Why is it that some of the best Japanese food can be found in the most unlikely places? In Tokyo, the Michelin-starred sushi joint owned by the iconic Jiro Ono is in a subway station. In New Jersey, the best ramen and tempura bowls can be had inside a supermarket called Mitsuwa. After spending almost a total of three months in London, we found that the best Japanese food in the entire city is located in two odd places: St. Pancras international Station and a Westfield Mall in Shepherd's Bush. Yes, you read it right: A train station and a shopping mall where you can also get Auntie Anne's Pretzels.
Kineya Mugimaru - London St. Pancras International Station
At the home of the famous high-speed cross-country rail lies a magnificent Japanese joint called Kineya Mugimaru. It's a take-out place with a few tables for diners. It is cheap, but it serves some of the best Japanese Udon, Curry, Fried Chicken, and Tempura globally, including Japan.
It's a typical mall or train station counter with charming bamboo tables and chairs adorned with Japanese paper lanterns. While Kineya Mugimaru is unassuming, the food here is stunning. They cook them daily on-site. We tried almost every item here, and our average bill never goes over 35 pounds.
Things to order:
Plain boiled udon with soy ginger dip
Fried chicken (Karage)
Vegetable and prawn tempura
Soba with soup
We've eaten at Kineya Mugimaru about three times in a week and a half. That's borderline addiction. To find an affordable gem like this in one of the most expensive cities in the world is a triumph.
Japanese Center Ichiba, Westfield London, Shepherd's Bush
On the ground floor of perhaps the biggest mall in London, close to a Zara store, and a furniture showroom, lies an authentic Japanese supermarket called Ichiba. This beautifully decorated grocery, where you can buy seaweed snacks, mochi, Pocari Sweat, tuna, beef, octopus, mackerel, and milk, is home to a food hall that serves phenomenal Japanese food. We stayed in Sheperd's Bush for a week, and we ate at Ichiba almost every day. Our favorites include:
Kaarage - The tender, juicy, crispy fried chicken thigh meat is divine here.
Sukiyaki - The last time I had a decent Sukiyaki was back in Manila when the world was prepping for the Y2K doomsday. So, when I saw this hearty sweet and salty soup on the menu at Ichiba, I didn't think twice. And yes, it was a bowl of goodness that cleared dark clouds in my mind.
Japanese Beef Curry - Sheryl's favorite. She has high curry standards, so when I saw her light up after her first spoonful, I knew it was a winner.
Ramen - Ramen is everywhere. It's catching up on sushi as the most popular Japanese menu item in the world. But for a real ramen lover like us, we know what makes good ramen. And the bowls at Ichiba are delicious. The Charsu is so tender, and the broth is thick and almost creamy with visible umami. The noodles are chewy and just perfect.
We visit London often to watch our favorite bands in concert, but now, these fabulous Japanese joints in weird places will soon be our primary reason to cross the pond.