The best Japanese restaurants in London

Kari Colmans

27 June 2022

Take a seat for the best sushi in town

27 June 2022 | Kari Colmans

Y

ou may be able to buy sushi in even the lowest budget supermarkets, but not all maki were created equal – and there’s a lot more to Japanese cuisine than stodgy California rolls. From global fusion stalwarts to neighbourhood secret gems, authentic izakayas to traditional ramen houses, London is home to some of the most exciting Japanese cooking on the planet – outside Japan, of course.

From Mayfair to Canary Wharf, Notting Hill to Shoreditch and Hampstead to Soho, we’ve sampled the soups, skewers and sushi rolls you’re sure to want to try. Here are the best Japanese restaurants in London.

Sumi, Notting Hill

If you haven’t yet tried the exquisite delights of this laid-back, unassuming, but high-spec neighbourhood sushi restaurant, then you’ve not lived. While the sushi itself seems simple at first glance, with only a handful of nigiri and ‘handroll’ options, chef’s here use a unique blow-torching technique (known as ‘aburi style’) adds an almost marshmallowy, s’mores-like texture and sweetness to the array of top-quality cuts on offer.

Sit at the sushi bar for the best seat in the house and watch the meticulously trained chefs handcraft each morsel, before they place each perfectly constructed piece straight into your palm, without them even touching a plate. The fatty tuna and wagyu beef lend themselves particularly well to the flame and are simply adorned with a shaving of truffle or a sprinkling of lime zest. To dunk these precious, delicate bites into soy sauce would be a crime against hamachi.

157 Westbourne Grove, W11 2RS, sushisumi.com

Kyubi at the Arts Club, Mayfair

Members of Dover Street’s famous Arts Club are spoiled rotten with the beautiful Kyubi, with its elegant interior, intimate balcony setting and buzzy bar space, at their fingertips. The dreamy ‘kyubites’ are perfect to linger over while browsing the wider menu. These tiny tacos filled with tuna, scallop, king crab, yellowtail or salmon from the fish counter, or peppers, aubergine or tomato from the garden, add enough punch with their various seasonings to tantalise your tastebuds for the rest of what’s to come.

Be sure to order a range of delicious hot dishes from the robata grill too: highlights include bass with wakame sauce, baby carrot, zucchini, okra, amaranth and red fennel cress, to the grilled Australian abalones with umeboshi, eringi, shiitake, shimeji and mizuna cress. And, of course, no meal would be complete without the oven-roasted whole Canadian lobster with shiso herbs, chilli miso butter and tobiko, or the chicken Genghis Khan. As the great leader himself once said: “everything is temporary” – so eat quickly.

40 Dover Street, W1S 4NP, theartsclub.co.uk

Kiyoto Sushi, across London

Originating outside the city centre and quickly graduating inwards, this low-key, pared-back sushi joint has a fiercely loyal local following, and now has a total of four separate outposts in West Hampstead, Mill Hill, Cockfosters and Borehamwood. Offering the finest quality sushi, along with some inventive house rolls of its own (plus a number of cooked classics – the black cod is second-to-none), don’t miss the signature dragon roll of prawn tempura and cucumber, wrapped in avocado and topped with tobiko, tempura flakes and dressed with mayonnaise and teriyaki sauce. The rainbow roll filled with fresh crab and avocado wrapped in salmon, tuna, squid, white fish, yellowtail, mackerel and dusted with tobiko is also well worth trying. There’s also a few ramen options: we love the spicy udon noodle soup with beansprouts, chillies, red onion, seasonal greens, and the teriyaki chicken for a warming finish. If you’re hosting a party any time soon, Kiyoto also provides custom platters to order.

Visit kiyotosushi.co.uk

Nobu Hotel, Shoreditch

Back in 1997, when the first Nobu London came to Old Park Lane, Shoreditch was still somewhat of a fine dining wasteland. Fast forward more than two decades and the East London version of this international brand, situated within its own eponymous hotel, is still as good as it was in its slip-dress and bucket-hat-wearing heyday, if not better. Entered via a sweeping staircase, you’ll be greeted by the minimalistic Japanese-Peruvian dining room, an open-plan kitchen and sushi counter, and an open-air courtyard adorned with Japanese-inspired art.

You can expect all Nobu’s famed fusion classics, alongside dishes inspired by the local neighbourhood, from tiraditos, ceviches, tartares and tatakis to the signature black cod, popcorn shrimp and avocado tempura; dishes that paved the way for imitators good and bad for years to come. An industry stalwart for the well-heeled (and well fed), you can’t put a chopstick wrong at Nobu.

10-50 Willow Street, EC2A 4BH, london-shoreditch.nobuhotels.com

Zuma, Knightsbridge

A smart, sophisticated and sceney twist on the traditional Japanese izakaya, this now international beast was co-founded by Rainer Becker and Arjun Waney in 2002, and now has 20 venues globally, with five seasonal locations. And for good reason. Dishes here are authentic, but not necessarily traditional with bold, intense flavours – think lashings of truffle, miso and yuzu – with an emphasis on impeccable presentation and a ‘gram worthy, international clientele.

Don’t miss the sliced yellowtail with green chilli relish, ponzu and pickled garlic, the crispy fried squid with green chilli lime or the crab salad with sesame dressing, Japanese mizuna and tobiko to start. Must-try main meals span Iberico pork with yuzu koshu and black pepper, jumbo tiger prawns with yuzu pepper, and the chef’s sushi selection featuring some of the best nigiri in the capital. Casual, local sushi joint this isn’t.

5 Raphael Street, SW7 1DL, zumarestaurant.com

Roka, Fitzrovia and Canary Wharf

Another now-international Japanese fusion behemoth, Roka has a handful of posh postcode locations dotted about the capital, but somehow Charlotte Street still holds its pre-world-domination charm. Led by a centrally located robata grill, where much of the fish, poultry, meat and vegetables are prepared in full view of diners at the surrounding counter, head there in warm weather and the glass walls open onto the street outside creating a semi-alfresco ambience (in the summer you can also eat outside).

The ‘new age’ sushi here is bedazzling – think hamachi tartare with lemon, chilli and ginger pearls or poached king crab leg with avocado, tosazu jelly and wasabi tobiko – while wagyu tempura maki with karashi ponzu will make your mouth sing. Everything from the scallop skewers and sea bass fillets to the baby chicken, lamb cutlets, aubergine and asparagus are all cooked to chargrilled perfection on the robata. The weekend brunch at the Canary Wharf branch is a great way to sample it all without the eye-watering bill.

37 Charlotte Street, W1T 1RR; 4 Park Pavilion, 40 Canada Square, E14 5FW, rokarestaurant.com

Machiya, Soho

An authentic and homely traditional Japanese eatery — with tranquil decor to match — this low-key all-day dining restaurant, bar and patisserie is inspired by the great food halls of Japan. Named after the eponymous townhouses that once defined the Kyoto cityscape, the kitchen serves traditional dishes such as tonkatsu, Japanese curry and donburi (we love the grilled eel or mixed Japanese mushroom versions) and all are available as a teishoku set meal with homemade miso soup, pickles and steamed rice.

The in-house pastry team is pretty unique here, offering an authentic taste of Japanese patisserie, with a focus on premium Uji matcha and seasonal ingredients such as cherry blossom and yuzu. There’s also a comprehensive and authentic whiskey and sake menu, spanning yuzu, peach and apple infusions. There are no sour plums here (except the umenoyado ume shu sake).

5 Panton Street, SW1Y 4DL, machi-ya.co.uk

Read more: Sushisamba - an epic view with a menu to match