You probably think of County Hall as a tourist hotspot, with the London Eye next door and classic views from the terrace across the river to the Houses of Parliament. Maybe you’ve been to the aquarium, or even remember when it used to be home to the Saatchi Gallery. But the story I’m going to tell you is different. It’s about Mayor Boris and a Japanese restaurant that bears his name. And why it makes more sense than you might think.
Let’s start with some history. For many years County Hall was London’s seat of local government, housing first the London County Council and then the Greater London Council. That’s until Maggie Thatcher abolished them in 1986.
In 1990 the Inner London Education Authority moved out and in 1993 County Hall was sold to a little-known Japanese company called Shirayama Shokusan Corporation. Shirayama Shokusan is no stranger to controversy; there was a row about its plan to turn County Hall into a hotel and an acrimonious parting with the Saatchi Gallery which moved to its current location in Chelsea in 2005, after Shirayama Shokusan won its case to evict them for breaches of the lease.
So there were a few eyebrows raised when, in 2008, Shirayama Shokusan provided Boris Johnson with a free office at County Hall from which to run his campaign to become Mayor, establishing the first connection between County Hall and the mayor.
And now we have another one: Izakaya Boris. An izakaya is sometimes described as a Japanese pub, but that’s a bit misleading as it’s just as much about food as it is about drink. Lots of tasty little dishes, suitable to nibble with your drink, are what an izakaya is all about. Japanese tapas is a good way to describe them, in spite of the mad mix of languages. That’s what Izakaya Boris provides, and it does quite a good job of it too.
It’s actually an offshoot of the long-established Aji Zen Canteen next door, and the menu was developed by a Japanese chef. I had the kuchiage set meal, where you get to choose two vegetables, one chicken or pork and one beef or seafood skewer. I had lotus root, aubergine, chicken balls and salmon. They were hot and tasty, if a little bit on the greasy side. The miso soup was the proper strong red version, not the white miso soup you often get in this country.
The foyer displays artwork by students of the Kyoto Art School.
The walls are gaily decorated with posters representing the fish of different prefectures.
It’s a pleasant environment, a welcome refuge from the madness of the South Bank.
But, I hear you complain, that doesn’t explain why they called it after Boris. And what’s with the panda? I can answer that. It’s all about being green and protecting the environment. Boris makes it because of Boris Bikes (he’s seen riding one in their sign) and the panda represents endangered species. Another clue is the words ‘London Green’ on the underground sign on the front of the bike. Yes, I know it’s not obvious (I had to ask) but now you know.
Izakaya Boris is open from 12 pm to 11 pm Monday to Saturday and until 10 pm on Sunday. It’s on Westminster Bridge Road, on the side of County Hall that faces away from the river.
Update 2015: Sadly, Izakaya Boris has now closed and been replaced by a tea room. The model of Boris on his bike is still there though.