Due to my indecisive nature I often approach questions of the “what if…” or “what is your favourite…” vein with a certain sense of dread. So when a probing set of questions was unleashed on me and a few others at an informal dinner with The Sunday Times supplements editor, true to form, I drew a complete blank. Put on the spot, I mumbled (in reply to “Why do you eat out?”) something about meeting up with friends, which although true (most of my catch-ups are done over food and of course, alcohol), is secondary to the desire to just eat good food – be it a platter of impeccably-sourced sashimi, an inventive multi-course tasting, or just a really good burger. And this is exactly what The Food List, compiled by The Sunday Times in collaboration with Harden’s (refreshingly made via ratings by 8300+ diners rather than food critics), focuses on – not ambience, not service, just the food.
In my opinion any kind of ranking will realistically have its flaws, but trying to just single out one variable seems a sensible route to take. Yes, the better known heavy weights still make their appearance in the top tier (although surprisingly Gidleigh Park managed to trump The Fat Duck to pole position), but it does allow neighbourhood restaurants like Jin Kichi, the venue of our discussions, to creep into a respectable 71st (just 2 spots under Purnell’s and a whopping 38 spots above London’s only 3 Michelin-starred restaurant, Alain Ducasse), in the list of Britain’s Top 200 Restaurants. Similarily less flashy establishments that made it on the list (printed in today’s Sunday Times, and online now) include Trinity (#82), Hunan (#90) and even my recently reviewed Pham Sushi made it in at #179.
THE FOOD LIST TOP 20
1. Gidleigh Park
2. The Fat Duck
3. Marcus Wareing
4. The Ledbury
5. The Waterside Inn
6. Le Manoir aux Quat? Saisons
7. Le Gavroche
10. The Kitchin
11. Hambleton Hall
12. The Square
13. Restaurant Sat Bains
14. Yorke Arms
15. Restaurant Martin Wishart
17. Pied à Terre
18. Andrew Fairlie
19. La Bécasse
So anyway, back to Jin Kichi; what did we make of the food from this Japanese that ranked in the Top 100? Bearing in mind there were a bunch of food bloggers doing the ordering, be prepared for A LOT of food. Our meal started favourably with a soupçon of Salmon Roe with grated Daikon and a yuzu-scented Smoked Duck Salad with blanched vegetables.
A nori-topped Agedashi Tofu that followed had a suitably light cornflour batter and deep savoury sauce. The beancurd itself was firm and not of the silken variety I prefer (and more traditionally used), but that didn’t take away from our enjoyment.
The assortment of Tempura had an equally airy batter and the prawn I sampled was satisfyingly sweet and meaty.
Another tempura item that arrived towards the end of the meal however wasn’t anywhere near as good – the batter greasy and the Octopus within bland and chewy.
The best eats of the night were definitely the skewers. The teriyaki-glazed Pork rolled with Shiso Leaf were rich and full of flavour, and appreciative noises emanated from our table as we tucked in.
The Ox Tongue, dipped and grilled in the same sweet marinade, were even better with a intense beefy flavour and a pleasing bouncy texture. Even some of those not offally-inclined seemed to enjoy it.
The Chicken Gizzards were considerably less popular. I can see why they may not appeal to all, but I personally quite liked the chewy, gristly morsels.
Tsukune (chicken meatballs) are one of my favourite types of yakitori, but Jin Kichi’s version was disappointing – impossibly soft (possibly processed meat?) and not tasting of much, they were a far cry from the delectable versions at Kikuchi and Bincho.
Their Grilled Aubergine with Miso in contrast was lovely, with its silky tender flesh laced with sweet miso paste – it was everything one would expect of a good Nasu Dengaku.
We asked for a special sashimi selection and what arrived was less than spectacular. Although the white fish on the plate were of acceptable quality, both the tuna and salmon were lacking in flavour.
Having said that the Maguro Natto wasn’t bad, especially considering my aversion to natto beans. The raw tuna helped tone down the fermented soy beans so it wasn’t as over-powering as when eaten solo. I’d order it again.
A Salmon Jaw grilled with salt, like the earlier skewers, was excellent. Served with grated radish, the flesh from the salmon collar was rich with fat and succulent.
The Grilled Black Cod was also meltingly tender, with a deep sweetness from the white miso marinade.
When going through my photos for the post I realised there were a couple of dishes I didn’t try (I must have been distracted by the sake!), including a healthy looking seaweed salad and cold tofu.
I do remember however finding it odd that the chilled tofu was served plain without any soy or ponzu dipping sauce as is customary.
We were pretty stuffed by the time the Gyoza and Tori Karaage arrived. Just as well as the dumplings weren’t the best – a bit oily and not all that tasty. The fried chicken wasn’t bad, especially when eaten with the ponzu dipping sauce, but even then I could only manage one of those.
There were definitely highs and lows, but most of the grilled and cooked items were really quite decent and if Jin Kichi was in my locality, I would certainly be a frequent visitor to the cosy joint. As it stands, I probably will stick to my favourite Japanese haunts in the west end.
73 Heath Street
London NW3 6UG
t. 020 7794 6158