Machiya in Soho
Little sister of legendary ramen palace Kanada-Ya, newly opened Machiya brings home-style Japanese cooking to Soho. In a direct counter to London’s pricey Japanese options, owners Tony Lam and Aaron Burgess-Smith reckon it’s exactly what the city’s been missing.
Taking its name from the traditional wooden townhouses of Kyoto, the 23-cover restaurant offers simple wooden furnishings and is surprisingly bright and airy considering its tiny size. Head downstairs and you’ll find an equally minimalist cocktail bar with an entirely different vibe altogether. All plush leather and dim mood lighting, it’s perfect for finishing off that last glass of Japanese whiskey before heading back into the hustle and bustle of tourist-saturated Leicester Square.
Depending on whether your glass of sake is half full or half empty, the rather “cosy” restaurant environment has its positives and negatives. On one hand, this gives diners a uniquely voyeuristic approach when it comes to ordering, letting you size up your soba noodles or oggle the unagi before you decide on your dinner. On the other, you’re packed in almost elbow to elbow and even the most accomplished of chopstick wielders may begin to sweat under pressure.
Food is simple, unpretentious and affordable, with a menu consisting only of dishes that are typically authentic with a twist. Choose from a modest selection of izakaya (snacks and small plates), yoshuku (western-influenced dishes) and washuko (traditional style eats).
The tsukune – minced chicken skewers with sesame seeds and shichimi pepper – are deliciously sticky, sweet and not to be missed. Just don’t shy away from the burford brown egg yolk dip, you’ll thank us later. We opted for the buta shogayaki special, a generously sized donburi bowl topped with sauteed ginger pork, pickled ginger and a onsen lamago that, when prodded, spilled gloriously runny yolk over the ribbons of tender meat.
The Zaru Soba, though elevated by a tasty dashi dipping sauce aren’t big on flavour and, coiled together in an impossible buckwheat tangle, are perhaps more trouble than they’re worth – try the omurice instead.
The immense disappointment of missing out on Machiya’s star attraction – the gyukatsu, (rare panko-crusted wagyu steak, finished off at the table on a tiny charcoal grill ) – left a sour taste in our mouths that even the plump and juicy breadcrumbed pork tonkatsu, which was undoubtedly delicious, could not erase. Arrive early and get them whilst they last or run the risk of eating second fiddle.
Though your average Londoner is well versed on Japanese cuisine with ramen and sushi having long since filtered into mainstream dining, the world of sweet treats may be rather alien. Machiya hopes to change this, letting you gorge yourself on insanely Instagrammable goodies straight out of Studio Ghibli. Pillowy matcha fondant is pleasantly cloying, boasting a plethora of textures with every bite and soft serve ice-cream gets a vibrant matcha makeover too. The sakura raindrop cake is a happy accident and, resembling a paper weight with a tiny cherry blossom suspended, is almost too beautiful to eat.
Where the food menu is short but sweet, the drinks menu means business. Cocktails allegedly are curated to reflect traditional tastes, so we’re not too sure how the Jigglypuff and the #ppap sneaked their way in. Be sure to try the Salvatore’s Gimlet, a fresh and summery tipple made with Gin, cucumber, lime, yellow chartreuse and scorched rosemary and the Kawaii Ne a zingy little sour with sake, lychee peach liqueur, yuzu juice and yuzu foam. But if cocktails aren’t your bag, these guys aren’t messing around and they’re offering 14 different sakes and 28 different whiskeys to prove it.
Though the service left us wanting, in some cases quite literally as drinks arrived long after starters, Machiya still has it’s training wheels firmly screwed on. Give it time though, in life as in business, finding your feet is never going to be easy…especially after too much sake.
★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Photos: Daniel Donovan
To book a table at Machiya, 5 Panton Street London SW1Y 4DL, call 0207 925 0333 or visit here.