Whenever I fancy tempura, I immediately think of Ikeda. The small restaurant on Brook Street specialises in tempura and katsu, and are also known for their sushi, although I almost always opt for their fried dishes so have only sampled their sushi once. As you walk in there is a tiny sushi bar to the left, then further in there is an open kitchen (where most of the deep-fried, simmered and grilled dishes are prepared), plus a few larger tables dotted around the sparse dining room.
When dining solo I sit at the kitchen counter to watch the chefs in action, but today I was dining with E so we sat at a larger, more comfortable table. By the time we had ordered our lunch sets we were both starving (we usually meet at noon for lunch but Ikeda annoyingly only opens at 1230pm). The complementary appetizer of hijiki (seaweed) salad did little to quell our hunger and we watched the chefs intently to see if they had started preparing our food.
After what seemed like an age (but was probably no more than 10 minutes) our sets arrived. E had the tonkatsu (deep-fried pork cutlet) set while I chose the tempura set. Both came with steamed rice, miso soup, pickles and the appropriate sauces. E seemed to enjoy her tonkatsu, tucking in enthuisiastically as soon as it was set before her.
The tempura was light and crispy, although if I was to nitpick there was a faint oily aftertaste. In Japan the finest tempura eateries use fresh oil every day, sometimes changing throughout service to ensure there is no trace of greasiness on the palate. I still remember fondly one such place I visited a few years ago – a small 12-seater tempura bar on the bottom floor of the chef’s flat, hidden away in a Tokyo residential area where I had the most impeccably fried tempura. There is no choice in menu and you are presented with 10-12 fried items chosen by the chef – amazing.
Ikeda, although a far cry from that lovely gem in the Tokyo suburbs, is still very good for London standards. The decor may be a little minimal but the food is always good and the service is warm and friendly. I would suggest visiting in the day if you are on a budget though as it can get a bit pricey in the evening (especially if you are ordering sushi or sashimi).
30 Brook Street
London, W1K 5DJ
t. 0871 332 7403