This Dalston restaurant in north London shows that Japanese food doesn't need to be traditional to be authentic. Leyla Kazim reports
A deep-yellow yolk sits in a pot of dark tare, waiting to be transformed into a dipping sauce with the aid of a chopstick. It's partnered with two skewers of minced chicken, golden from the charcoal grill. It's the most visually striking dish from the focused menu at recently launched Dalston restaurant Jidori, and it's also a joy to eat.
This is the plate co-owner and executive chef Brett Redman is most pleased with. "I love the tsukune. Chicken skin and fat are mixed through with dark bird meat, so when it cooks, the fat melts and renders through. You end up with a nice and juicy chicken meatball," he explains.
Brett Redman and Natalie Lee-Joe
Redman trained as a chef in his home town of Sydney, Australia, and worked in a mix of gastropubs, cafés and fine-dining restaurants, before moving to London 10 years ago. He started his UK career with a year-long café pop-up on Bethnal Green Road, and then moved on to open the Pavillion Café in Victoria Park in 2007. He then opened Elliot's Café in 2011 and seafood-driven the Richmond in Hackney in spring 2015, both of which are still under his ownership.
The idea for Jidori came about as a collaborative effort between long-term friends Redman and co-owner and front of house manager Natalie Lee-Joe. Lee-Joe was eager to leave the world of global communications and advertising to open her own restaurant, and discussions about a joint venture began a couple of years ago.
Chilled udon, onsen egg and togarashi
They decided on a yakitori restaurant inspired by those found across Tokyo, with an open kitchen at its heart, and at its centre a grill by Kama-Asa Shoten - a century-old, artisanal grill-maker Lee-Joe met while in Japan.
The menu caters for the developing and discerning demographic found in these parts of east London. "Hackney and Dalston is growing up now - there are a lot more sophisticated dining options available. People in that area are looking for something more - they don't want to travel into town all the time to go to the new openings," explains Redman.
As with his two other restaurants, Redman has continued the concept of cooking good-quality ingredients over charcoal at Jidori, with yakitori being the focus of this new venture.
"It's good because, even though it's a completely different style of cuisine, the philosophy behind it is still the same as Elliot's and the Richmond - how you can make something taste the best it can be," he explains.
On top of the grilled skewers, a layer of playfulness has been added to the menu in the form of izakaya-influenced Japanese small plates. The desired effect is "fun, drinking, relaxation; feeling like you can order lots of different mouthfuls, and picking at things," says Redman. It's successfully achieved, but without making a carbon copy of traditional Japanese dishes.
"You have to cook naturally. You can't attempt to replicate a style of cuisine or a dish that's not natural to you. If we tried to do that, it wouldn't feel right to us. And there would be no sense of authenticity for the restaurant either," he says. Instead, the theme from his other sites - of seasonal cuisine and rustic, produce-based and wood-fire cooking - heavily influence the style of Jidori. Indeed, Jidori's head chef previously worked at Elliot's Café.
King oyster mushroom yakitori
"Every customer that walks through the door orders the koji fried chicken (£6) and the katsu curry scotch egg (£5)," says Redman, when asked what the most popular items are. "And I don't think I've sold so many cucumbers in my life," referring to the punchy and refreshing sesame and chilli marinated version on the menu (£4). The ginger ice-cream with miso caramel (£5) is also a favourite with customers from the brief list of dessert options. The 10 seats at the bar and 30 at the tables see an average spend of around £20 per head during the week and £30-£35 on Fridays and Saturdays.
At the moment, Jidori operates with a chef brigade of four (two on at any one time) and only in the evenings. Since opening a few weeks ago, their busiest night saw 90 covers. New daytime dining menus are set to launch in February to help build those numbers.
Donburi rice bowls with toppings and yakitori will retail for £10 and be available at lunch. "We have a couple of dishes in the works, including spicy tuna," says Redman. Around the same time, Jidori will launch Japanese-inspired weekend brunches with items such as Bloody Marys made with sake and dashi stock.
"I'd love to see more Japanese chefs get the confidence to come to London," says Redman. "Bring someone real over here and show us how to do it, so we can learn and be inspired."
Sharing table for two
From the menu
- Spinach ohitashi £4
- Chilled udon, onsen egg and togarashi £5
- Mackerel tartare, mandarin and young ginger ponzu £8
- Wing, shisho and grilled lemon £4
- Aubergine and miso butter £3.50
- Chicken broth, tofu, shiso and spring onion £4
- Yaki onigiri £3
89 Kingsland High Street, London E8 2PB
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