Atari-Ya

It turns out North West London isn’t as bad as I first thought for restaurants. With Highgate Road, West Hampstead and Primrose Hill to choose from, you’ve got a good restaurant for just about every cuisine. After a boozy weekend I needed to feel the cleansing powers of Japanese food. A green tea and platefuls of raw fish was bound to add a couple of years back onto my liver.

The decor is simple and clean, so very Japanese in that respect. There’s a seated bar area that was fully booked where you can watch the chefs efficiently get on with their work. It’s hardly like the counter at Zuma, but it still makes for good spectator sport if you’re struggling for mid-week conversation with your missus. A specials board was set in front of us, along with a fairly long menu of just about every fish you can imagine. Deciding not do go for the standard California roll we mixed it up, starting off with the Eel, avocado and cucumber (£6.50 for 6 pieces). The rice was at that perfect warm temperature, something chain sushi joints with those bloody awful conveyor belts can never get right. Or to put it another way, Yo! Sushi.

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Next up was a selection of seaweeds (£7.50), a bit over-priced for something you can pick up for free down the beach. If this wasn’t going to heal up my liver then I don’t know what will. It came with a lovely smooth peanut dipping sauce that really worked.

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The sashimi selection included sweet prawns, scallops and salmon (£10.40) which were incredibly fresh. Obviously all food served in a restaurant should be fresh, but a lot of people’s experience of sushi is the £1 packet from Asda. Held up against that there really is no comparison for the real thing. The freshness came through in the texture which was incredibly light. It was nice to have scallops without black pudding or chorizo anywhere in sight.

The braised pork belly (£6.50) was served up in its braising juices which were real porky goodness and soon slurped up.

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My favourite was the Dasu Dengaku (£6) which is deep fried aubergine with sweet miso. The miso works so well with it, giving it a caramel like flavour.

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Last up was the squid legs tempura (£7.50) which had an excellent sweet and light batter, absolutely free from any grease. The only complaint about the spicy sauce on the side was that there wasn’t enough of it.

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This is a midweek sort of place, somewhere to nip to after work or for a quick meal with your partner. Being away from central London it is also kinder on the pocket. Although not by much. Still though the sushi is much fresher than the dry and bland crap you’ll get served at all of these chains, and so if you live nearby then it is definitely worth the trip.

Food: 7/10

Service: 7/10

Atmosphere: 6/10

Value: 6/10

Overall: 6.5/10 

75 Fairfax Road, NW6 4EE

Atari-Ya Sushi Bar Swiss Cottage on Urbanspoon

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Bone Daddies vs. Tonkotsu: The Ramen Battle

There is no better cure for a hangover than a bowl of steaming ramen. It’s the Japanese Alka-Seltzer. I discovered this trawling through Soho on a miserable afternoon when my hopes for my normal remedy of a burger had been dashed by the hour minimum queues for Honest Burger and Burger & Lobster, and so I had ventured through the rather uninviting black front of Tonkotsu.

Inside the classic Soho run-down reigns. Anybody else getting bored of bare walls and dim industrial lights? Why is it so many of these places seem designed to get you in and out with as little comfort as possible. At least the food looked good.

The menu is simple- a few Gyoza, some basic Japanese sides and Ramen. I was in no mood for fiddly little dumplings, and so it was straight to the main event. Soon sitting in front of me was a steaming bowl of richly coloured broth. The smell and sight alone was enough to lift my spirits. Chopsticks and a wooden spoon were presented to me, but neither would really do for this dish. As Tonkotsu say on their website- ‘You’ll find that devouring your bowl of ramen using the traditional Japanese method of slurping will make it highly pleasurable experience’- and so this is exactly what I did. Food splashed all over my face and the table. It was lucky that I was eating alone. There’s something so satisfying about letting all manners disappear and going hell-for-leather at food. The slow-cooking has taken away the chore of chewing for you.  All it required of me was to simply slurp and swallow it up- ideal for any hangover when this is the limit of your capabilities.

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The pork belly and soft-boiled egg are all wonderful little additions, but there is no mistaking that the stock is star of the show. It is the type you will never make at home, and you would be stupid to even try it. Every bit of those pig bones has disintegrated to make this a creamy and intensely meaty juice. The house chilli sauce is also great, and a few heaped spoonfuls had the alcohol sweating out of me. I left Tonkotsu feeling not full and greasy as I would have done after a burger, but instead like I had just had both a sauna and a massage. Yours for £11.

Tonkotsu was the regular Saturday haunt for a while, and then Bone Daddies came along. This is a much hipper and more Soho version of a ramen joint. A large open window ensures that is brighter and with trendy music playing and a bustling hipster crowd this is for a different type of hangover. If Tonkotsu is designed to soothe and ease you into the afternoon, then Bone Daddies is the hair of the dog.

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Again I went for the tonkotsu ramen (£11). It is a much deeper orange than Tonkotsu and after loading it up with more chilli and sasme seeds from a fun little grinder that distributes most of the seeds to everywhere but your bowl, I tucked in. The flavour is intense. It’s the daddy of ramen. The effect it had one me was so warming that the only thing it is comparable to is having a cup of Bovril at half time during the match in the winter months. I doubt too many football stadiums will go to the lengths of cooking their stock for this length of time though. So good was this ramen that I found myself ordering a pint of Asahi midway through it. It had done it’s job.

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Both places dish up excellent ramen, and it’s likely I’ll split my time going between both. But Bone Daddies does just edge it.

Tonkotsu: 7/10

63 Dean St, London W1D 4QG

Bone Daddies: 8/10

31 Peter St, London W1F 0AR

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Nobu Berkeley Street

Given that I’m currently looking for a job and trying to cut back on the finer things in life, Nobu is probably the last place I deserved to be. But a Saturday night treat was in store. After a brief cock-up with the taxi which meant I had to dash to the tube so that rather than pulling up smoothly outside of the front door, I arrived sweating and out-of-breath, I found myself  strolling though the heavily manned grand white entrance, and stepping inside the world of Nobu.

I joined the rest of my crowd standing by the bar using the light from their phones to read the menu. We asked a passing waiter if there were any tables we could sit at, and even though there were about ten spare, he still took time to look us up and down before saying he’d see what he could do. Five minutes later he returned and gave us the best seat in the house. We had arrived early for a few cocktails and a chance to soak the place up, and the table we had was ideal for people watching. It’s hard not to be taken by the place, with the seductive lighting, the blasting funky house music and the crowd of wealthy and glamorous people. You could easily be in a Vegas nightclub, or on the set of Made In Chelsea. So we sat back and observed the catwalk to the toilet. A little note before coming is that you really do need to practise that strut.

Now I thought the point was here was that they serve you as many expensive cocktails as possible so that you are less inclined to cry at the price of food upstairs. This obviously wasn’t the case. We ordered- three Rising Sun Margaritas and  Japanese Mojito (£14 each)- but it was twenty minutes later that our cocktails arrived, by which time our table  was ready. The Mojito was nothing special, a little too sweet, but easily drinkable.  The Margaritas were served with a stick of honey which I managed to get all over my chin and jacket, and they were strong and great.
Upstairs we again had a great table, and we were presented with the menus by a waiter who might as well have been checking our tickets to be there. The first thing that hits you is the price. Expect double figures for everything. But this is Nobu- Nobu Berkeley Street, at that- and the people here tend not to check the right hand column. The second thing is just how much there is to choose from. The menu is easy enough to navigate your way round, but a helpful waiter would really be appreciated at this point. We almost  had one. He was helpful enough to recommend the most expensive specials, but any conversation further than that was too much to ask for.
First came the soft shell crab. It was great as it should be, but not as good as Roka’s and about half the size and the dip it came with needed more of a kick. Next was the baby tiger shrimp tempura with a trio of sauces- ponzu, jalepeno and spicy creamy. These were juicy and the tempura was light and crispy and the jalepeno sauce, although not spicy, was delicious.
Next came the sushi- salmon and avocado rolls- lovely, although no different to any other Japanese restuarant. The salmon teriyaki was a succulent fillet, perfectly cooked, although at £30 with a bowl of boiled rice and miso soup (a  set dinner combination) far too expensive. The black cod- the signature dish- was excellent, as it’s hefty price tag (£35) meant it should be. Then came the crispy pork belly with spicy miso, succulent and full of flavour, although without any trace of spicy miso. Last was a Wagyu beef dish with truffled mushrooms that had us dabbing up the sauce with every last grain of rice.

We ordered four desserts- a banana split that supposedly had a saffron crumble, the Nobu Chocolate Tart that comes with all of the show of pouring hot chocolate sauce onto a chocolate sphere, melting it to reveal the tart beneath, Mochi (Japense rice cake) filled with coconut ice cream that were by far the best, and the last was some sort of trifle with a green tea sponge. The desserts were tasty and quickly demolished, as anything drowned in rich chocolate sauce would be.

Overall the food was great, without anything really standing out. It was how good Japanese should be- fresh, clean cut and simply presented. But you can probably count the price of each bite at Nobu, which works out at about £5. The portions here are designed for the tight waisted glamorous women who eat here, and you’ll need to order at least 3-4 dishes per person to get your fill.

What really lets Nobu down is the service. Three times the waiter whisked away food before we had finished. And not once was there any real attempt to make us feel welcome. At 15% service charge, the highest I’ve seen in London, it should be a lot better. All I can think is that service is their way of making you pay for the privilege of being there, of being allowed through those front doors into this glamorous world.

I’d recommend Nobu to everybody, not for the food, but just to see it and so that you can say you’ve been. I have complained about the prices, but I will inevitably go back. You can’t not enjoy yourself. The atmosphere is infectious. That’s what Nobu is. You’re paying for an experience. You give them a hundred pound a head, and for two hours you feel like part of the in-crowd, and I guess for a lot of people that is enough to keep them going back. There are far better Japanese restaurants in London, and even if you want to pay top prices, you’re much better off doing so at Zuma, Hakkasan or Roka, but Nobu still has a glamorous appeal to it, and you leave feeling more than satisfied (although admittedly still slightly hungry).

Food: 7/10

Service: 5/10

Atmosphere: 9/10

Value: 3/10

Overall: 5/10

 

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