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Yoi Sho - Not Your Average London Restaurant

Yoi Sho isn’t your average London Japanese restaurant. In fact, it looks like something plucked out of downtown Tokyo and planted squarely in uptown Fitzrovia. It doesn’t have website. Heck - it doesn’t even have an email address. Proudly stating my intention to post a review of their restaurant on an online blog site (in the hope of getting a second meal with discounts for myself and the Mokio crew…) was greeted with a blank stare and uncomprehending silence.

It’s not difficult to understand why this authentic gem of a restaurant is hardly mentioned anywhere on your more high-end online review sites. For starters, it looks ‘lived in’ to say the least. The outside looks tired and worn and the inside is all uneven floors, rumpled wallpaper and well-used furniture. The staff are either Japanese - or speak and write it fluently. All the patrons are Japanese.

Yoi Sho best Japanese restaurant in London

In fact – I think we were the only non-Japanese people in the place.

I am then reliably informed by my co-diner that this is a pitch-perfect likeness for the Yakitori bars he got dragged into by his Japanese colleagues when out in Tokyo for business. You came, you ordered ‘chicken on sticks’, you drank saki and you talked for hours.

So far, I am liking it.

We got handed two menus – a rather battered looking leatherbound containing reams of choice AND a clear plastic pocket featuring their specials menu. From it we chose more food than 3 people could (or should) sensibly eat in one sitting.

The food came in dribs and drabs – no discernible order. The Yakitori was last. Presumably because it involved some well-considered cooking…

First to arrive is the Kimchi, a dish of Korean origin, made of brined vegetables (cabbage, radish, scallion, cucumber) that are rubbed with ground chilli paste, garlic, salted shrimp, anchovy sauce, ginger and then left to ferment in closed jars for anything from a few days to several years (see this article for an excellent summation of Kimchi's origins and importance to Korean culture).

We elect to try it stirred up and served with a generous helping of the beautifully cooked soft ‘n’ slightly rubbery cephalopod we all love. It’s tangy and slightly acerbic – the vinegary flavour nicely offset by the heat of the chilli. Counter-intuitively for my western tongue, it leaves my palate cleansed and ready to sample the next few (half a dozen) courses.

Edamame – warm, salted. The way they should be served - not cold and slightly rubbery from having been chilled to 1 degree above freezing for 7 hours. Beautiful. Moreish. Now we are salivating.

Yoi Sho Japanese Restaurant Goodge Street

The salmon sashimi is exquisite. Fresh, delicate, served (as it should be) at room temperature. Slightly expensive for the 5 slices – but given the exceptional quality, I am happy enough.

The tempura… Now I am a bit of a tempura fetishist. I have mixed tempura at every available opportunity. I then judiciously make note of texture, taste, lightness of batter, quality of contents, blend of ingredients - tempura without a mushroom is already a no-no – but that may be more my own particular brand of greedy around fungi…

Yoi Sho’s is beautiful. Ever so light and perfectly executed - the oil obviously fresh, not three days old, burnt and stale. The batter is crunchy, the water used to make it clearly appropriately chilled, creating a perfect koromo or ‘cloak’ (the crispy coating the Japanese like to call tempura) – so much so we are picking it up off the table, out of the basket and scooping the soggy bits languishing at the bottom of the dipping sauce…! The dipping sauce is light and fragrant. The prawns are pink, fresh, soft and delicately flavoured. The vegetables took on enough of the flavour of the oil without being soaked by it, that eating them feels like you are approximating wholesome. Despite the sheer volume of food yet to come - I actually want more.

But I resist.

The maki rolls were meaty and hearty – again – served freshly rolled, at room temperature, with rice that was loose and fluffy rather than cold and stodgy. The gyoza came freshly made and scorching hot – the contents a blend of meat, leeks, cabbage, garlic and ginger. I am not a huge fan of gyoza as a rule – but I had a couple of the dozen we ended up ordering… The rest were unceremoniously scoffed by my two co-diners… So clearly a winner there…

Next is the Yakitori. I order a single stick of pork belly (a guilty favourite) – crispy, cooked with enough oil to make it juicy, my taste buds burst open with the flavor of it. Salty, yummy, fatty, slightly charred, meaty goodness. In a bite size morsel. Perfect.

The full set is made up of chicken wings, pork belly, quail eggs, chicken hearts, chicken kidneys, chicken balls, chicken thighs – the flavour is lightly steeped in smoked charcoal, rich with umami, and deeply, deeply succulent. Yoi Sho’s ‘chicken on sticks’ has definitely earned itself a repeat performance.

What do I think?

Well… the only disappointment on this particular evening is that they usually do tuna belly – or ‘Toro’ - and upon hearing this I became ridiculously excited (I love it almost as much as I do tempura). I then readied myself to put in an unreasonably large order - and made my peace with the inevitable hefty expense…

But sadly, this evening, it was not to be.

The maki rolls are the special today. Tried those. I am advised to come back again.

And so I will. Because if the rest is anything to go by, this will become a firm, slightly dilapidated and unapologetically unsophisticated, favourite.

Yoi Sho Details

Why go? Get a taste of authentic Yakitori and freshly cooked Japanese food – for a Japanese clientele. No western messing!
The crowd: Business men and small groups of 20-30 somethings. All Japanese.
How much? £30-40 for a meal for two, with drinks. Try and book (if you can get through!) as they are ridiculously busy.
Where? 33 Goodge Street London W1T 2PS, Tel: 020 7323 0477
Website: non-existent – old school

Yoi Sho Japanese restaurant - good food

Thank you to:

Allegra Catolfi Salvoni: blogger | coach | strategist | experience junkie | @_Londonlegs_