There’s a problem with playing it safe and always returning to your favourite restaurants, and that’s that you’ll never uncover hidden gems. But that’s the great things about blogging, an ever hungry food blogger is alway keen to uncover something new. And this time my nose led me to Ukai, an izakaya in Notting Hill.
Ok, so having been there since 2006, Ukai isn’t exactly new but it was new to Mr S and I and we headed to one of London’s prettiest neighbourhoods one weekend to try it out.
With concept being based on an izakaya, or a traditional Japanese gastropub, Ukai has a very causal and relaxed feel with wooden tables and an open kitchen. And as Notting Hill is prime yummy mummy territory, it’s very family friendly too.
Our first dish was something that we pretty much always choose and its safe to say that the yellow tail sashimi with spicy jalopeno and yuzu ponzu was every bit as good as it’s counterparts at our other Japanese favourites. Actually it’s no surprise really as chef Alessandro Verros actually trained at our favourite restaurant Roka.
Our next dish was tuna tartare with raspberry sauce. Alessandro told us that he came up with the idea one day buying tuna and raspberries at the market. Honestly I didn’t expect the unique and unusual combination to work but this dish really took me by surprise. The tart flavours of the raspberry cut through the delicate flavours of the tuna and avocado, giving the perfect citrus notes to the dish. I was also not expecting to like the texture of the dish as I prefer chunks of fresh tuna rather than mush but it was actually a lovely balance with the more firm avocado prepared this way.
The actual sushi is always my favourite part of a Japanese meal and we sampled three types of nigiri sushi, very similar to how it’s presented in Japan. We both very much enjoyed the salmon with tobiko, excellent quality tuna and octopus. Alessandro is incredibly passionate about all aspects of Japanese culture, not just the food, and he’s dedicated to using quality ingredients of the utmost freshness.
My favourite dish of the day was this trio of scallops, cooked with just the right amount of the char and the sweetness of the fish perfectly complimented with citrussy yuzu ponzu. It’s one of the restaurant’s signature dishes and definitely a must order.
Our final savoury dish was a steaming beef toban yaki, the meat was excellent quality and the sauce rich and tasty but this cooking method means we had to eat the meat very quickly to prevent it from becoming over cooked. Not easy for a blogger who like to take a gazillion photos!
I find mochi can be a little hit and miss in some restaurants but at Ukai the rice and ice cream based sweet was sheer perfection in two different flavours. An accompanying ice cream cake was unlike any Japanese dessert that I’d had before and it was definitely something very special.
Ukai may not be making a lot of noise amongst the big hitting Japanese restaurants, but sometimes it’s these quiet and little known hidden gems that are the best!
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240 Portobello Road
We were guests of Ukai.