Donzoko, Soho, London
Very good kinpira gobo with the right ratio of burdock root (gobo) and carrots. Perfect texture -- a nuanced crunchiness.
Yakitori shio (grilled chicken thighs sprinkled with salt) is well made and tender, with pretty good flavour, although I would have like a touch more salt (shio). They also have versions with tare (a teriyaki sauce) if you prefer that.
The tare which comes with tsukune (chicken meatballs) is good --- sticky, rich but mellow -- sweetness resonating with the sweetness from the shuishin (drunken heart) sake. The chicken meatballs themselves are rustic and handformed, with short tender fibres still evident in the texture. I like mine a little touch smoother, but have no complaints.
Hatsu (grilled chicken hearts), is earthy and perhaps a tiny tiny shade tougher than I would like. Nothing serious, but I really like that firm tender crunch from chicken hearts that is less evident here.
Negima shichimi -- grilled pieces of chicken thigh and the white stems of spring onions -- would have like it a bit more piquant, but the spring onions are nicely grilled and are tender and sweet.
Buta Kakuni (braised pork belly) is beautiful -- the braising liquid is intoxicating, with just the right touches of sweetness, umani and other layers of flavour. The pork is delightfully supple, and the dab of pungent mustard cuts the richness of the belly. My favourite of the evening.
Nanban zuke, battered and fried pieces of sea bass dressed in the bright acidity of vinegar and chilled. I loved the refreshing dressing but the fish was good not great. Great to drink with a dry but multifaceted nanbubijin (Southern Beauty) sake. -- it's lovely and I'd drink this again, especially with the richer dishes.
The creamy centre of the prawn croquette was very comforting, and the outside evidence of good deep frying job. The tonkatsu sauce comes on the side so you can add it right before you eat, thus preserving the crispy exterior.
The complex sweetness of a white miso sauce enlivens slices of konnyaku (a jelly made from some plant), firm, cool and gelantinous.
Beautiful kabocha tempura -- tiny puffy batter, light and crispy, with the faintest shade of golden yellow. High quality deep frying and fresh oil, very hot.
Dense and sticky shirogomae (white sesame) ice cream with the distinctive toasty flavour of sesame.
A casual izakaya with a bustling but down-to-earth atmosphere. Loved the lists of menu items throughout the walls. Not the finest food of its class, but very good for what it is, and certainly worth eating at. The sake list is probably worth a second look by someone who knows sake (i.e. not me). Looked like there were quite a few sochu to choose from as well.
I had lunch at Donzoko yesterday and tried the mackerel special (£6.50), following your recommendation (teriyaki version). I liked the little piece of tofu with ginger and pickles that I got to start, and the miso soup was good. I was less keen on the main event, which comprised three pieces of mackerel on a bed of beansprouts on a "sizzler" platter type thing, and a bowl of rice. There were far too many bones left in the mackerel, and the skin was kind of chewy and even hard in places. The flesh was cooked fine though, and the beansprouts were also done just right, both tender and crisp. The rice was very disappointing; overcooked and in places almost mushy. Chilled seedless grapes to finish were just right, and the complimentary green tea was fine too.
So I do wonder why my lunch special was less than "excellent". Should I have gone for the grilled-with-salt version instead?
I agree that it's a nice place to eat on your own. I will go back and give it another go some time. I definitely want to try the braised pork belly that limster mentioned.