bincho yakitori “off menu”
As a food blogger I’m posed the dreaded question “What’s your favourite restaurant in London?” on a regular basis. In reply I often rattle off a list of places I love – I find it so hard to pick one specific establishment with the perfect spot being dependent on so many other variables (mood, occasion, season etc) than just the quality of the cooking.
Bincho Yakitori always makes it onto the list. Over the years I’ve brought many friends through its doors and the relaxed setting, enthusiastic staff and above all, incredibly tasty food, never fail to satisfy. Although all the charcoal-grilled skewers on the main menu are fantastic, it’s the specials scribbled on the chalkboard and secret off menu items that really take things up a notch. These tend to go quickly and there are still a few that have remained elusive despite our frequent visits. In a bid to sample all the good bits in one sitting we asked chef Dave Miney to hook us up with a no-holds-barred beak to tail feast for three, to which he kindly obliged.
To pair with our offal-tastic meal, restaurant manager and sake aficionado Zac recommended the Kamotsuru, a futsu-shu from Hiroshima prefecture. He gave us a little to try and after a taste (lightly floral and balanced with a very smooth finish) we ordered a towering bottle of the sake without hesitation. For the longest time we had stuck to beer or sake tasters when eating at Bincho in fear of the sheer size of the full bottles; that was before we discovered that unfinished bottles can be labelled and kept in their fridge for a future visit – handy.
First up, delicate rolls of yellowtail sashimi in zesty ponzu. Nice and light – perfect to whet our appetite for the mammoth skewer line-up.
Next, more yellowtail, this time grilled hamachi collar served with yuzu salt and a lemon wedge. Soft tender fish, sweet with a hint of charcoal and lovely gelatinous bits around the bones. Our friend M enjoyed this hugely and licked the bones clean.
We then launched into the chicken parts, diving straight in with bonjiri aka Chicken Tail. The deboned tails were less fatty than I imagined, very succulent and rather tasty despite it being essentially butt that I was eating!
Another challenging part followed – the Spleen (mame). The shiny brown-hued beans had a distinct livery flavour, were creamy in texture and probably not everyone’s cup of tea. We quite liked them.
Lightly-charred Chicken Soft Bone (nankotsu) were wonderfully crunchy and moreish. Bincho serves two types of cartilage, both off-menu. The one shown here on the skewer is taken from the breast bone while a snack of golden nuggets, deep-fried and served with yuzu salt, are taken from between the thigh bones. Both are fantastic.
Chicken Gizzards (sunazuri) aren’t the tastiest of parts but definitely one of my favourites texture-wise. We always order these, along with our staples of chicken oysters, tsukune, beef tongue and bacon-wrapped enoki.
When it comes to naughty bits, skin is probably the naughtiest and we were treated to not just one type, but two! The kawa was lovely and crisp, and took on the flavours of the savoury sweet tare (sauce) beautifully.
The duck variant was dryer but more intensely flavoured – the fat-rendered skin sucking in the tare it was finished in. These were a first from the Bincho kitchen, so a bit of an experiment and I think they’ve got massive potential – maybe better grilled sans tare to let the pure ducky goodness shine through.
I can only imagine how much effort it takes to create one skewer of Seseri (chicken neck) – each features meat from 7 chicken necks, the meat painstakingly removed from each. Needless to say these are hard to come by. Whenever I see it on the board I snap a couple up straight away – the meat is silky tender and incredibly tasty.
Perhaps the most unusual skewer (apart from the spleen) we had that evening was the Hatsu Moto, or Chicken Aorta. Yes, AORTA. You can actually see the arteries which is slightly unnerving but didn’t deter us from getting stuck in. Very flavourful, and if you enjoy chicken hearts (as we do), you’ll like these.
As mentioned earlier, Chicken Oysters (sori) are one of my favourites off the regular menu. If you like yakitori and aren’t a fan of the more risque offerings I would highly recommend you try these plump beauties – nothing suspicious, just the chunk of meat found where the thigh bone meets the body.
Tsukune (minced chicken balls), another skewer that we never fail to order, were tasty as always. Moist from a dunking in tare, the juicy balls were made even better dipped into the accompanying raw egg yolk.
Eating stick after stick of meat can be a bit heavy going after a while, so we stole mouthfuls of crunchy Daikon Salad (tossed with baby anchovies, flying fish roe, nori and a light Japanese mayo dressing) to freshen our palate between skewers.
It isn’t just about the grill at Bincho, aside from salads there are also a handful of sides on the menu, including a Braised Daikon with Tripe stew. For our dinner Dave did a riff on that, substituting sinful chunks of Pig’s Head for the tripe. It was nothing short of mind-blowing.
Dave had fed us well, but we couldn’t resist closing with a bowl of their delicious kimchi-laced Vegetable Fried Rice.
A truly epic gastro education of the anatomy of a chook.
Bincho Yakitori Grill and Bar
16 Old Compton Street
London, W1D 4TL
t. 020 7287 9111