Nobu is a global phenomenon, and one which has redefined Japanese cuisine across a couple of oceans. It's controversial (their two London loncation were stripped of their Michelin stars in 2014, for reasons which are still kind of unclear) but relentlessly glamorous; it's still a safe bet for spotting A-listers and finding the beating pulse of Mayfair after dark. If that's your thing. We recommend the razor clam Tiradito for £16, or the lobster tempura with yuzu truffle and spicy lemon garlic for (sadly, a whopping) £45. No doubt about it: Nobu is still defining Sloanie elegance, and if you're after high-end Japanese fair, it truly can't be missed.
Sometimes you just need sushi and you need it quick. You don't have the time for kaiseki, or the means for Nobu, and you're not gonna get too up in arms about the state of your shibasu. You Me Sushi is the takeaway service (with a few tables kept inside each bit-more-than-hole-in-the-wall) that fits of the people, and they're conveniently spread across the city. A 36-piece "Sea Box" will get you ten salmon nigiri, six salmon and avocado inside out rolls, six crabstick and avocado inside out rolls, six salmon maki rolls, and eight pieces of salmon sashimi, all for just £27.45. Their Baker Street location is the perfect place to pick up lunch before a stroll in Regent's Park.
Kirazu is a restaurant with a message. And much of that message has to do with...uh...beans. "The beans are high in protein and low calories. The lowest percentage of obesity in developed countries." Kirazu is something like health-conscious Japanese tapas, which sounds significantly less delicious than its gorgeous creations turn out to be. Stationed perfectly on the borner between Soho and Leicester Square, Kanagawa-born Head Chef Yuya Kikuchi has curated preparations of sauteed lotus root, roasted duck, seaweed salad, even miso ramen in tapas-sized arrangements which make for an ideal, and very unique, night out among Leicester Square's most conventional, perhaps tourist-minded shopfronts.
Atari-Ya is less a sushi restaurant, more a north London Japanese food community. Part wholesale seafood providers, there's an authenticity to Atari-Ya's atmosphere that makes it stand out from Marylebone and Mayfair's crowd of sushi restaurants. Their mostly unremarkable shopfronts and unwillingness to become hip have made them a cult favorite, and they can be found in Hendon, Ealing, and Swiss Cottage, if you happen to be further afield during your London visit. Try a deluxe Chirashi, including fish roe, crab meat, omelette, boiled prawn, and salmon, for only £10.50. They also do take-out, so you can indulge in London's best-kept Japanese secret from the comfort of your couch.
Take a Michelin star chef, an intimidatingly swanky location, and a near theatrical take on detail and decor, and you have Umu, one of the shining jewels in Mayfair's menagerie of high-end Japanese luxury restaurants. Head Chef Yoshinori Ishii has been displaying his flair for exquisitely delicate Kyoto-inspired cuisine since taking over at Umu in 2010, and he has curated an experience which will leave both Japanese-food-pedants and poshies in awe. For £45 a set lunch will get you a selection of fresh sashimi with kinshi and shiitake, or go a la carte and try Ibushi smoked "a la minute" with plum-shiso for £28.
Roka fits in beautifully with its Fitzrovia neighbors. There's something elegant almost Edwardian to its atmosphere, and you wouldn't be surprised to find London A-listers drifting through its doors. It's sleek and welcoming, and its sushi menu is near impossible to rival. Roka's Premium Tasting Menu will get you delicate treasures like yellowtail sashimi with yuzu-truffle dressing, and robust meat courses like smoked duck breast with barley miso and kumquats. It's a different vibe entirely from the new ramen pop-ups and the financial district's in-and-out sushi counters. It's seasonal and stylish, and the perfect afternoon indulgence.
We won't hold it against you if you've never heard of okonomiyaki before. It's the lesser known of Japan's deletable dishes, but it's certainly having a moment. A cross between an omelet and a pancake, with tissue-thin bits of wiggling seaweed acting as briney accoutrement, the dish is one of a kind, and it's what Okan does best. If you've been avoiding Brixton Village since it became overrun with out-of-towners and vegan cupcake shops, this Japanese gem is the perfect reason to return. A lunch in their cozy space could include king prawn okonomiyaki (at £7.50) with onasu (fried aubergine cooked with soy, honey and ginger with miso dressing) and Miyabi plum wine. We can't imagine a better okonomiyaki-newbie day out.
Ippudo might ring a bell. In 2008 Shigemi Kawahara and his team took over New York's emerging ramen scene to rave reviews and packed dinnertime walk-in lines. While London might have been slow to pick up the ramen trend, it's here in full force, with Ippudo representing its slightly swankier side. Try a classic Tonkatsu, or branch out and try their Bakuretsu tofu: "spicy tofu, minced chicken and crunchy ramen noodles stewed in a sizzling pot". All ramen priced from £10 to £12, so splash out on sides extras like poached egg and Takana leaf mustard. You can also say the magic work – "kaedama" – and a waiter will bring you an extra portion of noodles.
Blink and you might miss it: Koya Bar, former neighbor to flagship (and recently closed) restaurant Koya, is a nook hidden behind actual curtains on bustling Frith Street in Soho. But what hides inside is some of the most impressive, soul-affirming udon you can find in London made freshly in front of you. It's also the lunch-grump, solo-diner's dream come true – it's little more than a 30-seater round a bar, the ideal place to bring a book or simply take in your surroundings. And their menu is a constantly-changing experiment in seasonal inventions; purple hinona kabu turnip and octopus could easily be found atop your main, circumstances permitting. It's stylish, calm, and will leave you positively delirious.
To even speak of Bone Daddies after having dined there is a sort of synesthetic exercise. Memories of chicken scratchings, miso, pork neck chashu, chicken bone stock, make for an exhausting culinary love. But we'll take those sesame sweats any day: Bone Daddies is the most mouth-wateringly thrilling ramen experience you're likely to get in London, and you can find it in one of London's most entertaining neighborhoods. Their Soho branch is itty bitty, and they don't take reservations, so bring only a friend or two (ones with whom youre comfortable getting sloppy with) or try their late-night menu. They offer up the curry ramen of your wildest fantasies (fried chicken, padron peppers & cabbage) for £10, and chilli chashu pork buns for £4.80. Be warned: after your first visit, you won't be able to stay away long.