Junsei review: putting a Japanese spin on nose-to-tail dining
Chicken gizzard, neck and artery are among the sensational skewers at this new Marylebone yakitori restaurant
Junsei, which opened in June, is one of London’s few Japanese restaurants focused around yakitori – the practice of grilling food, ordinarily chicken, using skewers over a charcoal fire.
Located on Marylebone’s Seymour Place, this intimate and elegant restaurant places an emphasis on zero-waste cooking, using every part of the animal, from hearts and neck to arteries and gizzard. Alongside the meat skewers, veggie skewers, donabe (rice) bowls and seasonal Japanese hot plates are also on offer, as well as a wide variety of sake, wine and cocktails.
Junsei (which means “pure” in Japanese) is the first restaurant from chef Aman Lakhiani, who learned Japanese cooking techniques from Tokyo’s Tsukiji Sushi Academy and the Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant Dos Palillos in Barcelona.
The cosy restaurant, which seats just 37 people, has a minimalist feel, with Japanese artwork, light oak flooring, grey leather chairs and brass finishes. The main toilets are down a steep flight of stairs, meaning they are not wheelchair accessible.
From the dainty chopsticks to the glazed wooden disposer for your finished yakitori sticks, all the crockery and cutlery is authentic and aesthetically pleasing, and supplied by the Japanese Knife Company, a stone’s throw away on Baker Street.
The best seats in the house are undoubtedly at the “chef’s table” – a long counter at the back of the restaurant that seats just five people. There, you can watch the small team of chefs at work, grilling them about their processes as they meticulously grill your dishes.
The menu comprises more than 20 skewers, with the majority featuring different parts of organic, slow-reared Suffolk chicken – from seseri (chicken neck) to kawa (crispy chicken skin). Non-chicken yakitori options include shitake mushroom, quail eggs, tofu and okra.
Each skewer is grilled over Binchōtan charcoal, a white variety made from Japanese oak which is considered the purest charcoal in the world. Burning the skewers at a high heat ensures that the meat cooks from the inside out, guaranteeing succulent, melt-in-the-mouth flavours enclosed in smokey crispiness.
The menu also features traditional Japanese hotplates such as wagyu beef and miso mussels. There are also several donabe rice dishes which are made using dashi – the umami-like stock which forms the basis of miso soup.
For foodies who want to try everything, I recommend opting for the omakase menu (£55 per person), which follows the Japanese tradition of “I’ll leave it up to you”. Rather than picking individual dishes, the chefs present you with a range of menu highlights, with Lakhiani’s only request being to “expect the unexpected”.
For me, the exciting omakase menu featured more than 15 different small plates. My highlights included roasted chicken thigh yakitori with house tari (a 55-year-old flavouring made from soy sauce, chicken bone broth, saki and mirin), grilled potato with wagyu foam, grilled pumpkin with saikyo miso dressing (a sweet paste), and grilled hotate (scallops) served with on a bed of “dirty rice” (a combination of rice vinegar, sesame seeds and other seasoning).
As someone whose diet is predominately plant-based, I also surprised myself by loving the unexpectedly sausage-like roasted chicken heart yakitori, which came with the house tari. Halfway through the meal I tried my first artery – what a sentence. Hatsumorti (the main chicken artery) was served yakitori style, with five or six chicken hearts used to make one crunchy skewer which was bursting with flavour.
And for dessert…
There are three desserts on the main menu (grilled fruit with kuromitsu – or molasses – ice cream, a chocolate fondant with roasted green tea ice cream and a seasonal granita).
But through the omakase menu, I had the pleasure of sampling a variety of sweet treats: miso mochi with a chrysanthemum syrup, which acted as a brilliant palate cleanser, and a kuromitsu (brown sugar syrup) ice cream which came with grilled strawberries.
Guests can opt for sake, cocktail or wine pairing, or choose their drinks “à la carte” style. I loved the Gin^2 cocktail (below, left), which featured frozen City of London Gin granita with a gin foam and lemon, while my dining companion enjoyed her Ronin Shochu (right) – a Japanese sake-based cocktail with lime and mint leaves.
With help from the staff, we also chose a carafe of sake to share, opting for the Koshiki Junzukuri (or “northern skies) which was delicious – balanced, slightly sweet and a perfect pairing with our skewers.
With its sensational skewers, varied yet traditionally Japanese menu and nose-to-tail dining approach, Junsei is certainly a special place. And, with its intimate setting and friendly staff, it’s the perfect introduction to yakitori-style dining if that’s something you’ve never tried before.
For the full Junsei experience, I definitely recommend the omakase menu because of the culinary adventure it takes you on. Although if you’re not so keen to try arteries, heart and other organs you don’t ordinarily see on a menu, then opting for à la carte might be a safer bet!
Junsei, 132 Seymour Place, London W1H 1NS; junsei.co.uk