The search for good authentic Japanese food in London is never ending, but last night I found a place that goes right to the top of my list. It’s Kirazu, a tiny restaurant on Rupert St, just off Shaftesbury Avenue and opposite the stage door of the Gielgud Theatre. It bills itself as specialising in ‘Japanese tapas and takeaway’. So what made me like it so much?
The chef, Yuya Kikuchi, is from a farming family in Kanagawa, in north east Japan. He’s a trained fugu chef (fugu is the fish you have to serve very carefully without the poisonous liver that could kill you). He worked at Japanese restaurants in Brussels and in Australia before coming to London and joining the Mitsukoshi restaurant in Lower Regent St. We all know what happened to that earlier this year don’t we? (If not, check out my post on it here). But good has come out of it – it was the closure of the Mitsukoshi restaurant that led to Kirazu, which opened in April this year.
Kikuchi’s focus is on healthy food and in particular the classic soya-based flavours of miso and soy sauce. That’s not to say it’s a vegetarian restaurant – it isn’t. I had an excellent karaage (deep-fried chicken in batter), juicy and full of flavour.
But the flavours of miso are used in a lot of dishes, like this aubergine in miso sauce.
I love lotus root so was very happy to find it on the menu. It was crunchy and flavourful, just as it should be.
There are dumplings too, served in little bamboo baskets like dim sum in chinese restaurants. I had the prawn dumplings which were delicate and melt-in-the-mouth.
And of course I ordered the staples of any Japanese meal, white rice and miso soup. ‘Taste that,’ said the Japanese businessman sitting across from me, pointing to my soup. ‘That’s not made from stock powder like in a lot of places – that’s the real thing.’ And it was.
One thing you need to know about Kirazu is that it’s very small. It has a little counter in the window and a couple of long wooden trestle tables and that’s it.
It makes for a cosy atmosphere, with customers falling easily into conversation with each other (the other customers were all Japanese when I arrived, though some Europeans arrived later). It’s friendly and relaxed with authentic Japanese touches, like the hangers along the walls for you to hang up your coat, and some charming and quirky decorations.
It also has a bewildering variety of dishes, some listed on the ‘tapas’ menu on the table, others on blackboards at the entrance and over the bar. I’d recommend going in a group so you can order a variety of dishes to share.
There are plenty of servers but not much room for them to operate in, and customers have to come to the bar to order their drinks so you can imagine the potential for chaos. But it’s controlled chaos in a typically Japanese way.
Kirazu is open for lunch, and dinner from 6:30 in the evening. You can book but expect to share one of the big tables unless you’re a large group. It offers a good range of sake.