Sunday 28 September 2008

Bincho Yakatori

So another year passes and on our third wedding anniversary it was time for another another meal out in town. My wife is in the middle of reading The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami and so is a little obsessed by all things Japanese at the moment. That helped me choose which cuisine and the belt tightening that I think we're all feeling a need for at the moment meant we couldn't be too extravagant. A perfect compromise seemed to be this restaurant situated on the 2nd floor of The Oxo Tower. Nice venue with great views of the river (albeit through some scaffolding at the moment - but hey, it was dark, you couldn't really tell) and a menu which looked like it wouldn't break the bank.

Here's the blurb: In Japan the Ganko Ojisan are the keepers of the flame, acolytes who are devoted to the details of the fire. They have studied fire and learned its secrets, appreciate its subtleties and respect its temperament. They know the hottest fire is not the best fire. For them only the finest charcoal will do and that has to be bincho.

And what does that mean? Well the open plan kitchen shows you several of these 'acolytes' manning a long grill. It's like Japanese tapas with a selection of dishes available on bamboo skewers (minimum order of 2 skewers each time) as well as soups, salads and other appetisers too. There's a wide selection of sake, if you like that kind of thing, and lovely Asahi beer if you don't.

We started with a sashimi salad which had nice pieces of squid, seaweed and salmon but with a dressing so tart it made the leaves rather unpalatable. Our skewers included tuna, quails eggs, mushrooms wrapped in bacon (the combination of the last two like an English breakfast) and some plump king prawns. I believe in expanding your taste buds whenever possible and on the gamut of food programmes on TV at the moment I often see people rhapsodising about pork belly (which always looks like a load of fat to me). So we ordered some. Our waiter nodded approvingly, which seemed like a good sign, and I have to say that it was lovely. Soft, melt-in-the-mouth, tastiness.

After all that we had what they refer to as a traditional finisher; Ocha zuke—a mixture of rice and green tea served with Japanese pickles. A bit strange, ours was the version with seaweed and sesame, and it is literally a bowl of rice which they then pour green tea over. The pickles were a tiny amount of pickled seaweed and a dab of wasabi, so not much to get excited about, but it was quite refreshing. Japanese cuisine isn't famed for its puddings so we played safe with a layered banana cake (pretty, but a bit dry) and green tea ice cream and a baked chocolate dessert which was supposed to be served with mirin ice cream (a sweet rice wine) but actually came with ginger and honey ice cream.

The waiting staff were pleasant and helpful throughout, standing by with palm pilots ready to take the next order, or explain something to novices like us. We weren't blown away by the food but with prices starting from just £1 a skewer it's an inexpensive way to sample Japanese food in a lovely location. If you're on the South Bank and looking for something a little different, you could do far worse.

Bincho Yakatori's website


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