Two Izakaya (Tomoe and Asakusa), London
Nothing new here, just a little update to two very well-regarded places that I was fortunate to hear about here and from friends.
• Tomoe, Marylebone
Indulged in pickles. Crisp, chilled napa cabbage perked up with sesame seeds and red pepper (sansho powder?) with a slight citrusy tang and finished with grated bonito flakes for a savoury umami finish. Another plate of oshinko moriawase - gingery mustard greens, snappy turnip, what I thought was gobo/burdock root impregnated with soy sauce, sharp lively cucumber.
Sushi was very well made - balance between the fish and rice, well calibrated temperature, texture and flavour (the mild natural sweetness and a pleasant shading of vinegar) in the rice, beautifully shaped. An ika/squid special had nice flavour but was a tiny touch too chewy, rather than ripping firmly on the teeth. Hamachi, a seared shimisaba and chutoro were very good examples of the respective cuts of fish, good flavour, cut to the right thickness, no tough bits or veins.
Razor clams were very very lightly cooked, perhaps a brief breeze from the grill or just the splash of hot oil. They retain their sweetness and tender qualities. There's a dressing of sesame oil and soy sauce, with lots of bright acidity in cherry tomato halves and the ample airy sharpness of green onion. Wakame seeweed on teh side lends a bit of gravity.
Thin slices of Iberico pork are stir fried with a serious coat of black pepper that slightly overpowers the savoury sweetness of the pork. But the cooking is deft and the slices are appropriately juicy and tender, contrasting a mixed green salad with a suitably acidic (yuzu?) dressing and a creamy side of mayonnaise.
Matcha ice cream is a solid but basic rendition and perhaps a touch pricey for just one scoop.
• Asakusa, Mornington Crescent
Amazing korroke (Japanese croquette), a warm cloud of potato, coated with super crispy breadcrumbs that rather than form a continuous batter, seem individually embedded in the potato filling. In the center, some mixed vegetables just probably justifies the yasai label. The sauce is classic, the tangy Worcestershire notes, savoury, sweet and sour to cut the richness from the excellent deep frying. A similar contrast from a sharp crisp salad with a yuzu and ginger dressing. One of the best examples of this item I've had in a long while.
Fresh, sweet scallop sashimi - from the succulent flesh to rich soft roe and dense and delightfully gelatinous sinews, lovely variation in textures.
Solid sushi, even if not as refined as Tomoe's - scallop again in the same glory, a very pleasant seabass and a very lightly grilled fresh water eel/unagi, very tender, burnished with a fairly mellow teriyaki-ish sauce.
Pretty good yakitori - skewers of chicken (I prefer mine dressed with salt, rather than sauce, and it could be a touch more salty), meaty firm chicken hearts (hatsu), an ok tsukune (chicken meatballs).
A solid kitsune (sweet bean curd) soba - fairly firm buckwheat noodles, homey even if not the absolute best of its kind.
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I went to Asakusa last year and loved the atmosphere - it felt like I was back in Japan - even the TV was blaring some Japanese programme! I ordered Asakusa Udon which was nabeyaki udon with knobs on and it was pretty impressive - tempura batter perfect.
Tomoe I visited for the first time last week and I think I was in sushi heaven!
The five nigiri I ordered of tobiko (flying fish roe), unagi (kabayaki eel), hotate (scallop), chu-toro (medium fatty tuna) and o-toro (super-fatty tuna) were blissful and even the rice which can be cold, over-sour or mushy was gorgeously warm and pearly.
Hadn't been to Asakusa in ages, revisited on Saturday evening.
Truth be told, we found everything about the place to be distinctly mediocre. Foodwise (scallop sashimi, pork croquette, tsunemono, chicken karaage, gyoza, pork shogayaki, squid kimchi) nothing really wowed, just felt like they were using inferior quality ingredients which I imagine is likely at the price point. We were in the downstairs section, decor was tatty and in serious need of improvement, ventilation on a warm evening was poor, seating arrangement was wrong meaning we were uncomfortable and there was an odd, stale smell in the air.
Just not a great experience. I would suggest Ikura on Haverstock Hill for a much better izakaya experience in roughly the same part of town.
I just walked 1.2 miles to Ikura in Haverstock Hill expecting similar sort of food as Asakusa. What's on their menu? Run of the mill Japanese food that I could've gotten at a closer Japanese restaurant. That place is NOT an izakaya. Just because they have an izakaya lantern outside doesn't mean they are one.
Oh how I wish that today was not a Sunday or that Asakusa was open on a Sunday. I wanted chicken skins on skewers and deep fried aubergine.