Food waste is one of the great modern sins – so it’s no surprise that Japanese dish Yakitori is having a moment. Now you being a cultured Square Mile reader, I don’t need to tell you that Yakitori means grilled chicken – quite literally yaki (grill), tori (chicken) – but there’s the reminder nonetheless. Specifically grilled chicken skewers that utilise every part of the chicken’s anatomy, including bits that would normally be chucked in the trash.
Can you really build an entire menu around chicken skewers? You can when you offer more than 20 variations, all expertly sliced, seasoned and grilled to perfection. Grilled, moreover, on a white oak charcoal known as Binchōtan, widely considered the most pure charcoal in the world. (Is there a charcoal league table? There’s probably a charcoal league table. And an awards ceremony.)
Anyway, Binchōtan burns at a high heat, cooking the meat from inside out and thus locking in the juices for maximum flavour. It’s the barbecue equivalent of a Rolls-Royce. Toto, I don't think we're in West Croydon kebab house anymore.
Sounds good, no? Well, here’s the better news: Yakitori specialists Junsei have just opened a restaurant in Marylebone. Bag a seat at the counter and watch Chef Aman Lakhani and his young team – all in their 20s, it’s sickening – prepare your meal quite literally right in front of you. Or you could take a table but where’s the fun in that?
How’s the food?
Wonderful – provided you like chicken. And even if you don’t like chicken (and who doesn’t like chicken), there’s a good chance you’ll be a poultry convert by the end of the meal. We opted for the Omakase experience, which is essentially a bespoke menu created by the chef on the evening. (Omakase means ‘I’ll leave it to you’ – music to the ears of the chronically indecisive. Hi.)
We get off to a strong start with the marinated quail eggs. My friend isn’t big on eggs so I had her portion as well. I could have eaten more. I could have sat there guzzling those eggs until their parents went the way of the dodo. Quail? Those little feathered bastards should have cowered. (And that’s the worst joke of the review ticked off.)
Then? Chicken, mainly. All of the chicken. Literally. Chicken heart. Chicken gizzard. Chicken soup. It’s delicious, all of it. Maybe don’t eat here after watching Chicken Little. Or Chicken Run. Or on a hen night. But otherwise, I cannot recommend the place highly enough.
Most of the chicken is served via Yakitori skewer (the chicken soup being a notable exception). However there are also vegetarian dishes, the okra being a particular standout. The courses are light but come in such quantities that you will definitely be sated by the chocolate ningyo yaki (little sponge cakes).
What to drink?
Whatever you want: Junsei doesn’t mess around when it comes to booze.
Try one of the cocktails, such as the Bincho Sour (Akashi Blended Whiskey, Plum Syrup, Angostura Bitters, Egg White) which slips down like a jazzed-up Old Fashioned or a Ume Bellini (Kamoizumi Umeshu Plum Wine with Prosecco) if you’re feeling a little more fragrant.
There’s Saki, lots of Saki, priced from £10 for 180ml or £250 for ten times that volume. Plus Shochu, spirits and plenty of wine.
Will it bankrupt me?
Depends if you opt for the £250 Saki! An evening at Junsei doesn't come cheap but nor should you expect a call from your bank the following morning.
The Omakase menu is £50, which is very solid value for money. Bottles of wine start at £30, cocktails around £11.50. So yeah, not exactly budget but far from eye-watering.
Anything else to note?
I've mentioned already but it must be stressed: you really should sit up at the counter if possible. Chef Lakhani will likely serve you personally and charm you with his company and general loquacity.
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132 Seymour Pl, W1H 1NS; Junsei