If, like me, your formative noodle experiences were of the pot variety – memories of the Bombay Bad Boy still cause my skin to prickle and my mouth to burn – then you really should pay a visit to Yen Restaurant to discover the real thing.
Yen, you see, specialises in Soba noodles. These thin strands of buckwheat flour are a staple of Japanese cuisine, their versatility ensuring you can be served Soba everywhere from fast food joints to fine-dining restaurants.
It’s fair to say Yen hews closer to the latter than the former. Soba specialists Maruno Hidenori and Katsuki Sakurai use a technique perfected through years of training – both men learnt their craft from ‘Master of Soba’ Takahashi Kunihiro. Hidenori and Sakurai handmake the noodles twice-daily in a bespoke glass room at the centre of the restaurant. We’re a long way from chucking a Chicken and Mushroom pot in the microwave…
Soba noodles can be served hot or cold, and Yen offers both varieties. The cold Soba comes on a wicker plate: do not, under any circumstances, pour the accompanying bowl of sauce onto the plate; instead deposit the noodles into the bowl. Sounds obvious but apparently it’s a more common mishap than you might expect (wicker not being the most impermeable of materials).
The noodles taste fresh and pure, free from any affectation, allowed to be the best version of themselves that they can possibly be. The hot Soba is richer, more suitable for a chilly winter’s evening but perhaps a touch less impressive than its unheated cousin. Order both and judge for yourself.
The sashimi is so fresh it should be made the prince of a town called Bel Air
Yen offers plenty of alternative nourishment. Homemade tofu provides a strong opening act, the tang of the soy sauce finings a perfect dance partner in the featherlight embrace of the tofu – it tastes a bit like cream with attitude.
Then comes sashimi so fresh it should be made the prince of a town called Bel Air. The sea bream especially should be savoured until it melts in your mouth.
The sushi comes with a paint point of soy sauce complete with miniature brush. You carefully apply sauce to fish, like Hiroshige depicting his peach blossoms, and then feel somehow responsible for the delicacy that's just broken apart in your mouth.
Duck with foam is a personal favourite. “There's a lot going on there,” says my companion and he's right, and it's all good. Whisper it but the duck edges out the soba as the dish to make me come over all wistful the next day – but then my first taste of Peking duck at the age of – what? – seven or eight remains a more treasured memory than most other firsts in my life.
In English, ‘Yen’ means a passionate or intense longing. Once you’ve eaten here, you’ll certainly yearn to return
Yen, 190 Strand, 5 Arundel Street, London, WC2R 1NB. For more information and bookings, go to yen-london.co.uk or call 020 3915 6976.