Tel: +44 (0)20 7794 6158
Address: 73 Heath Street, Hampstead, London NW3 6UG
Cuisine Type: Japanese
With the current weather, who would have thought that we are already into July? We should be digging out those shorts, bikinis, sunscreen and barbecue sets. Instead, I hesitate each time I think about taking my coat to be dry cleaned – too much like tempting fate. So I went in search of the next best alternative – to get the authentic smoky taste of grilled food that inevitably reminds me of sweltering summer afternoons in the back garden where the barbecue set gets its compulsory annual outing, whilst sitting indoors to escape the rain – at Jin Kichi, a Japanese restaurant in Hampstead specialising in robatayaki, where food is grilled in front of you.
Beyond the pastel green fascia (the sort of shade that drivers with more money than taste are getting their cars resprayed), the premises are what Hampstead estate agents would call “bijou”. The grill takes centre stage and is surrounded by a ring of “spectator” seats, from which you can watch the chef, the only non-Japanese member of staff we could see, prepare and cook the skewers.
The drinks list is short, the wines being particularly unmemorable (even non-existent?). Kirin beer appeared to be the choice of the majority diners, though a range of sakes are available. Soft drinks are no more unreasonably priced than Londoners have come to expect.
The menu spans the main areas we associate with Japanese cuisine – a range of sushi and shashimi, noodles, rice and robatayaki. We started with a seaweed salad (£6.50), a medley of 3 varieties (dark green ribbons, light green strings and vivid purple branchy fronds, only the first of which I could identify as wakame) served with a delicious sesame sauce. From the selection of sushi, we had eel and cucumber (£3.80), though more elaborate rolls are available, including “Hampstead rolls”.
After a slightly too long interval, all the grilled skewers came at once. From the set grill selection (£8.60), sticks of quails eggs, chicken livers, wings, gizzards and chunks of marinated chicken with spring onions all provided the much needed charcoal-induced nostalgia, though I wasn’t entirely convinced by the gizzards (the combination of crunchy and chewy being somewhat off-putting). An additional order of ginkgo nuts (£1.30/skewer) was interesting, a word I use when new food I try is neither unpleasant not particularly revolutionary, but the fillet of black sea bream (£6.50) from the specials menu was exemplary – yielding flakes of fish under crispy skin, offset by the cleansing taste of grated daikon.
After another pause, just long enough for us to think our order had been forgotten, the ume zosui (£4.40) arrived. Worth the wait – rice and softly set egg floating in a broth and topped with spring onion, served in a scalding-hot mini iron cauldron.
At £20 a head, definitely not a bargain. After all, there were no expensive ingredients (it wouldn’t surprise me if they get the gizzards free!) and how much skill does it take to transfer skewers from containers to the grill? We certainly wouldn’t have described ourselves as full afterwards and the service didn’t leave us feeling special. But, hey, in this climate, what price memories of summer?