London’s West End tends to merit its reputation for being bustling and harassed, so you might well imagine my delight on discovering an airy, unpretentious restaurant like Machiya, serving authentic, modern Japanese home-style cooking, in the heart of Piccadilly.
Taking inspiration from traditional Japanese wooden townhouses in Kyoto, this recently-opened all-day restaurant has an inviting look: minimalistic wooden tables and stools; a billowing string of glowing paper lanterns; and a food counter at the back where one can see how the food is made.
To differentiate Michiya from its sister franchise, Kanada-ya – a hugely popular ramen chain – there is no sushi, or indeed ramen, on offer. Instead, the dishes presented by owners Aaron Burgess-Smith and Tony Lam explore the diversity of modern Japanese cooking.
Don’t miss the chance to try the izakaya-style starters and seasonal specials. The homemade tofu custard makes for a wonderful, creamy starter with melt-in- your-mouth texture and freshness, and blends wonderfully with the smoky, subtle taste of itogaki (blue fin tuna). The steamed sweet potatoes are edifyingly light-bodied, while the sea bass with jalapeño miso sauce puts the freshness of the fish front and center, albeit the bold sauce is not for the faint-hearted.
Machiya’s signature dish, abura soba, is basically warm noodles done to perfection. The al dente, seasoned noodles, served with pork belly, bamboo shoots, seaweed and a dash of garlic are best eaten by mixing in the runny egg served in the middle. Don’t forget to add in sesame oil for that nutty, aromatic flavor.
For a reassuring classic, there is the popular Tonkatsu curry – crispy, panko-crumbed served with cabbage – or the Japanese beef or vegetable curry, served with fragrant, premium quality Japanese rice. If you’re looking for a real treat, go for the traditional eel on rice or the crusted wagyu steak served on a shichirin (a charcoal grill).
When it comes to Machiya’s desserts, one is spoilt for choice, but if you fancy a genmaicha mille crepe, order in advance as they sell out rather quickly. With its rich taste and fluffy texture, the matcha fondant is an authentic delight. Dinner ends with the sweet note of a matcha cappuccino, swirled with a cute Japanese animal pattern on top.
The service is friendly and efficient, although it might help if waiting staff were able to offer more detailed explanations to entice and reassure diners less familiar with the range of Japanese dishes.
Do not be fooled by the appearance of this petite restaurant: its drinks list is both offbeat and serious. Not only does feature a selection of sakes (from kawatsuru to interesting ones like Junmai Daiginjo), there is also plum wine, whisky, and a variety of iced drinks and mocktails. Machiya’s Monday to Thursday two-for-one cocktail promotion, which runs from 5-8pm, makes the place a magnetic draw for office workers in the vicinity.
With its dim mood lighting and plush sofas, the restaurant’s cocktail bar is a fabulous hideaway where you can order a glass of Hibiki whisky or an earl grey sour and dream that you are in Ginza, not London.
The restaurant has a no-bookings policy, so your best bet is to get there early before the dinner crowd arrives.
Machiya, 5 Panton Street, London SW1Y 4DL / Mon-Thu 12-10.30pm / Fri-Sat 12-11pm / Sun 12-10pm / No bookings