Great news! Yumi Izakaya opened it’s Japanese doors in Soho in April. I went down to check out their chicken yakitori skewers for myself.
It’s no secret that at least half of the Method’s Unsound team (all two of us) have a bit of a soft spot when it comes to things Japanese. And food is no exception.
I think I spent most of last year encouraging everyone I met to visit Beer & Buns, a Japanese style Izakaya just behind Liverpool Street station serving up cold beers and tasty Japanese bar snacks. (Honestly, the triple fried wings are some of the best I have had in London) And then a few weeks ago while penning my weekly London food news roundup, I discovered that Yumi were opening another Izakaya in Soho. What great news! Not one to always ignore my own advice I went down during their opening week to check it out.
Yumi is located on the north side of Shaftesbury Avenue, just a few minutes walk from Cambridge Circus and opposite Chinatown, so a pretty central and logical spot. It’s minimalist exterior matches the clean lines and simple wood paneling inside that you would expect from a Japanese restaurant. As you walk in you’re met with the all important coal-fired grill where your yakitori will be crisped to perfection. Just a mini word of warning: I forgot how hot these grills can get! Even in spring it was pretty warm inside so you can definitely leave your jacket at the door.
For those of you who don’t know, an Izakaya is a sort of laid-back Japanese bar where the emphasis is on drinking beer and eating simple, but delicious, snacks. So think yakitori skewers grilled over charcoal, chicken wings and gyoza dumplings. This is not the kind of place where you can expect to order a shit-ton of sushi or miso marinated black cod. But don’t worry, you won’t miss it. Instead Yumi split their menu into three different sections: small sharing plates and snacks, yakitori skewers and a couple of larger dishes. We ordered a little of each to get a feel for the menu.
From the small sharing plates we ordered the Edamame beans (£4). These were well cooked with a good garnish of salt and a tasty dressing made of soy and mirin, which made a nice change. There is not a whole bunch you can say about edamame beans really but just these ones were just dandy!
Chicken (£2.50 per skewer)
I liked the fact that the chefs have used every part of the chicken in the list of skewers on the menu: from the skin to the gizzards, the heart to the liver, even down to the egg yolk. Nothing has been wasted. From the list we chose the thigh with spring onions, the liver with Sancho pepper, the meatball with a raw egg yolk and the wings, plus asparagus and Shimeji mushrooms wrapped in bacon. All of the skewers were great and all came covered in a deep, sticky tare glaze that was delicious.
The wings were really crispy with flakes of sea salt and a sprinkling of spicy Shichimi on top, very tasty indeed. The liver was cooked well and still tender, with the bitterness slightly offset by the deep marinade. The bacon wrapped asparagus and mushrooms were delicious, the bacon was so smoky and moreish and the Japanese seem to have a way to make grilled vegetables taste absolutely amazing! This may finally be the way to get children to eat their five a day that mothers have been seeking for all of these years? (What, bacon? Erm… yup.)
Lastly, the chicken meatball looked more like a kebab than its namesake and tasted like a savoury sausage. It also came served with a raw egg yolk in a sticky, sweet sauce. It was juicy and delicious with the egg yolk adding a rich, creaminess to the chicken. In fact, it was so good that after thoroughly dunking the meatball in the egg yolk Christopher drank the leftovers like a shot of sake. Waste not, want not and all that.
Although the selection of bigger plates may seem small with just three different options and a side of rice, the skewers are cheap at just £2.50 each so it is easy to fill up on these before you even think about getting to a main sized dish, so weirdly it didn’t seem lacking.
Always a sucker for a soupy, noodle broth I decided to give the Smoked duck and udon soup (£15) a whirl. When it came out it I was pleased to see that it was a good big bowl of noodles with six or so pieces of duck, seaweed and spinach delicately arranged like a work of art and then topped with spring onions and crispy tempura pieces. The noodles were fat, soft and satisfying. The broth, light and clear, a little salty and with that distinct seaweedy flavour of Japan. The duck was very pink and had an almost prosciutto flavour which I guess is down to the smoking rather than anything else. I think the thing to remember here is that this is not a ramen dish and it therefore maybe lacks the depth of flavour you would find in a ramen broth, but it was still tasty and filling nonetheless.
The last dish on our list was the Okonomiyaki Osaka Style (£8): a thick Japanese pancake loaded with cabbage and pancetta and thoroughly drizzled in okonomiyaki sauce and kewpie mayonnaise. My husband and I have become somewhat obsessed with this chunky ‘chuck it all in’ pancake over the last year so we were eager to try it.
However, I must admit that I was left a little disappointed. There was an immense amount of cabbage here, and I am a big cabbage fan but even I found it a bit overwhelming. The pancetta was good but could have been more plentiful, and overall there was just a slightly odd flavour that I couldn’t really place? Was it the herbs? Was it the Katsuobushi (fermented skipjack tuna)? Either way it fell short compared to the okonomiyaki we tried in the ridiculously good Ippudo, New York.
To finish things off I ordered a Jasmine Green Tea that came in this pretty little teapot, and Christopher had a bitchin’ strong black coffee. Both things that I think a true Japanese person would approve of.
To cut a long story short: I thought that Yumi was pretty darn good. Although the larger plates were not necessarily stand out all of the skewers were delicious and I could easily have eaten my way through the whole list of ’em. The service was quick and polite, the location is really central and the best thing is that not many people know about it yet. Why wait over an hour for a table at Shakfuyu when you can eat tasty yakitori at Yumi in half the time? I could definitely see myself returning to chow down on 20 skewers and moan about my boss over some beers on a Friday night. Just make sure you get in now before the word gets out.