Healthy Competition 

A colleague of mine, who has also visited Japan, recently said that he had found better versions of all of his favourite Japense dishes here in London. I was initially shocked by this, thinking of all the delicious food I enjoyed in Tokyo and Kyoto. I quizzed him a little further and he admitted that sushi was certainly an exception. I mentioned that in the case of okonomiyaki, although my visit to Abeno came close, it was not  better than in Japan. His response to this was to ask if I had sampled the okonomiyaki in Brixton Market at Okan. Just like that, I was already planning my visit.

I live half an hours’ walk from the market, so there was no excuse. I waited for a lovely sunny day and made the short trip. Before going in to the restaurant I stopped by Federation for a hot chocolate. This gave me time to soak up the market atmosphere. It is an interesting mix of trendy, hipster cafes and restaurants, alongside art and craft shops and traditional fresh produce stands. Throw in street food from around the world and it becomes pretty exciting. I have been to Borough Market a few times, but that is quite a different vibe. Here in Brixton you can wander the shops without feeling trapped amongst hundreds (if not thousands) of tourists. The smells drifting through the place are quite tempting.

Okan is in the main market area under the covered roof on ‘2nd Avenue’. Take the time to explore a bit before you go in. The restaurant itself is small, given that it is based in a market. Inside is rustic with Japanese signs and lanterns adorning the walls.

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The menu is simple street food: Okonomiyaki, Yaki Soba and Yaki Udon. I went for the lunch time deal, the okonomiyaki of the day (pork), miso soup and an edamame salad (£7.50). My boyfriend had the pork Yaki Soba (£7.85), but of course sampled a fair amount of my miso and salad. I got my own back by having some of his noodle dish. It had a delicate aromatic flavour, especially when eaten with the kimchi (pickles). Both dishes were sprinkled with bonito (fish) flakes. I really loved the plate the okonomiyaki was served on. The ‘pancake’ itself was a good size and thickness, with the thinly sliced pork grilled on the bottom. I enjoyed it, even if it could have handled a little more sauce, and thought the meal was very good value. Service was fast and friendly. It’s a fantastic place to stop off for a quick lunch, and is great value for money.

The big question is, was it better than the okonomiyaki I had in Japan? Sorry, the answer is regrettably still no. It came close, and was better than Abeno given the price and atmosphere. Having sampled the Yaki Soba, I am keen to go back for a whole plate. Perhaps I will have the Omu Soba instead (the same as above but wrapped in an omelette).

One reason we came up with, for better dishes in the UK, was the unfair advantage that we have produce imported from all of the world. Whilst some people promote the benefit of only eating food in season, few of us actually follow this rule. We are lucky enough to be able to enjoy fresh ingredients all year round. In Japan however, food is very much seasonal. The best is made of what is available. I believe this means we can throw everything at our (for example) ramen, making it just a little better. In my opinion there’s only one way to make this a fair competition…I’ll need to spend a year in Japan (I wish).

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From the New to the Old

A little while ago I took a trip back to my home town. I travelled from London to the old capital of ancient England, Winchester. The city was first made a capital by King Alfred in 871. It remained important until the 12-13th century, when London became the capital. However, it remains beautiful and historic, with plenty to see and do. In fact, recently it was voted the best place to live in Britain.

I was lucky enough to grow up nearby, and go to school in the city. I always enjoy popping back for a weekend and wandering down the sleepy high street. The featured photo was taken in the Cathedral grounds a few summers ago. It’s shows one of a few bronze monuments to the soldiers of WWI.

Anyway, back to our main topic of interest before I get too distracted by history. A short side note. If you do visit Winchester be sure to see the following:

Ok. Now I’m done. I’m sure the tourism board will thank me for my shameless plug.

Rather than eat in a Japanese restaurant and not tell you about it, I thought I’d find a tenuous link to my blog’s title ‘Capital of the Rising Sun’; I think it’s allowed. My boyfriend and I have had a £50 voucher for this restaurant for well over a year. So it was about time that we found ourselves in Kyoto Kitchen.

On previous visits here we found that the best dishes are the starters and sushi. The mains are average and a little pricey. So with our voucher we decided to have a selection of small dishes. This included: Chicken Gyoza (£6.95), Vegatable Gyoza (£5.95), Torikara Age (£6.95), Ebi Tempura (£8.50), Ika No Pirikara Age (£6.95), Salmon Avocado roll (£7.95), and the Futo California roll (£11.95).


Both the varieties of gyoza were delicious, served with a smoky mirin based sauce. The Torikara Age (Fried Chicken with sweet chilli sauce) was succulent and moreish. It was probably my favourite starter.


Ebi Tempura (lightly battered king prawns) is a bit of classic. This dish had large, juicy, perfectly good prawns. Ika No Pirikara Age (Spicy deep fried squid) came as a large portion but unfortunately lacked flavour. I would have preferred larger pieces of squid with more seasoning.

The sushi was nicely presented. The Futo California roll which is filled with cucumber, avacado and crab was a little dry. However the salmon roll was very tasty. Top tip with sushi. Don’t forget to add the wasabi paste to your soy sauce. You can add as little or as much as you like to get the spice just right.


Until reasonably recently, I used to put the slices of ginger on top of my sushi and eat it all together. However, I have been informed that you should eat the ginger on its own between pieces. This acts as a palette cleanser.

I enjoyed my meal with a slightly unique gin and tonic. The gin used was Scotish made ‘Jinzu’. It is a British gin with Japanese citrus yuzu and cherry blossom. It was severed with a slice of apple and fever tree tonic, and was very refreshing. I will be on the lookout for a bottle myself.

All in all the meal was pleasant, and the atmosphere calm and welcoming. We look forward to going back.

It’s in their Bones

Last weekend some old friends visited me in London. It seemed only right that I take them to a Japanese restaurant for Dinner, and I heard little protest.

I had a hankering for ramen, so I took them to the first Japanese restaurant I tried in London : Shoryu. This was my third visit to the Soho branch, and I was certainly not disappointed.

Like Ichiryu (as featured in my first blog ‘My Second Love‘) Shoryu was set up by the same team as the Japan Centre. It is a restaurant specialising in Hakata tonkotso Ramen. This is a rich, thick, white pork soup with thin ramen noodles from the Hakata district of Fukouka city in Japan.

Shoryu’s tagline ‘It’s in our bones’ refers to the method of making the pork stock. In my opinion, this base is the most important part of the ramen dish. Without good flavour in the stock, the dish can lack depth. Each pan at Shoryu boils for no less than 12 hours!

My first experience of ramen was in the heart of Tokyo. We had arranged to meet some friends in the centre. They took us along to a very basic looking restaurant. However, all was not as it seemed. Outside the entrance were two vending machines. After a brief moment of amazement we hesitantly put in some money. I punched a couple of buttons that seemed to be a soy based pork ramen and some gyoza. The machine then printed a little pink ticket. In typical Japanese efficiency, you simply waited for a seat in the busy restaurant, and handed your ticket to the chef at the bar. For around £6 we ate very well. Ramen is considerably more filling than it appears…you have been warned!

Unlike the dish in Shoryu, this one was a lighter, clear soy based stock. I think I prefer the (to quote a friend) ‘creamy but not creamy’ pork bone base. Back to London, the three of us ordered the ‘Shoryu Ganso Tonkotso’ (£11). This is the signature ramen pictured above. It is topped with dried nori seaweed, slices of pork belly, half a soft boiled egg, spring onions, kikurage mushrooms, ginger and sesame.

We decided to fill our table by also ordering pork buns, edamame, and pork gyoza. My favourite were the gyoza. They were perfectly crisp with deliciously seasoned meat inside. I’m hoping to go on a gyoza making class soon, and will of course keep you posted.

As a big fan of cocktails, I was delighted to see Shoryu has a new range for spring. I had the ‘Kaoru Lavender’, a gin based cocktail with cucumber, lime and lavender (bottom). My friends had the ‘Sakuranbo Bitter’ (left) and the ‘Murasaki Le Fizz’ (right). The last was my favourite, featuring sake, passion fruit and prosecco. We paid £11 for these. However, they have a happy hour Mon-Thurs when they drop to £6 each.

One of my friends had never tried ramen before, but I think it’s safe to say she was a convert. After all, who can resist a large warm bowl of delicious noodles? I know I certainly can’t. I look forward to my next (inevitable) visit to Shoryu.

Whatever you like…grilled

Whilst I was in Tokyo, one of the first foods recommended to me was Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き). The literal translation of the Japanese is ‘grilled as you like’. It is a savoury pancake consisting of a batter, eggs and cabbage. The rest, as the title suggests, is up to you.

There are two different types of Okonomiyaki, Osaka and Hiroshima. Osaka has the cabbage mixed with the egg and batter to create a large pancake. Hiroshima style is more like a folded omelette with the cabbage and other fillings inside. I was lucky enough to try both in Japan, and I have to say, it was tough picking a favourite.

The first okonomiyaki I had was at Aqua City shopping centre in Odaiba, Tokyo. The restaurant was called Tsuruhashi Fugetsu. It was so good that we went multiple times. In fact, so frequently that the waiters recognised us.

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Osaka style Okonomiyaki

On one of many occasions we shared the above. The beef mix with a fried egg and spring onion, pork yaki-soba inside an omelette, and the pork, prawn and squid mix. Both Okonomiyaki were covered in the traditional bonito (fish) flakes, Japanese mayonnaise and sweet/smokey Okonomiyaki sauce. All of this, plus a glass of delicious plum wine, cost the three of us around £8 each.

A Japanese friend also recommended a great place in Kyoto, Issen Yosyoku (壹錢洋食), to try the Hiroshima style. It wins the title for quirkiest restaurant I have ever been to. Inside you’ll find Geisha mannequins, supposedly to trick drunken men in, and risqué wooden plaques on the walls.

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Amazing display outside Issen Yosyoku
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Quirky interior, complete with Geisha mannequins and slightly risqué decor

The restaurant name can be translated as the equivalent of 1 US cent (Issen) Western food (Yosyoku).  The menu could not have been simpler. A large picture of okonomiyaki and the price. The only question from the waitress ‘how many?’ Some people were sharing it as a snack, but we went for one each and an Asahi (Japanese beer widely available in the UK). Although it was not as cheap as 1 cent, it still came to just under £5. It was delicious, even if we could not name all of the ingredients inside.

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Variation of Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki

Having tried each variety of this Japanese snack, I loved both. Hence, naturally, I have been on the lookout for it in London. The first few times, I cooked my own. I’ll cover this in more detail in a later post, along with some recipes. However after a little research I found Abeno. I insisted my boyfriend come along, and we arrived to a quiet restaurant on a Saturday lunchtime.

Not far from the British Museum, Abeno is very inconspicuous from the outside. My hopes soon picked up when I saw the hot plate in the middle of each table.  I really liked the blue and white plates, and was pleased to see the traditional (very useful) spade-like tool for cutting Okonomiyaki.

We ordered a large Tokyo mix okonomiyaki (prawn, squid, and pork) costing £14.95, and pork Omu-soba to share (£12.95). Omu-soba is Yaki-soba noodles wrapped in an omelette and drizzled with ketchup and mayonnaise. This may be controversial, but for me an Omu-soba beats an English fry up any day! It’s a shame that Japanese food in the UK is so much more expensive. Still it’s cheaper than flying out for it!

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Pork, Prawn and Squid Okonomiyaki with bonito flakes, powdered seaweed and those incredible sauces.

To my delight, just as in Tokyo, the food was all prepared at our table. The raw ingredients were brought over, mixed and grilled on the hot plate. To try and help with the temptation to eat it early, the pancake was covered with a saucepan lid. This also has the practical element of steaming the pancake, keeping it light. In Japan there was no such lid. Instead there was a fun back and forth with the waiter. Can we eat it yet?!

The Omu-soba was cooked separately in the kitchen. I would have preferred the noodles to be put on the hot plate. This way they become slightly crispy. Despite this, everything was delicious. It was almost as good as restaurant in Tokyo.

I will continue to look for a restaurant serving the Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki. In the meantime, I have found a few more recipes to try out at home!

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!