Woolwich Road, SE10

Good news, folks. I may have found a really decent local restaurant in Woolwich Road. Sounds unlikely? I know. I’m still trying to come to terms with it myself, but all the first signs of this new Japanese restaurant are extremely promising.

We’ve been watching the site of the old working men’s club for sometime now, and I have to confess I didn’t have great expectations for it, expecting yet another dodgy takeaway to compliment the array of average eateries already cluttering that part of Greenwich. I didn’t even have much hope when I saw it was going to be Japanese food – I was just expecting the kind of substandard noodle bars we have in the centre.

But as we went past on Saturday night we noticed that, without any pre-publicity at all, it was suddenly open. I’m glad we went in as we were not only their first – but their only customers all evening. Hopefully I can change that in the future by telling you it was one of the best meals of any kind I have had for some time, and highly recommending it as a new local restaurant that isn’t trying to pander to the cheap tourist pound.

It’s simply decorated – dark wood bench seats and plain walls with wooden lattice-work lamps on the walls. The downlighters in the ceiling were a little too bright for my taste; I would have preferred it a little more ‘atmospheric’ (read ‘dark’) and the music was also a bit on the bright side (jolly Japanese pop music) but frankly this is nit-picking when there is such good food being served. They’ve spent some cash on getting printed paper placemats and chopstick cases, but on the whole they’ve gone for a traditional feel rather than ‘funky.’ There’s no tatami room (unless it’s upstairs and I didn’t notice it) and no kneeling down – all the seats are normal western style, and although there are a couple of traditional dolls, scrolls and a lucky cat, it’s all very tasteful.

Don’t be put off by the photographic menu – it’s normal in all but the very poshest restaurants in Japan and although in Britain it usually denotes that the customers they’re trying to attract can’t actually read, in this particular case they’re just in keeping with modern Japanese tradition.

The full menu isn’t ‘on’ yet, but what they are serving just now is still quite wide choice-wise and presumably when they have more than a handful of guests they’ll open it out fully. We didn’t know what to choose so we just got a selection – which meant we horribly over-ordered but, well, what a way to go. I can’t remember if they actually do any noodle dishes – but if they do, it is not the main thrust of the restaurant. This is the Real McCoy – and very wonderful it is too.

We started out with some of those lovely rice rolls – I particularly recommend the “California Rolls” which have crab and roe in them, but there are several to choose from. There is a wide selection of sashimi too, which reminds me – if you’re a vegetarian you will be able to eat, but the choice will be more limited.

As each of the dishes arrived, they seemed to become more exquisite – next, there was a giant stone bowl heated to volcanic levels containing various rice/veg meats and a raw egg. You’re supplied with wooden utensils which you use to mix it all up – it sizzles and cooks as you do it. A bowl of soup containing rice and flakes of baked salmon was very yummy, though once you got down to the basic broth it was slightly less exiting. Not to worry – the pumpkin and sweet potato tempura had just arrived.

By this point we were slowing down considerably. Sadly the dishes weren’t. They haven’t got their licence yet, so the Asahi beer, plum wine and saki (and a rather dull selection of western wines – an opportunity for Theatre of Wine, methinks) will have to wait. Instead we had a very strange milkshakey sort of thing made with green tea, skimmed milk and fruit, with gooey bits of tapioca in the bottom a bit like raisins. We had the melon and mango varieties – my personal favourite was the melon, but both were very drinkable – if the bits of tapioca kept getting stuck up the straw, which comes with a little spoon on the end to fish them our with.

Just when we really thought it was all over, the grilled mackerel arrived – so beautifully cooked I almost wept that I couldn’t finish it.

The service was understandably excited and attentive – it was, after all, their first night. Hardly any English spoken, bless them – the lady in charge spoke a little more than most of the staff, but still not much – but the welcome radiated past mere language.

Can this kind of service and quality last in East Greenwich? I can only hope so. At the moment it is probably my favourite restaurant in the area – but this comes with the small caveat that it was the first day of opening and if they can’t get it right on the first day there is no hope…

For that reason I am not designating it a Favourite Haunt – yet. I’ll just have to go back a few times just to make sure the food stays as fantastic as it is right now…

They will be doing takeaway – though the menu isn’t printed yet. I recommend you go very quickly – not least because there’s an opening discount of 10 percent on eat-in, 20 percent for takeaway just now. And yes, of course, this is entirely selfish. I want this restaurant to be a success so I can continue to eat there for years to come.

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