Love Japanese food, but fed up with sushi? Charlotte Dormon finds out what Japanese people love to eat when sushi season is over
When I speak to people about my love of Japanese food, they immediately assume I am referring to sushi. Yes, sushi is by far the most popular Japanese bite for those looking for a low-fat lunch, or light-weight dinner, but with winter finally kicking in, the allure of a raw fish and rice roll meal quickly becomes less appealing.
Sushi certainly does have a good reputation with my friends who are all-season slimmers – but I wanted to find out what other healthy, nutritious Japanese dishes we can all enjoy eating out whilst we shelter from the cold.
This week I headed to SHORYU a popular restaurant just off Regent Street in London to find out what the Japanese have for lunch.
From first glance, I knew this place must be good and not just good because it was busy with people, but good because, beside myself and my guest, everyone else seated was Japanese – which, in my eyes, meant someone was doing something right here.
The place was filled with chatter, modern music and slim Japanese ladies eating delicate little rice buns filled with hot meat and fish whilst sipping big bowls of vivid green matcha tea – they looked good and so did the food.
SHORYU has two branches in central London, one just off Regent Street and the other in Soho not far from Piccadilly Circus. The décor is black and chic and the design modern, yet still with an authentic feel about it and overall a causal and fun place to dine for lunch or a dinner. If you are short of time, you will be pleased to know that the service is fast and efficient and you can easily fit a two course meal into an hour.
The main dish served in the restaurant is ramen noodles. There are about ten different choices, all with meat, fish and vegetable noodle dishes to choose from. All ingredients in the dish are submerged in a meaty broth, along with authentic Japanese Ramen ingredients, such as nitamago egg (a marinated boiled egg cut in half with a spicy topping), kikurage mushrooms (rich in flavor and used to enhance the taste of the cooking), beansprouts, spring onion, sesame, ginger, nori & mayu (caramelised black garlic oil).
One of the other sections on the menu is dedicated to Yakitori. This is one of my favorite Japanese dishes as it is just pure protein (generally meat) put on a wooden skewer, marinated in a delicate teriyaki glaze and slowly grilled over a charcoal grill until soft and tender.
My friend and I started with the Yotsumi Yakitori– grilled chicken thigh pieces with teriyaki glaze. The good thing about having a protein based starter is you are less likely to hanker for sugary puddings at the end of the meal, as your blood sugars will be balanced and you will not overeat on the main course.
I was really impressed by the dish. The chicken thigh was soft and cooked perfectly (chicken thighs, although higher in fat than breast, are far more nutritious as the meat is close to the bone and has a lot more flavour) and the Yakitori grill method means you get a totally unique flavor that is very different from anything you would have tried before. I would strongly advise this dish for those who want a good protein fix.
We then moved onto the ramen as a main. Although I have eaten yakitori and sushi for years, I have not ever tried authentic Japanese ramen, which, as I have come to learn from my friends I made in the restaurant, is worlds away from anything you would have tried in London until now. This restaurant is owned by the same people who own the Japan Centre in London, which is the best store in town to buy all authentic Japanese ingredients for cooking. I usually shop here for my wasabi and other ingredients and they also flagged up SHOYRU as a place I must check out.
We both had the gluten-free Tori Kara Ramen. This came with gluten-free rice noodles (they only use organic rice in this restaurant), shitake mushrooms, konbu soy broth with gluten-free miso, fried chicken, nitamango egg, kikurage, nori, kelp, spring onions and fish cake.
To drink, I tried the home made stone-ground matcha tea. Unlike green tea, where you drink the water brewed with just green tea leaves, matcha is made by drying out the leaves and then grinding them down into a very fine powder, so you consumed the whole of the leaf, rather than just the brew. You can have this cold or hot but as it was cold outside, hot was preferable. I have recently become a very big fan of matcha tea since I have discovered how good it is for you. If you don’t drink green tea, you may prefer matcha as it is more sweet and creamy tasting, but also has a lot more antioxidants and theanine (a unique compound in tea that has a calming effect on the brain and helps keep you relaxed and focused) than other teas and overall has been a popular beverage with Japanese people thanks to its long list of health-boosting properties. Matcha is the ideal drink to match with your meal as aids digestion of fat and boosts the metabolism – another reason why the Japanese love it so much.
The Ramen was everything I could have wanted and more. The hot broth was delicate and light in flavor and not at all salty. The chicken pieces are covered with a spicy potato flour batter, which makes the dish really different and so much better than just chunks of plain chicken bobbing around. The fish cake and egg are a great addition and taste so nice with the noodles and broth. The seaweed was soft and tasty and worked so well with the other ingredients.
The dish was filling, full of good protein to balance the carbohydrate and with the garlic, spring onion and chilli, it warmed you up nicely – this soup is a must if you are suffering from any winter sniffles. I had never tried this Japanese dish before, but I can now say it is by far one of my favorite things.
The matcha tea was the best I have ever tried in a restaurant. It was smooth, creamy and naturally sweet without any bitterness at all.It is big enough serving to share and even if you didn’t want to come for lunch, stopping by for a matcha is far better than fueling up with black coffee. If you fancy a more indulgent matcha, try the matcha with chocolate – a healthy, almost guilt-free indulgence thanks to the naturally occurring antioxidants found in of the cocoa bean and in the matcha.
SHORYU caters well for those on a gluten-free diet and have many choices across the whole menu, including starters, such as the Salmon Tatsuta Age (a crispy dish of fried salmon), main course (there are three Ramen dishes to choose from) and authentic Japanese sorbet for pudding. If you going here for the GF menu, I did not try the gluten-free Hirata buns (steamed rice buns filled with meat and fish), but from watching my fellow diners, I could see they looked light, fluffy and delightful. I am certainly going back to try these next time.
If you are vegetarian, you will also have a great experience here as tofu is used in a number of the dishes and is a great source of protein if you are not eating meat.
Overall I would say if you are a fan of Japanese cooking, then you are on to something good here. I have never been the biggest fan of sushi as I do prefer hot food and always found I would be craving for something else after my slithers of expensive sashimi. I have really enjoyed discovering a whole new side to Japanese cooking this week and with all the well-know health benefits of this style of eating, I shall be tucking in.
Starters and pudding are from £5, and mains and Ramen dishes are around £10.50 – all portions are plentiful and good value for money.
Table bookings are not available at either restaurant, so be prepared to wait, or arrive before the rush. SHORYU in Soho can be found at: 3 Denman Street London W1D 7HA and Regent Street at 9 Regent St London SW1Y 4LR.
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CHARLOTTE DORMON is our Healthista Eats blogger. She’s not a chef, or even that much of a cook. If it’s recipes you’re looking for – you’re in the wrong place. But whether it’s Sunday lunch or Friday night cocktails, she’s the one friends and family turn to when they want to know how to eat out and be relatively healthy. Each week she’ll now be bringing you the same insider knowledge. We’ll drink – and eat – to that. Follow Charlotte on Twitter @lottielurvsu
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