Yumi Izakaya, Shaftesbury Avenue, W1D

  • Food and Drink
Yumi Izakaya, Shaftesbury Avenue, W1D


Fri, 24/06/2016 - 10:38


Yumi Izakaya serves up deeply delicious Japanese pub grub
Yumi Izakaya serves up deeply delicious Japanese pub grub
23 June, 2016

IN Spain, it’s the tapas bar; in Japan, the izakaya. Most nations love grazing on small dishes whenever they go out for a drink. But here we still struggle with this common-sense custom. In Britain, leisurely eating and moderate drinking are frankly not our forte. 

Nevertheless, a globetrotting Londoner has just opened one of the capital’s first “izakayas” on Shaftsbury Avenue – his take on a cosy Japanese tavern.

Near the street, at the end of their gleaming copper-clad bar, a chef cooks exquisite, dainty kebabs on the charcoal grill: asparagus wrapped in bacon; morsels of chicken slathered in a sweet soy glaze. From the downstairs kitchen, the team pump up around a dozen dishes crafted with impressive skill. 

Chilli fried cauliflower is a revelation – bite-sized florets fried in a crisp batter that you dunk in a piquant sauce. The gyoza dumplings were the best I’ve eaten: plump, crimped parcels of minced pork and ginger, the base fried to an ideal sticky crunch. 

You now get the idea, I’m sure. Yumi Izakaya serves up deeply delicious Japanese pub grub.

The owner has an interesting back story. After travelling around Asia, he spent a four-year stint running his own izakaya in a garage in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital. Every morning, he’d take a tuk tuk to the local street market, loading up on fresh ingredients to cook up in a Japanese style. Back home in London, he’s done a terrific job with his creation of Yumi Izakaya. It feels cosy, inviting and cool – more like Soho than Shaftsbury Avenue. The lighting is low; the music just right. Walls are decorated with chunky wooden cubes of teak, like stacked Jenga for giants, with the occa­sional painting of a female samurai for good measure. Most notable (especially for this touristy stretch) was the clientele, which was largely Asian – always a good sign.

The drinks menu includes draught craft beers, a wide selec­tion of sake, Japanese whiskey, cocktails, and wine. Do try the chips, a decadent creation of French fries topped with spicy sauce, mayo, seaweed and a sprinkle of bonito tuna flakes, which wave eerily in the residual heat. 

Prices are typically £4-£6 a dish, which feels eminently reasonable. 

The following day, I chatted to a Japanese friend about the food culture back home. Every town has an izayaka, she explains. Prices are cheap, as they don’t add a service charge and tea and soft drinks are often free. She’s married to an Italian chef, who believes the Japanese are even more passionate about food than his compatriots: “He thinks Italian people only love Italian food. But Japanese people are far more adventurous – they love food of love all kinds.”

If you enjoy Japanese food, fol­low their example and explore Yumi Izakaya. It’s open from midday until 1am every night of the week.   

67 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1D

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