I’m an Islington dweller and when I need a hit of Japanese – but lack the fortitude to venture towards a big-hitter – a mere ten minute walk from my flat can hit the spot. Akari sits on a corner of a busy junction in the middle of Essex Road; considering itself an ‘izakaya’, meaning a casual establishment for after-work drinks where food adopts a subordinate role. Though nobody seems to have told the able team of Japanese chefs: the food here punches a higher floor than its ineffectual position in the London restaurant scene.
Open plan is the name of the game. Everything is wooden and pleasing to the eye: The tables and panelled walls; the counter that comprises the bar, seamlessly becomes the kitchen, led by the Head Chef and owner. Over in the back corner is the sushi-counter manned by a Bangladeshy sushi-chef, fluent in Japanese and trained in Japan. The charming manageress knows I’m quick, so lets me choose my table despite the ‘reserved’ notice on each one – it’s booked-up every night.
Ika Shougayaki £5.80
I try the pan-fried squid which is well-cooked with the right amount of bite. The ginger sauce is delicate, as it should be, and manages not to swamp the flavour of the squid.
Age Gyoza £4.10
There are various ways to cook dumplings such as pan-frying or boiling. ‘Age’ gyoza in this case, refers to deep-frying. This classic is well executed, with a good amount of crispness to the skin. The pork filling is lifted by dipping in the spicy and sour soy sauce provided. I’m left with a garlicy aftertaste and know kissing anyone this evening isn’t the best idea.
Pork katsu £8.30
The pièce de résistance is their tonkatsu, made using pork loin. It was the Portuguese that introduced Japan to tonkatsu. A time when the Japanese were reinventing versions of European dishes around the turn of the 20th century. A thick coat of breadcrumbs is topped with a delicious sesame-based, sake cooked, ‘bangbang-zi’ sauce. I’m impressed. It’s about as good as any tonkatsu I’ve tried in Japan and easily betters any I’ve had in London.
In a part of town not known for its Japanese food, Akari is a saving grace. It’s steadfast in its charm and quality. I’d even put their udon up there with Koya’s. At these prices, its value is undeniable. I’m glad it’s there and even happier it’s so close by.
food : 7/10
service : 8.5/10
ambience : 8/10
value : 8.5/10
196 Essex Road, Islington, London N1 8LZ
020 7226 9943