Yakitori is the perfect food: delicious, dainty morsels that come in a variety of ingredients and flavours which you keep eating and ordering on repeat. And on skewers. What is it about skewers that enhances the taste of grilled meat and veg a thousandfold?
Bincho has been a firm favourite amongst Londoners since it opened its doors several years ago in Soho. It is one of the few Japanese izakayas that use binchotan, a type of Japanese charcoal with clean smoke and odour-free properties so desirable in many specialist grills. My mum also keeps pieces of binchotan around the house to absorb odours -- so Japanese.
I've been to Bincho several times over the years as Soho is pretty close to where I work. Soho is also the heart of gay London -- it's colourful and spirited and quickly becoming the culinary centre of London with a mixture of restaurants both hip and high-end opening every few months.
I'm a pretty conservative yakitori-eater and always go for chicken skewers dipped in sticky sweet tare (sauce made with shoyu + sugar). This time I went with a friend who wanted to try something different.
We started off with enoki bacon, my favourite mushroom wrapped in cured meat.
Bincho is famous for offering hatsu (chicken hearts), sunagimo (chicken gizzard), sori (chicken oysters) and nakaochi (chicken necks), some which are on the daily menu. Although we were there quite early, the chicken necks and skin on the daily menu were quickly crossed out as a party of English youngsters leapt up to order them before we even got our thoughts together.
Then we ordered the following: unagi (eel), tebasaki (chicken wings) and buta (pork belly).
The unagi was succulent and smoky and the chicken wings, usually my favourite, were a little small but perfectly salty. But the best of the bunch was the pork belly, soft and meaty and dipped generously in a sweetened soy tare.
We also got some sides.
The tatsuta-age with ponzu dipping sauce was crispy and lighter than my other favourite, kara-age (the former uses potato starch and the latter uses wheat flour).
And the daikon salad with radish, roe and wasabi mayonnaise dressing which was crisp, crunchy and cooling.
And some ninniku (garlic) rice, flavourful and fried with butter. This was the perfect carb addition to the meal.
And of course we had to have desserts which we shared.
Soymilk doughnuts with green tea sugar and vanilla ice cream which were light and fluffy and melt in your mouth. Loved these and they were very generous with their portions.
And layered banana cake with green tea ice cream because everyone needs matcha ice cream in their lives.
Bincho is a friendly and welcoming restaurant which also serves daily lunch sets including yakitori-don (rice bowl) which is pretty good value for money as well as being good. Their menu is adventurous, exciting and enticing enough for even a conservative like me to try out the more exotic meaty parts such as offal which often make me feel gross. But I'm willing to try it next time!
While we were there, there was a kick-ass English family from granny to kids who were tucking into a variety of dishes from yakitori to yaki-onigiri (grilled rice balls). It's the kind of scenario I wouldn't have expected 10 years ago and makes me incredibly happy that I live in such a diverse and multi-cultural city. Go London!
16 Old Compton Street
London W1D 4TL
Tel: 0207 287 9111