to tradition next and Wagamama’s version of the English Breakfast – back bacon, sausages, grilled tomato, wilted spinach, sautéed sweet potato, shiitake mushrooms and poached eggs. My sausages are not cooked enough for my taste but they whisk them back to the kitchen and then back to me without any fuss. The dish has many great notes of familiarity but also some magical notes of international flavour.
Meanwhile, Rock is being a little more adventurous and having the bacon roti wrap. A thai flatbread filled with spinach, bacon, a nori omelette and sriracha (hot chilli) ketchup. It is wildy different from a bacon roll and she loves it.
Overall, the service from Katarzyna and others has been excellent and so has the food. This won’t be the last time we land at Wagamama!
Today I’m in London, without Rock, meeting the fabulous Karla at Sosharu in Clerkenwell. Sosharu is the latest venture by Jason & Irha Atherton and it has just been named London Restaurant of the Year at the 2016 AA Awards. It serves small plates of Japanese food designed by executive head chef, Alex Craciun.
The restaurant is quite busy yet retains a degree of calmness. The décor is fairly mimimalist, reflecting the style of a Japanese Minka house. The toilets are extraordinary! Neither Karla or myself are experts in Japanese food and, after seeing a number of beautiful looking dishes delivered to other tables, we both decide to go for the seafood bento box.
Our bento boxes are divided into four parts – all delivered at the same time. We have: salmon teriyaki served with pickled ginger; kyoto style chirashi with tuna, salmon, egg threads and sushi rice; a seasonal vegetable salad with purple mizuna and a yuzukosho dressing; and home-made pickled vegetables with kimchi. It is an amazing array of colours, flavours and textures.
As if I am not already spoiling myself with the food… I have a Junmai 36 samurai cold sake to add to my enjoyment. We have no difficulty in eating (and loving) everything we have been given. We both select the excellent chocolate ice cream from the desserts included in the bento box deal.
Karla is celebrating becoming a new home-owner. I am celebrating this opportunity to catch up with her over lunch. We are both celebrating the fantastic food we have just enjoyed. Sosharu already has an AA Award and it is now in the running for a WadeandRockandFood Award!
Sometimes you just go out for a meal but, very occasionally, you go out with the expectation of an eating experience. Tonight we are having dinner at the Mission Bell, near St Margaret’s Hope on the Orkney island of South Ronaldsay. You have to book in advance, you have to agree the menu in advance… because this is no ordinary restaurant. It is a salt-free, slow food kitchen which embraces a number of Orcadian & international cuisines including Japanese Washoku.
Owners Patrick & Keiko make us very welcome. The Missing Bell is unlicensed – so we have brought a half decent bottle of Chablis with us. Our first course is Tataki, lightly seared pieces of fresh tuna dressed with garlic flakes, spring onions, samphire and a ponzu sauce. Served with leeks and miso. The whole dish is beautifully presented, the tuna is cooked perfectly….it is a stunning start!
Our second course is Teriyaki Beef. Medium rare slices of Aberdeen Angus beef fillet served on a bed of courgette ribbons with rice, shiitake mushrooms, asparagus, orange and a teriyaki sauce. Again the dish is presented like a piece of art – the beef is tender and it tastes sensational.
Tataki seared tuna
Green tea mousse
Patrick & Keiko are great hosts throughout the evening and Patrick will tell you everything you want to know about their cooking philosophy. When dessert arrives it is a green tea mousse sitting on a black sesame seed sponge, chocolate cake, fresh strawberries, pomegranate and mint. A delightful end to a truly fabulous meal.
The far east is still calling to us – this time we are turning Japanese at Kurobuta in Chelsea. Kurobuta is an informal modern Japanese restaurant owned by former Ubon head chef Scott Hallsworth.
As we walk through the door, the informality compared to other Japanese restaurants is striking – it looks like some of the bars we visited in Australia. The menu is informal too – they have a section titled Junk Food Japan! Even the drinks menu is unlike anything we have seen before. We are going to need some help and our waitress obliges.
It is time for us to experiment and the waitress brings me two different sakes to taste. I settle on a warmed Waning Moon with caramel and umami flavours and Rock, who will do anything for a decent peach bellini, chooses the sparkling peach sake.
With some help we choose: sweet potato & soba-ko fries; beef fillet tataki; pork ribs with honey, soy & ginger glaze; tuna sashimi pizza; Nasu Dengaku, a sticky miso aubergine dish and salmon kimchee. Rock has never eaten raw meat before but she not only tried the beef tataki but went back for second and third helpings. The other truly wonderful dish is the tuna sashimi pizza – melt in the mouth tuna on a crisp wafer thin base
I need another drink and this time I try the Kirin ichiban frozen – a japanese malt beer with an iced head. We definitely need to come back here with friends… then we can experiment with even more dishes and even more drinks.