14 December 2010

Bincho Yakitori, London – Restaurant Review

Following on from a surprisingly decent lunch of udon noodles at Koya, I thought I'd continue with the Japanese theme and popped into nearby Bincho Yakitori for a couple of cheeky skewers of grilled goodness.

Bincho Yakitori is modelled on a Japanese izakaya: a kind of bar that serves small plates of food to go along with your booze. In Tokyo these range from uber-seedy places in Shomben Yokocho ("Piss Alley"), where you drink rotgut sake, to slick Michelin-starred joints such as Rokkaku.

Bincho is a yakitori-ya and, although the word yakitori translates as 'grilled bird' (typically chicken), the restaurant serves a variety of food, with most being prepared on the long charcoal grill that dominates the room. The first time I tried authentic yakitori was at Bird Land, one of Tokyo's finest yakitori restaurants (see my review here), where I was totally blown away by the quality and freshness of the chicken, and wondered if I could repeat that experience outside of Japan.

I decided to stick with traditional chicken yakitori and took advantage of the specials board that displays things such as chicken hearts, skin, necks, and chicken oysters: those little lumps of flesh found near the back of the bird. I ordered nankotsu (chicken cartilage) from the specials menu, and sunazuri (chicken gizzard – a muscular part of the chicken's digestive tract) and tsukune (minced chicken balls) from the à la carte. The menu lists the price per skewer and there is a minimum order of two skewers of each item.

Yakitori is not fast food; the idea is not to char everything into a smoky oblivion, but instead to gradually cook everything to the perfect level of doneness. I was seated at the counter in front of the grill, which gave me a perfect vantage point from which to watch the chef cook over the warm glow of the charcoal. The charcoal used at Bincho is imported from Japan, presumably a similar bincho-tan charcoal to that I saw used at Bird Land. I watched intently as the chef carefully prepared each skewer; a little dab of tare (a Japanese basting sauce of sake, mirin, and soy sauce) here, a little pinch of salt there, all the while constantly rearranging the skewers on the grill so as they received the optimal level of heat. I struck up a friendly conversation with the chef, and it turns out he is from the same region that the heavenly and fragrant Oku-kuji shamo chickens I had at Bird Land come from. I felt a little guilty as he said our discussion had made him hungry.
Tsukune (chicken meat balls) and nankotsu (chicken cartilage)
I'm by no means an expert on Japanese food and, while it's always going to be unfair to compare Bincho Yakitori to Japan's finest, I was simply amazed at the quality of the yakitori made here. The nankotsu (chicken cartilage, £3.00) was sensational – both chewy and crunchy, and perfectly seasoned with an intensely savoury chicken taste to them. A few drops of lemon lifted that roast chicken flavour further.

Sunazuri (chicken gizzards, £2.80) were satisfyingly chewy with a lovely flavour of dark chicken meat. However, it was the tsukune (minced chicken balls, £3.60) that really stole the show. Wonderfully soft and light meatballs were perfectly cooked and very juicy. They had been slicked with the perfect amount of tare sauce, which gave them a slight hint of sweetness. Dare I say it, they were almost better than those at Bird Land.
Sunazuri (chicken gizzard)
Bincho Yakitori is a fantastic restaurant offering tremendous value for money and, at least based on the chicken yakitori I had there, serves wonderfully authentic Japanese yakitori. I can't wait to go back and try more items from the menu (I had desperately wanted to try the grilled chicken skins, but they were sold out the day I went). So if you need a fix of some original Japanese grilling then head to Bincho, you won't be disappointed.

Food:        7 / 10
Service:     7 / 10
Ambiance: 7 / 10

16 Old Compton Street
London W1D 4TL
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)20 7287 9111

Bincho Yakitori on Urbanspoon
Square Meal