Minute on the clock: Emi Machida, Den
Having worked at noodle institutions Koya and Bone Daddies, Emi Machida is now head chef at new noodle bar Den in London's King's Cross. She talks to Neil Gerrard about the popularity of Japanese food, quick lunch service and udon versus ramen
You previously worked at Koya and Bone Daddies. What drew you to Den?
Both experiences honed my training in the practice of noodle making. The soup is just as important as the noodles, and I have learned how to draw out the flavours from the small number of ingredients.
Coming from a traditional family cooking environment in Japan and having worked in restaurants in Tokyo also helped me understand the delicate adjustments needed to satisfy European tastebuds.
How authentic is the food you serve in Den? Do you make any changes for the UK palate?
Clams steamed with sake, duck cutlet, noodles carbonara - these dishes have existed in Japan for some time, but the UK has not explored this type of cuisine yet.
We feel it is extremely authentic, interesting and tasty. Who is backing the venture?
Our investor is a young Japanese entrepreneur - Masaru Kurihara - who has recently started investing in the restaurant business after a successful career in real estate services. He opened his first restaurant in Tokyo last year: an Italian, called Capitolo, in the Meguro area. Den is his first
The udon noodles that Den serves are supposedly healthier than ramen. Why?
Udon are made by mixing wheat flour with water and salt; we add a touch of tapioca flour as well to add an interesting texture. Ramen
noodles are made with eggs, which are fattier and more diffito digest, and therefore less healthy.
Our soup is very simple and healthy, made by simmering konbu [dried seaweed], katsuobushi [dried bonito flakes] and Japanese shiitake mushrooms with a touch of soy sauce, whereas the most popular sort of ramen stock is produced by boiling pork, which can make it more fatty.
What do you expect the average spend per head to be?
Lunch service should be very quick with high turnover and a set menu of around £10 for food. The dinner menu is slightly more complex.
With wine, the average spend should be between £25 and £30. Japanese food has really grown in popularity in the UK. What do you think is driving it?
It's extremely flavoursome and healthy at the same time. There is also a real delicacy to it; ramen looks quite simple, but there's a lot of work behind a single bowl. It's also about the variety of ingredients used and the infinite number of ways to treat each ingredient.
Where have you been lately that you really like or admire?
I really like Barrafina because they represent a sort of street food in Spain that is perfectly replicated in London. Ippudo is a good introduction
to the London ramen scene, while Polpo is a great place to spend time. Its success and expansion is proof they are doing a good job.