Why do we love the Japanese?

It's all about the food, says Jackie after her visit to Kisaku

470 Chiswick High Road, W4 5TT
020 8987 8874

Read more of Jackie's reviews and food thoughts on her website iamafeeder.net

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What is it about the country of Japan and its people that the West has such a fascination with? From manga and Cosplay to sushi and tempura, we are obsessed with everything the Orient has to offer us, with the exotic and the "other". Maybe it's the (apparent) grace and glamour of a country that simultaneously has moved far beyond the rest of the world with technology and innovation and yet retained an other worldly beauty and timelessness. Maybe... but for me, every time, it's all about the food. It's in the fine attention to detail and presentation, combined with the fresh but simple flavours - what more could you ask for?

Chiswick has been sorely lacking in good Japanese restaurants along its main stretch of the High Road, aside from the wonderful, but small, family-run Makoto Sushi Bar on Devonshire Road. Thankfully, new kid on the block Kisaku, located just a stone's throw from Chiswick Park Tube Station, fulfills that exact gap in the culinary market and happily this reviewer can say that they manage to rival some of the best Japanese spots in West London.

Apparently my family has Japanese blood on my father's side, which perhaps explains why we almost prefer Japanese food to any other cuisine, including our own... or maybe it's just a convenient excuse to fuel our addiction. Either way, I was practically brought up on sake nigiri-zushi (raw salmon hand-pressed roll), toro te maki (raw fatty tuna hand roll) and unadon (a rice box with sweet grilled Japanese fresh water eel (unagi kabayaki)). I adore ika natto (raw squid with fermented soy beans), a dish that some Japanese cannot even stomach and destroy kani karaage (deep-fried soft-shell crab) when faced with it. Understandably then, my standards for Japanese food are high but I was hopeful for Kisaku.

I'll admit that from the outside it didn't look like much but upon entering we were greeted with the traditional 'welcome' greeting, "irasshaimase," were faced with soft lighting that bathed the restaurant in a golden glow and smiling faces. Simply being smiled at is enough to make me relax immediately and put me in a good mood - we'd only been there 10 seconds and already Kisaku had a big fat tick next to the list in my mind.

We settled into our seats and were presented with beautifully ornate menus with an extensive offering of food. Bear in mind that you won't find your tonkatsu (breaded fried pork loin) or chawanmushi (egg custard steamed in a tea bowl) here but what you will find is three or four pages of sushi, all prepared by hand by the lone sushi chef at the back of the dining room, along with a selection of bento boxes, noodles and other (limited) hot dishes. We opted for a handful of starters to share (chicken gyoza (dumplings), miso black cod, kani karaage, agedashe tofu (fried silken firm tofu, served in a special sauce), miso soup and a California maki (an Americanised sushi roll, with avocado, crab sticks and cucumber, rolled "inside-out" and covered in tobiko (flying fish roe))), followed by tempura udon (udon noodles in a hot broth with tempura prawns and vegetables) for myself and tempura zaru soba (cold soba noodles with a special sauce, served with tempura prawns and vegetables) for my companion for the evening, KM - another Japanese food aficionado.

I can honestly say that there wasn't a single element of the meal that we didn't enjoy. The kani karaage was crispy on the outside, fried to perfection and protecting the creamy innards that burst onto your tongue with each bite; the California maki was plentiful, well filled and smothered in tobiko (my favourite part). As for the miso black cod, my God, it was simply divine, served with crispy shredded deep fried sweet potato and asparagus. The flesh was juicy and sweet, practically melting away on your tongue. I'll admit that there is one other place in London who do better miso black cod but I first experienced their version three years ago and have never been able to find any to match it; this came a very close second, especially paired with that gorgeous sweet potato. The udon was slippery and chewy (I turn my nose up at soft udon), interestingly the soba was served atop a bed of ice - a very nice presentational touch though the noodles did have a tendency to stick to the ice - and, perhaps best of all, the tempura was served on the side (there is nothing I detest more than soggy tempura batter). In fact, the only criticism of the evening is that it was a little on the slow side, but considering how much food we'd ordered and how many people were drifting in and out to either eat-in or take-away, it was completely understandable.

At the end of the meal I was so stuffed I could barely stand to put my coat on, wobbling precariously and food coma imminent. Warmed through and sleepy, we paid the bill (roughly £40 per head, including sake (Japanese rice wine) and beer) and bundled up to head out into the cool evening. It may seem a little on the pricey side but honestly, with their beautifully presented and delicious food, excellent service and gorgeous venue, it was worth every penny. Chiswick has a new star in its midst in the humble and unpretentious Kisaku.

Jackie Lee

October 28, 2011

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