Last Tuesday we celebrated Stew’s birthday with dinner at Yumi Izakaya, located at 67 Shaftesbury Avenue, followed by the theatre just around the corner at Leicester Square. I had planned the whole evening as a surprise for him, and I couldn’t wait to see his face when we approached Yumi. An Izakaya is in essence a Japanese ‘pub’. In Japan people use them to socialise with friends and work colleagues, to nibble on small dishes, almost like tapas, and to drink into the early hours. We visited many during our trip to Japan, and they always had a great atmosphere, full of laughter and chatter.
Yumi Izakaya is probably the fanciest Izakaya we’d experienced, with beautiful wood interiors, soft lighting and minimalist features. Everything about it encompasses Japanese design. It’s been tastefully done. The best part though is the menu – kept simple with around on 20 dishes. This is very authentic to Japanese dining. In Japan it’s rare to find a restaurant that offers more than this. Japanese restaurants tend to specialise in one thing, and one thing only, meaning they perfect there menu, the food tastes incredible and people keeping coming back for more!
An Izakaya is slightly different in the sense that they do offer more than one type of food, but with small sharing dishes, it’s still kept simple with the focus being on the quality rather than quantity.
We began by choosing our drinks an nibbled on some beautifully warm and salty edamame. Our waiter was extremely helpful and you could tell that he not only knew the menu like the back of his hand, but he really enjoyed Japanese food. This was a great help in getting his opinion and having him talk us through the menu. He suggested choosing a couple of dishes to start, see how we got on with the option of ordering more if we need to. This was great advice as none of the dishes take too long to make so we could easily order more bits as we sipped on our cocktails.
We ordered a couple of starters – gyoza and chilli fried cauliflower, followed by a couple of meat skewers, otherwise known as Yakitori. Yumi Izakaya only offer chicken skewers and some may be shocked at the parts of a chicken up for tasting – heart, liver, and gizzards to name but a few. Now before you turn your nose up, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!
We’d had chicken liver in Japan and knew we liked it, so we ordered this and chicken thigh to begin with. Yes chicken liver is a strong taste, and perhaps an acquired one, as is most meat livers, but when cooked to perfection it can taste incredible. I have to admit, I can only manage a couple of mouthfuls as it is very strong tasting, however Stew loves it!
We also tried chicken heart, which we hadn’t previously tried in Japan. I was sceptical at first but as we liked liver, our waiter recommended we try the heart. Covered in a garlic/salt coating, there wasn’t much not to like about this. The flavours from the rub complimented the flavour of the chicken beautifully, and I actually liked this far more than the liver, and would happily order it again!
Once again, it was cooked to perfection, beautifully succulent. If I hadn’t known it was heart, I would never have guessed.
At this point we were still feeling okay, like we had a bit of room that needed filling. So we ended with Okonomiyaki – a Japanese pancake of sorts, made from cabbage and eggs, and topped with pancetta and a secret sauce!
This dish is famous to Osaka and they serve it up on a hot plate in front of you, and you are giving a little metal spatula to divide it. This was one of our favourite dishes in Japan and whenever I come across it over here I get so excited. It brings back a lot of memories for us. In Osaka you will find hundreds of Okonomiyaki restaurants, serving up just one or two flavours, and often they will be side by side but each one will be full, with long queues outside!
The use of pancetta was new to us, but it worked so well. It gave the dish a gorgeous smokey taste. This was really the showstopper for me.
And there was only one thing left to finish the meal with… an ice cold carafe of sake. And how cool is the bottle that it came in? It has an intricate glass well built into the side to pop the ice in, so that the ice keeps the sake cool but doesn’t melt into it. Genius! I really want to get one of these, it’s beautiful.
Our total bill came to just under £60, excluding service charge. This included 3 starters/sides, 4 skewers, 1 main, 2 cocktails and a carafe of sake.