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Bincho Yakitori Restaurant Review - Japanese Food at the Oxo Tower

Bincho Yakitori
2nd Floor,
Oxo Tower Wharf,
Barge House Street

Japanese food seems to divide people into those that love it or hate it. Fans love the variety of exotic tastes and textures, and above all the freshness. Detractors moan about sushi: ‘ little slivers of fish stuck on top of too much rice’, or sashimi: ‘more raw fish, ugh hate the texture’, and as for Teri-yaki: ‘ flicking food around like a bloody circus!’ But Yakitori cuisine can successfully bring both groups together in a most enjoyable meal. Yakitori is a Japanese form of barbecue, where all manner of ingredients are marinated, skewered and placed over hot coals. The chefs keep twiddling these bamboo spears, and the results are quite delicious.

Bincho Yakitori is located in the Oxo Tower. It may not occupy as elevated a position as the famous Oxo Tower restaurant, but I enjoyed the superb views over the river, which are more like those from the deck of a ship than from the top of a lighthouse. Bincho means fine charcoal, which has to be of special quality so as to give an even heat. So the chefs are not only attending the food, but looking after the grill as well. Under the guidance of Malcolm Simpson, the Japanese-Australian restaurant manager, we put together an interesting collection of skewers, helped along by some warm sake as it was a chilly autumn evening.

First we shared some Mehikari, which is one of a few fried rather than grilled dishes. This one is a whitefish, rubbed with seven spices and magically free of oil. Then it was on to the skewers, each of which costs between £1.20 and £2.20, so if you're sharing - and that's the way you should eat this meal - you need a pair of skewers per dish. We demolished six pairs, and shared a baby spinach salad (very well dressed with lardons of bacon).

Skewers of pork belly were threaded through even sized squares of meat, the result was extraordinarily light, and crispy on the outside. Similar bite-size cubes of eel had been coated with sauce, which creates that irresistibly, lacquered finish. Skewers stuck with chicken oysters, so often neglected in western cuisine, were tender and incredibly more-ish. I thought the skewered squid was a little under done, I prefer some definite browning on the outside. Finally, morsels of beef tongue combining its unique texture with caramelised flavours.

With all this, we drank some very special Sake, served in a tumbler which fits almost exactly into cedarwood box. The sake is poured so that it overflows into the box. Next you tip the tumbler so that a little of the rice wine pours into the box, where it gradually takes up the flavour of cedar as you drink from the glass. When the glass is empty, you drink the sake from the box - the flavour is amazing, reminding me of very posh retsina!

There are a few more substantial dishes like steaks cut from both fish and meat, but sadly we had no room for these. In common with most Oriental cultures, Japanese cuisine is not strong on desserts. However, traditional layered banana cake came served with some lovely green tea ice cream, a very refreshing way to finish a meal. Bincho Yakitori is a most attractive restaurant with beautiful riverside views, very attractive waiting staff who seem to know their job, and interesting food guaranteed to put a smile on the face of those who haven't previously considered dining out Japanese-style. It's also an awful lot cheaper than most other Japanese restaurants.

Bincho Yakitori
2nd Floor,
Oxo Tower Wharf,
Barge House Street
T: 020 7803 0858

Clifford Mould, October 2007


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