My Second Love

It’s Valentines’ Day, and London’s streets are flooding not only with couples, but revellers celebrating Chinese New Year. I have chosen to dedicate my February 14th to my second love, Japan!

One of my first discoveries of Japanese culture in London was the Japan Centre in Piccadilly Circus. Having rammed as many Japanese snacks as possible in to my already full suitcase, I was relieved to find many of my favourites here. In contrast to my first trip, todays’ haul was considerably more conservative.

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Whilst working in Tokyo, rice crackers became a staple snack. You can get them in a variety of flavours, like many things in Japan (let’s not start on Kit-Kats), including cheese, nori, sesame, and curry. The ones featured here are soy flavoured. They are a great thing to have in your bag for when you get a little peckish.

Another of my purchases was miso soup sachets (right of the picture). I’m yet to be converted to tofu, so this just has pieces of wakame seaweed. The final food item was an impulse buy, just before the checkouts. I first had Dorayaki the morning of my flight back to the UK. It’s best described as two American style pancakes sandwich with a sweet filling. This one has a green tea custard inside. As a green tea addict, it was the obvious choice for me.

I also picked up some origami papers, and a beautiful card. If you have the patience, I can highly recommend origami. There are so many tutorials and instructions online, and it is both rewarding and relaxing. I will share the finished results in the next post.

Having spent a little while perusing the aisles of the Japan Centre, it was conveniently lunch time. I decided to check out the new restaurant Ichiryu Hakata Udon House . It is the latest venture for Japan Centre’s founder Tak Tokumine. Unfortunately this meant fighting my way through the Chinese New Year crowds to reach New Oxford St.

My arrival at the restaurant was perfectly timed. Just as my heart sank seeing the word ‘closed’ on the door, the waitress came and flipped it over. Walking in I was greeted with the traditional Japanese welcome. For those who have not experienced this it can be slightly alarming. All members of staff will yell いらっしゃいませ (irasshaimase). The first time for me was in Tokyo at a sushi restaurant, but that’s another story.

I was seated right at the back of the (currently empty) restaurant, giving me a good view of the place. It has a modern but cosy atmosphere, with an open kitchen so you can eye up all of the tempura. The staff were all friendly and attentive.

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As the name suggests, Ichiryu specialises in handmade udon. These are thick, white and chewy noodles served in a fish based stock. I chose the prawn tempura udon (£10) and the matcha tea (£4).

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My past experiences with udon noodles have not been great. When overcooked they become mushy in texture. These however were excellent as they still had some bite. The prawns were cooked perfectly, still juicy with a crisp light tempura batter. The bonito tsuyu broth had a delicate flavour, and was not too salty. If I had chosen to have pork or beef I would have liked a greater depth to the broth, but for prawns this was good. The matcha (powdered green tea) had a subtle flavour with some sweetness. It is perhaps a variety for the western palette, as some matcha can be quite bitter. The bowl it was served in was a nice traditional touch.

Generally speaking I don’t have a sweet tooth, however I was easily tempted to try the mochi (sweet rice ball) with an ice cream centre (£6). This came in 3 flavours: green tea, sesame, and citrus.

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It was a little tricky breaking in to these with the small fork provided, but they were worth the effort. The mochi formed a thin outer layer to the delicious ice cream inside. Whilst the black sesame was an interesting flavour, the green tea and citrus were the favourites for me.

Overall, it was a Sunday well spent. I will definitely go back, and maybe take my first love along with me!

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