Despite the recent wave of formal, high-end Japanese restaurants opening in London – including the 16-seat omakase restaurant Taku in Mayfair, which was just awarded a Michelin star – there’s nothing quite like returning to your go-to Japanese place for sushi or noodles in much-less-precious surroundings. For me that’s Koya in the City at the weekend, when that part of town is deserted; ordering kakuni (braised pork belly with cider) with vegetable tempura udon and genmaicha is my kind of reset.
For guest editor Kate Moss, her cherished spot is to be found “hidden in plain sight” in leafy NW3. “You would be forgiven for missing the entrance to Jin Kichi, just off Hampstead High Street, but that’s what I love about it,” she says. “[My daughter] Lila and I love nothing more than tucking up next to each other downstairs and ordering our favourites. I have never had a bad meal. The food is so fresh and the service quick and non-intrusive. It’s always busy no matter the time of day. It’s a little slice of Tokyo in north London.”
Five more favourite restaurants
“My first stop for dinner when I am in Milan. I always ask for the chef’s table at the back of the restaurant. It’s great to see behind the scenes” bicemilano.it
China Tang, Hong Kong
“A home away from home for me – the most delicious food in the most beautiful surroundings” chinatang.com
Caviar Kaspia, Paris
“My ultimate luxury: perfectly baked potatoes and caviar… heaven! And it has just opened a restaurant in London, too” caviarkaspia.com
The Polo Lounge at Beverly Hills Hotel, Los Angeles
“This is a favourite lunch spot. Old-school Hollywood glamour and the McCarthy salad, you can’t beat it” dorchestercollection.com
Bar Pitti, New York
“One of Lila and my favourite places in New York. There’s always a queue to get a table and there are lots of waiters shouting at each other in Italian” barpitty.com
Jin Kichi has been referred to as one of London’s best-kept secrets – some people would like to keep it that way. When I finally track down Atsushi Matsumoto, the owner since 1992 with his business partner Kazumasa Seki, he is diffident at best about the prospect of extra publicity. In 2022, the restaurant expanded into the premises next door. Alongside the cosy dining room, which revolves around a robata grill, a new sushi counter was added. The downstairs space was also reconfigured to create two small private rooms. But tables are still hard to come by.
I book two weeks in advance and on arrival I’m told a seat downstairs will not be possible. My hopes of recreating the Kate Moss experience are dashed. Instead my plus-one and I are seated at the counter upstairs overlooking the grill. There are more discreet spots, many couched in pools of shadow and light that make them rather sexy options for date night. But I appreciate having this front-row seat on grill chef Oliver Billingsley as he scowls over the hotplate, rotating skewers and coaxing flames with his bamboo fan.
Moss has shared with me her favourite dishes – ohitashi (spinach in dashi with optional bonito flakes) and agedashi tofu (deep-fried in tenpura sauce); uni (sea urchin) and chutoro (fatty tuna) sashimi, finished off with miso aubergine. I order all of the above; the kitchen has run out of sea urchin so I swap in a delicious kaiso salad – a large bowl of seaweed with enough sesame dressing to drown it in. From a menu of about 100 items (including noodles, rice, simmered and pan-fried dishes), I also pick Grill Set B so I can sample the yakitori. This contains chicken gizzards, quail eggs, chicken with onion, chicken liver and chicken wing skewers, but they’ve run out of wings, so pork and asparagus skewers are substituted.
As I discover, there’s a refined brilliance to Moss’s curation of dishes that feels slightly at odds with the rugged pleasures that come in the Grill Set. Consider the ohitashi – moist wads of spinach that taste like parcels of silky green goodness. And the agedashi tofu – squares of deep-fried bean curd in a light but slurp-worthy umami broth. The tuna sashimi is Barbie-pink and so smooth it almost melts. Dishes with a light touch. From the grill plate, the smoked green asparagus wrapped in salty pork couldn’t be better. The gizzard is crunchy with plump knots of muscle. The quail’s egg delivers near-powdery egg in a flame-firmed skin. And the liver is smoky and just the right side of liverish. Dishes with a hefty presence.
Still, the perfect follow-up is the miso aubergine, which glistens black and comes topped with sesame seeds and a squiggle of dark-brown miso like mustard down a hot dog. It’s beany and savoury but sweet – reminiscent of hot apple with hot banana. It’s dessert in all but name. No wonder Moss ends with it. Of course, I’m no supermodel, so I order actual dessert, too: dora-yaki (sweet red bean pancake) with green tea and red bean ice cream. My kind of chic.