Japanese cultural festival Japan Matsuri is returning to the capital this September. The annual one-day spectacular offers Londoners the chance to experience the best of Japanese food, music, dance and more. Designed for the whole family, the 10-hour festival is free to attend and takes place in the city’s iconic Trafalgar Square.
Kicking off at 10am, Japan Matsuri will host two stages featuring an exciting programme of traditional and modern theatre, dance, martial arts and music. Acts include Iwami Kagura; ICHI; Joji Hirota & the London Taiko Drummers; Hasiken; Okinawa Sanshinkai / Kenjinkai and Sonda Seinenkai Eisa Group; Hibiki Ichikawa & Akari Mochizuki; Yosakoi London – Temuzu; Hiroko Tanaka Nihon Buyo Group; O-HA-YA-SHI Couple“Reiwa” Group; and Naomi Suzuki. There will also be a family activity tent when visitors can enjoy free workshops in manga, calligraphy and origami, as well as the chance to dress up in Kimonos.
Foodies will be in for a treat with a wide variety of food stalls offering classic Japanese street snacks, including takoyaki octopus balls, yakisoba noodles and okonomiyaki pancakes. Or if you fancy something larger, you can choose from wagyu burgers, ramen, bento boxes, donburi rice bowls and sushi. For those with a sweet tooth, there will be plenty of dessert such as red-bean jam dorayaki pancakes to mochi rice cakes.
If you’re feeling inspired to visit the country, the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) will also be on-site offering travel inspiration and information. The JNTO are also one of the event sponsors.
- Japan Matsuri takes place on Sunday 29 September 2019. From 10am-8pm. Free. Trafalgar Square, Westminster, WC2N 5DN. Nearest stations: Charing Cross, Embankment, Leicester Square or Piccadilly Circus. For more information, visit the Japan Matsuri website.
I’m a huge fan of brunching – in fact I would go so far to say it’s my favourite type of meal. However, many brunch options London has to offer can often blend into one they’re so similar. So for those looking for a brunch with something a bit different, then Tootoomoo is a good place to start. Tootoomoo is a small, independent chain of Pan Asian restaurants and takeaways across north London. They recently announced a new Bottomless Brunch deal at weekends giving you all you can eat and drink for £35.
I went along to the Islington restaurant last weekend with a friend to check out the new brunch menu and wasn’t disappointed. It’s a cute, bijou restaurant just a few minutes from Highbury & Islington station. The tables and décor did remind me of some of the cafes I have visited during previous holidays to Cambodia and Vietnam. We took a seat nearer the counter so had a good view of other diners’ dishes coming out of the kitchen for inspiration.
The menu is Asian tapas style, featuring popular dishes from Chinese, Malaysian, Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. When we were presented with the menu, we were a tad overwhelmed by the choice so started with a rather easier decision – what to drink. Among the bottomless cocktails on offer include classics such as Margaritas, Mojitos, Cosmopolitan and Caipirinha. However, Tootoomoo’s fruity twist on the Caipirinha – rather appealed so I ordered a mango one which was refreshing and sweet.
The menu features a wide choice of dishes, grouped into small plates, sashimi and salad, tempura and grill, sushi and wok. For those with food allergies, things are labelled gluten-free to make ordering easier. Among the dishes we decided on were Crispy Smoked Chicken, Vegetarian Potstickers, Hamachi Sashimi, Popcorn Rock Shrimp and Soft Shall Crab Maki Sushi. I hadn’t come across Vegetarian Potstickers before and were informed by the waiter they were similar to gyoza, which is one of my favourite Japanese foods. Served with ponzu sauce, the dumplings were crispy and tasty, and I could have ordered a few more. One of the highlights of the meal for me were the Popcorn Rock Shrimp, served with nori dust and yuzu mayo. Shrimp wrapped in batter really did look like popcorn and had that moreish, can’t-stop-nibbling allure like its namesake. I don’t eat poultry, but my friend really enjoyed the Crispy Smoked Chicken – served in batter with chili salt and spicy mayo to give it a kick.
As well as drinks and the meal, the Bottomless Brunch also includes dessert options – Fro-Yo and a variety of toppings, which we unfortunately didn’t have room for. Re-reading the choices as I write this review, I’m regretting not making some room! During our meal, the service was friendly and not over-bearing. Our first dishes came out promptly, which was just as well as we were pretty hungry. I’d definitely recommend it for a Bottomless Brunch alternative to the same old smashed avocado and poached eggs offerings so many places seem to offer these days.
- Tootoomoo, 278 St Paul’s Road, Islington, N1 2LH. Nearest station: Highbury & Islington. The Bottomless Brunch is on at the Crouch End and Islington branches every weekend between 12-5pm. £25 for all-you-can-eat or £35 for all-you-can-eat-and-drink within a 1 and half hour period. For booking and more information, visit the Tootoomoo website.
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Upon first entering Flesh & Buns, I remembered this used to be a basement bar I spent a birthday in about 10 years ago. It had definitely changed a lot since. Flesh & Buns is a Japanese Izakaya bar and restaurant from the same team behind Bone Daddies Ramen. The interior is quite basic, with long high tails and stools dominating the central dining area. My party of two turned up on a Saturday night without a reservation – admittedly rather naïve given this restaurant in a big hit with young London foodies right now. There was quite a party atmosphere with the clientele predominantly in their 20s and 30s. Loud music and the risqué bathrooms which have been decorated in Japanese anime porn so perhaps not a place to bring the in-laws.
With no table available, my date and I found a spot at the very busy bar with a server estimating it would be a 45 minute wait. However it appeared the existing groups dining weren’t in a rush to move on so after two rounds of drinks, we were given the option to eat at the bar so we took it.
The restaurant’s title flesh and buns refers to the choice of meat – steaks, duck and chicken – and the small soft buns. However, on this visit, I ended up ordering neither – opting for a tapas-style meal from the Small Bites menu for us to share. We ordered the Mixed Sashimi set, which included two pieces each of tuna, salmon & yellowtail (£12) served on a bed of ice. Despite the casual feel of the venue, the presentation of food was very good, adding to F&B’s reputation as a foodie destination. We also ordered the Salmon Avocado Roll, which was well complemented One of my favourite dishes was the Softshell Crab, with fried squid, grilled broccoli with miso and sesame (£9.50), with jalapeno mayo adding a kick. We added some greens with Grillied Broccoli with miso and sesame (£5.50).
Overall, I enjoyed the food and drink. The high-energy venue wouldn’t always be a suitable choice for a meal out depending on the company (eg. your mother), however I would definitely suggest it as a good place to eat on a big night out with friends. The service was friendly and I applaud our attentive waitress for keeping track of us amidst all the hustle and bustle. The toilets were definitely a good taking point!
- Flesh & Buns, 41 Earlham Street, Seven Dials, WC2H 9LX. Nearest stations: Covent Garden or Leicester Square. For more information, visit the Flesh & Buns website.
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After all the eating and boozing over Christmas, many of us try to start the new year with a healthier approach. Often the word healthy can be translated as dull when we envisage such dishes in our head. However, Soho restaurant Aqua Kyoto has managed to create a menu which combines food which is both nutritious and tastes gorgeous. The New Year Solutions is a special menu which runs from January to March 2015, offering three courses of delicious and nourishing Japanese fare.
Aqua Kyoto is an upmarket Japanese restaurant located on the 5th floor of a Regent Street building (accessed from Arygll Street) – with its sister restaurant Aqua Nueva serving Spanish cuisine next door. The wide square room features contemporary red Asian-influenced interiors. The wide French windows at the back open out to a roof terrace, which would be amazing on a summer evening (on the rainy, cold January day I visited, perhaps not so much). My party of three visited Aqua Kyoto for a late lunch and were shown to a table right by the windows.
As we were having lunch in such a glamorous setting, a glass of champagne seemed a nice addition to the meal. I sensibly accompanied the bubbly with water, which was topped up regularly by the attentive waiters. While we were all booked in for the New Solutions Menu, we opted to start off-menu with a small plate of sushi, which had been recommended. We ordered the Salmon Sushi topped with Lobster Bisque which was absolutely delicious. I’m a huge fan of lobster – quite possibly one of my favourite flavours ever – so the combination of eating it alongside salmon sushi was a new, but enjoyable adventure for me.
The New Solutions menu features a choice of three starters. I chose the Horenso Goma Ae (spinach rolls with roasted sesame and goma dressing). The presentation was brilliant – two cones of spinach with the waiter mixing the dressing with the sesame seeds at the table so we could inhale the gorgeous scent before it was poured over the spinach. I absolutely loved the dish and it was my personal favourite of the three courses.
For main, I ordered the Sake Nabe (Salmon nabe with clear dashi soup and udon noodles and oba leaf). It looked incredibly healthy, but also tasted good. I actually found it too filling for lunchtime thanks to the udon noodles and unfortunately wasn’t able to finish, to my regret. Finally, to end there is only one dessert option – Akamiso chokoraito Macha garetto (red miso chocolate and green tea galette with miso milk sorbet and a sesame wafer). Despite being chocolate, the miso and green tea elements gave it a lighter flavour – avoiding that heavy, sickly feeling some chocolate desserts can conjure up. The mix of ingredients convinced you it was healthier than your average chocolate pudding and it didn’t last too long on my plate before it had vanished.
Overall, the set menu was delicious and nutritious – two words I don’t often use together. What particularly stood out to me was I wasn’t left with that uncomfortable over-stuffed feeling I often have after a three-course meal. Instead, I felt satisfied and energised. I liked the design of the venue and the service was very good. I’ll definitely be back to try out the Infinity Brunch or cocktails on the terrace during the summer months.
- Aqua Kyoto, 5th Floor, 240 Regent Street (entrance on Argyll Street), Soho, W1B 3BR. Nearest tube: Oxford Circus. The New Year Solutions menu features three courses for £27 and is available from 5 January-28 March 2015 between 12-2.30pm on Mon-Sat and 6pm-close on Mon to Thur. For more information and booking, visit the Aqua Kyoto website.
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With the re-development of Victoria station and the surrounding area, Belgravia is the next hot postcode. Although long renowned as an upmarket residential and business area of the capital, SW1 has been lacking in choice of nightlife and restaurants.
Located at the prestigious address of Grosvenor Gardens opposite the Goring Hotel, Kouzu is a new contemporary Japanese restaurant and bar. The restaurant encompasses two floors in the Grade II-listed former National Bank Belgravia branch, which closed in 1970. Overseen by head chef Kyoichi Kai (formerly of the Arts Club and Zuma), the kitchen is staffed by an all-Japanese crew, ensuring authentic cuisine.
Upon arrival, we were given a Japanese greeting by all the staff, which was a nice touch. We were seated on a cosy table for two, under the window and near the bar, providing an intimate dining experience. Aside from the wine list, there is an extensive cocktail list full of many original creations alongside traditional favourites. We started with a Bellini with a twist – with a peach liqueur espuma on top and mist of peach bitters, which was light and fluffy and a Momo Awa, a red fruity concoction. The cocktail menu looked so good, we decided to forgo our usual wine accompaniment for the meal and went on to order Sakura Ume and Passion Victoria cocktails for our mains.
The menu features a wide range of sushi, sashimi, salads, small plates and grills. We were in the mood to mix things up so decided to try a mix of sushi, nigiri and hot dishes. To start with I ordered the Blanched Spinach, Sesame Sauce and Sesame Seeds. Although a simple dish, it will certainly please spinach-lovers such as myself. I loved the two flavours of the sesame sauce and seeds with the spinach. My friend opted for the Prawn Tempura, served on a salad, which I was able to try. The tempura was light and not oily at all – a welcome contrast to often greasy tempura I have eaten at other restaurants.
For main, I ordered a mix of sushi and Nigiri – Cucumber rolls with salmon, mackerel and scallop, with homemade Wasabi on the side. The fish nigiri tasted fresh and rich in flavour, with the beds of rice cooked to perfection, just sticky enough to remain intact between the chopsticks. My friend opted for the grilled salmon, which was well cooked and served with crunchy vegetables. With the manageable size of our first mains, we continued with the Chef’s Selection of sashimi, a fine spread of raw fish including toro, salmon, yellow tail, scallop and tuna, which was delicious and filling.
As we were pretty indecisive with the mouth-watering dessert menu, we ended up sharing a selection between us. The Crème Brulee had a Japanese twist as it was served with Maccha (powder green tea), which gave it a lovely savoury hint. The Dacquoise and Fig cake was an appetising light dish, perfect for after such a filling meal. The desserts were accompanied by various flavours of ice cream, but I particularly enjoyed the sesame, yuzu (Asian citrus fruit) and salted caramel flavours. The sesame ice cream admittedly sounded strange, but was delicious. It was an unusual combination of sweet and savoury, and took a few bites before I was able to process the taste and realise I liked it.
Overall, all the dishes were brilliant. With Kouzu’s contemporary twist on traditional Japanese dishes, it was quite the culinary adventure. The service was attentive and fast, while the setting proved for a relaxing environment. I would definitely recommend for Japanese food connoisseurs or those looking for a special venue for a birthday or other occasion.
- Kouzu, 19 – 20 Grosvenor Gardens, Belgravia, SW1W 0BD. Tel: 020 7730 7043. Nearest station: Victoria. For more information, visit the Kouzu restaurant website.
Disclaimer: Metro Girl was a guest of Kouzu restaurant for this review.
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