Japanese beer brand Kirin has launched a pop-up yatai aka street food stand with Yasuhiro Mineno (ex head chef of Nobu) and Shinya Ikeda, joint owners and Head Chef of London’s fabled Yashin Sushi restaurant.
Kirin Ichiban is being dished up with a menu of kushiage and other snacks to offer Londoners a taste of what will be served at the Yashin founders' full-blown kushiage restaurant set to launch in 2012 (learn more about my beloved kushiage here).
The Kirin Ichiban Yatai is around for just one week from 3-8 August in the open-air Dray Walk gallery near Brick Lane and is serving up a selection of the traditional Japanese pankoed and deep-fried skewer snacks.
The short menu offers three sticks for £5, six plus edamame for £10, or nine plus ice cream for £15, with a free bottle of Kirin Ichiban for every diner who has booked online.
Kirin Ichiban is a beer made by the unique “Ichiban Shibori" Process which translates as “first press”. Bottles of Kirin are £3 & a pint draught is £4. All soft drinks & bottles of water are £1.
There are seven kushiage to choose from: kushikatsu (pork and leek), karaage (chicken), ebi furai (king prawn), "dango" (actually means a type of skewered mochi, but in this case handmade fishcake resembling the classic snack), tomato and courgette (which sounds like a juicy explosion of pain to me), asparagus, and "oden" (at least, a choice of three oden ingredients - egg, daikon or tofu).
There is also a selection of rather exciting sauces to go with them - tonkatsu (sometimes referred to as Japanese Worcestershire sauce), jalapeno, yellow pepper, creamy tomato, and a truffle ponzu sauce so supernaturally delicious I was sorely tempted to squirt it straight from the squeezy bottle into my mouth.
I was a bit disappointed that the "slightly hot green pepper" advertised on the website seemed to have been abandoned (presumably shishito), but we ordered all the rest of the kushiage apart from the tomato and the asparagus and waited with some icey Kirin.
It was all fried to order, as should be the case, and in a short while one of the many petite Japanese waitresses arrived bearing our kushiage on those slightly crappy black floral sushi trays you get in Wasabi or Samurai.
It looked the part and the husband and I were pretty excited. A quick chomp confirmed it tasted the part too, and we soon polished it all off and then keenly wished we'd ordered more.
The only letdown was the "oden" egg - actually just a normal, hard-boiled egg given the same kushiage treatment as the rest of it. We were also mildy annoyed at the lack of receptacles for both the sauce and the used skewers - dishes for the first please, and cups to stick the second.
A side of "Thai" salad seemed inappropriate and pointless, tasting overwhelmingly of celery, but the lightly pickled cabbage that came with the skewers was better than your usual veg accompaniment.
Ice cream is "gelato-style" - we both chose black sesame aka kurogoma which we adore anyway, and agreed that it was the best ice cream we'd had in a very long time. There's also red bean flavour aka aduki but frankly why would you?
The pop up is also showing the work of the four finalists in the Kirin First Cut film competition on little screens at each table and you can vote for your favourite - the winner will be announced at the 55th BFI London Short film festival. I reckon the one about the magic camera will win, mainly because it's the only one intelligible as a silent film - the place got fairly noisy so you couldn't really hear the soundtracks.
You can even make a silent bid on the specially commissioned street art by Soulful Gallery art collective that surrounds you as you eat (prices start at £1,000), although it looked to us like they'd need some epic dismantling first.
All proceeds from the auction go to the charity Japan Society Tohoku Earthquake Relief Fund.
Don't bank on getting a seat at the yatai itself - we were shunted off to one of the two big tables in the main section of the gallery which sadly meant we couldn't see the chefs in action which really is part of the fun of kushiage, and there were plenty of people just standing around, though the Kirin seemed to keep them happy.
Kirin Ichiban Yatai pop up restaurant
Wednesday – Saturday 12pm – 11pm, Sunday - Monday 12pm – 9.00pm
Walk-ins accepted but booking advisable, and necessary to claim your free beer - visit http://www.kirinfirstcut.co.uk/how-to-book.php
To find it, go down Hanbury Street and turn into the Truman Brewery (directly opposite Wilkes Street) - it's near where the Sunday Upmarket is held. These things below are nearby.
My husband and I were invited to the press preview