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Humble Chicken

54 Frith Street, London, 51.514390W1D 4SL, United Kingdom

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Yakitori (“grilled chicken”) is not as glamorous as sushi or kaiseki in the pantheon of Japanese cooking styles, but there is no shortage or yakitori bars in Tokyo. Traditionally, bite sized pieces of chicken are skewered and grilled over binchotan (Japanese white charcoal) while being basted with a “tare” sauce, whose elements will be a trade secret of any yakitori chef but may include components such as mirin, soy, ginger, sake and spices. The Japanese are not squeamish when it comes to using all parts of an animal, and so you won’t just see chicken breast and thigh at a yakitori bar: expect, gizzard, cartilage, neck etc as well as more usual western cuts. Head chef Angelo Sato was born in Japan and worked at a yakitori restaurant in Fukuoka as well as more glamorous restaurants including Ryugin, Narisawa, Eleven Madison Park and Gordon Ramsay. He butchers his own birds, using a Suffolk supplier called Sutton Hoo.

There was a short list of fifteen wines ranging from £30 to £65, with a median price of £45 and an average markup to retail price of exactly three times, which is normal in London (and these days looks increasingly reasonable). Example labels were Albarino La Val Orballo Bodegas La Val 2019 from Rias Baixas at £39 for a bottle that will set you back £13 in the high street, at Notios Gaia 2019 £45 compared to its retail price of £13, and Westwell Pelegrim Brut from Kent at £73 for a bottle that will set you back £29 in a shop. There were even a couple of Japanese wines, such as Château Mercian Koshu Sur lie 2018 from Yamanashi, made with the indigenous Koshu grape, at £40 compared to its retail price of £18. There was also Asahi Super Dry beer at £6 for a large bottle for £3.50 for a small one.

The restaurant has an L shaped counter with bar seating and the grill at the centre. There is a little palate freshener of cabbage with a lemon dressing provide on the side, which works well with the rich glaze of the chicken. There are a few dishes other than the many grilled chicken options.

We started with miso foie gras tart with apple, smoked daikon and ginger pecan. This had plenty of liver flavour, with the acidity of the apple cutting through the richness of the liver, while the ginger and radish provided a further contrast. I would have been happy to be served this as a canape in a Michelin-starred restaurant (15/20).

Tuna salad involved roasted tuna belly with pickled turnip spheres and barley koji (cooked rice inoculated with a fermentation culture, which has an umami flavour a little like mushroom) vinaigrette. This was prettily presented, the pickling juices of the turnips providing some balance to the richness of the fatty tuna (14/20).

Cured mackerel came with tomato ponzu and seaweed and Japanese plum. This was a very pretty dish, the mackerel having excellent flavour and a texture contrast being provided by some little crisp vegetables. Again, this would not have been out of place at a Michelin-starred restaurant (15/20). 

Chicken breast was grilled and garnished with oroshi ponzu (a Japanese dipping sauce involving yuzu with grated daikon) and chives. A feature of this, carried through all of the chicken skewers, was the impressive degree to which the meat was moist and succulent, entirely avoiding the dryness that so often afflicts chicken cooked in the UK (15/20).

Chicken inner thigh was glazed with ponzu and chilli koshu, a citrus paste made with yuzu peel, chilli and salt. This was terrific, the meat excellent and beautifully absorbing the spicy citrus paste. This was so good that we ordered another round (easily 15/20). Achilles is the lower thigh of the chicken, a dark meat a little like chicken oyster. This was brushed with umeboshi ponzu, a dressing involving a type of plum. This is not a part of a chicken that most people will be familiar with, but was actually tender and had lots of flavour (14/20).

There was also a chicken sandwich, which was a very superior version of the breed, involving chicken leg, quail egg and a little caviar. Again, this was genuinely classy (15/20). Chicken knee cartilage had a somewhat crunchy texture, garnished with daikon radish, sea salt and pepper (14/20). Chicken meat ball was garnished with mustard, cured egg yolk and tare (yakitori dipping sauce). This was lovely, the meat dark and rich, the mustard spiciness carefully judged and cutting through the richness of the egg (15/20).

The chefs served the various dishes directly at the counter, and were friendly as well as knowledgeable. I was being treated by a friend so did not see the bill, but if you had either beer or shared a modest bottle of wine then it would be possible to dine for about £50 or so. I was really impressed by this meal, with the non-chicken dishes showing considerable thought and skill as well as lovely presentation. The chicken skewers themselves were beautifully cooked, the various dressings carefully chosen to match the particular cuts of meat. This experience compared well with yakitori restaurants that both myself and my knowledgeable dining companion had been to in Tokyo. I will very happily return.

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  • Heather Martin

    Like Andy, I dined here when it was a yakitori restaurant, and a good one at that! Now the menu seems to have morphed towards a type of kaiseki dining. Time for a revisit I think..