It may be on the no-travel list for us Brits, but it is still possible to enjoy an authentic Japanese dining experience in London at the fabulous Akira restaurant at Japan House.
Located in affluent Kensington, the “cultural home if Japan” showcases the very best of Japanese art, design and gastronomy, whilst never taking itself too seriously. They are currently hosting an exhibition called Architecture for Dogs, and it’s exactly what it says on the tin.
The restaurant is located on the first floor, and following a pandemic-themed hiatus, re-opened its doors to diners on September 4th.
Akira, which is named after Chef Shimizu Akira, certainly looks the part and opts for classic Japanese minimalism: the spacious restaurant has bare white walls, a dramatic black, textured ceiling and simple wooden tables and chairs.
The front of the restaurant is dominated by the kitchen, where you can observe the chefs in action through the transparent screen.
Akira welcomes families, professionals and anyone who loves Japan and Japanese cuisine.
Food and drink
Having travelled to northern Japan earlier this year for the first time, I was excited to sample an authentic Japanese menu that I hoped would transport me back to that wonderful sashimi-filled time.
We decided on the lunchtime slot as Akira offers a special three-course menu for £60. This includes an appetiser, assorted sashimi selection and main course, either from the grill or a special sushi selection. Both main courses include a bowl of warming miso soup.
As we waited for our appetiser, we shared a carafe of chilled Azure sake made at the Tosatsuru brewery on Shikoku Island. The sake was filtered in deep ocean water and is served on a bed of ice. Our waiter, Robert, presented us with a magnificent selection of sake cups of different colours to choose from, adding a charming element to our dining experience.
While sipping on our sake, delicious smells wafted from the kitchen and I was very much looking forward to our meal. The appetiser for the day was seared smoked eel with sashimi pepper and white cabbage and radicchio salad. Whilst eel may sound a little challenging for the palate, it was cooked beautifully and looked so scrummy with its dusting of red and orange spices, I barely registered the “eel” part.
Next on the menu were the assorted sashimi, vegetables and Japanese osozai (homemade side dishes). This was presented to us in a large wooden box, which we opened to discover an explosion of colour and textures. It really was a “wow” moment! Mushroom croquette, a light watercress salad with Wasabi, sea bass sashimi, salmon with flying fish roe and fried potato salad and shiso leaf and pomegranate were just some of the delights we sampled.
For the final course, we shared the grill and sushi selection between us. For me, the robata grill, cooked over charcoal, was very much the star of the show. Presented on a hot stone with dipping sauces, we tucked into a selection of mouth-watering lamb and chicken skewers. The lamb was plump, juicy and rare, and simply melted in the mouth. My dining partner was equally as taken with the chicken skewer, which she said was wonderfully tender.
The sushi selection was also beautifully presented, but for me was a little too similar to our second course. It was, however, accompanied by a panko-fried tomato with a wonderfully crisp batter. I felt this was an unusual choice of vegetable to deep fry, but somehow it worked.
Despite almost reaching saturation level, we couldn’t help sampling one of Akira’s desserts. We shared a matcha mille crepe cake, the fan favourite, and it was deliciously light and not too sweet.
We so enjoyed our meal at Akira that almost three hours flew by without us noticing. The cuisine certainly tastes authentic and is clearly cooked and served with pride. The presentation was particularly impressive, and it is, for this reason, I would choose Akira over other Japanese restaurants in London.
Akira is also well suited for smart business lunches, so if your preference is for a lighter bite, there’s a great selection of bento boxes, noodles and donburi (rice bowl dish) on offer that cost between £15 and £45. There are also some vegetarian options, although vegans may struggle with this particular menu.
Japan House London is located on the corner of Kensington High Street and Derry Street, within a two-minute walking distance from High Street Kensington Station.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, capacity is for 40 people instead of the usual 56, so make sure you book a few days in advance to avoid disappointment.