Skewered in east London
If you believe some of the more breathless reviews of Jirdori, then this Dalston restaurant is the first to serve yakitori in the capital. This, of course, is definitely not true. These grilled Japanese skewers can be found on the do-it-all menus of catch-all Japanese restaurants across the city, although there it’s often done poorly or, at best, in a mediocre fashion. Dedicated yakitori restaurants are a much rarer breed. A nameless and now closed downstairs dive restaurant on Goodge Street served up some of the best I’ve had in London, while the now defunct Woodstock just off Oxford Street had potential before going off the rails.
Jidori is located inside a former bridal wear store, but you wouldn’t know it from the stripped back, minimalist décor. Service was, for the most part, friendly and efficient although a little more polish would go a long way. If you’re going to close early on a slow evening, for example, then broadcasting that information via social media is not only the polite thing to do but a bloody necessity. Not everyone who loves yakitori lives and/or works in Dalston and few things piss me off more than an (almost) wasted journey.
First things first
There are plenty of non-yakitori dishes on Jidori’s small menu to keep you occupied while your skewers are freshly grilled to order. The fried chicken was free from excess oil and grease, but the soft, characterless batter and meagre meat underneath were unimpressive.
I’ve never been hugely fussed about udon (I’m more of a ramen and soba fan), but the thick wheat flour noodles here were splendidly soft and giving, finishing off with just the right amount of chewiness. The thin yet moreish broth and quivering, rich, just-cooked egg were worthy accompaniments.
The chicken broth with tofu doesn’t sound especially interesting on paper, especially if you have an irrational dislike of tofu. It’s definitely worth having though – the clear broth had a mint-like flavour courtesy of the shiso leaf but finishes with a clean aftertaste. The quivering, delicate tofu kept my palate clear for the meatiness to come.
You can, on occasion, face a long wait for the skewers when the grill is backed up with orders. Once they land on your table though, you can feel the heat and sizzle of the grill emanating from the meat. Not all yakitori are created equal however. The tender meat and taut skin of the chicken wings was enhanced with a light moreishness and a squirt of lemon juice. In comparison, the ultimately forgettably generic chicken thigh chunks lacked the quivering tenderness they should’ve had.
Far more impressive than either of those two chicken yakitori, were the hearts and bacon. The fatty bacon cubes and kidney-like texture and offaly flavour of the heart segments blended together very well for a double meaty punch.
Somewhat ironically for a yakitori joint, the highlight of my first meal at Jidori wasn’t a skewer of meat but the dessert. The smooth ice cream had a mild but distinctive flavour of ginger which went beautifully with the tangy viscosity of the miso caramel and the nuttiness of the black sesame seeds splayed on top. The distinct sweetness of the sweet potato crisps added some variation in texture and were very pleasing in their own right. An exceptionally good dessert.
Going back for seconds
The katsu curry scotch egg was sadly not a scotch egg with katsu curry on the inside, but a scotch egg with katsu curry sauce on the side for dipping. The reasonably crisp breaded shell gave way to reveal a surprisingly meagre layer of so-so meat. Although the yolk was suitably runny, it wasn’t especially rich making the authentically sweet, modestly spiced sauce a much need respite from the crushing boredom of it all.
There are couple of vegetarian yakitori options available. Fleshy and very mildly smoky chunks of aubergine had a cumulatively creamy umami hit, courtesy of miso butter, that lingered on the tongue for a surprisingly lengthy amount of time. Not that I’m complaining about that, not at all.
Just as good were the firm and lightly buttery segments of oyster mushroom, with crisp and refreshing bits of chopped spring onion adding some variation in texture.
Breast meat may make up the majority of edible chicken flesh, but it’s also the dullest part of what is already the inoffensive protein source of choice for children and invalids. The breast meat was firm, somewhat moist and would’ve been snooze-inducing if it wasn’t for the tangy, mildly citrusy garnish that I couldn’t place.
Minced chicken and egg yolk sounds like an abattoir mishap, but these meaty chicken mini-koftes were one of the best yakitori at Jidori. The little poultry pillows were complimented perfectly by a runny yolk served in a delicately sweet sauce of mirin and soy.
Yaki onigiri turned out to be clumpy, somewhat stodgy fried rice balls. The real star here wasn’t the rice, but the umami slithers of seaweed.
Jidori must have a bulk discount on eggs. The onsen egg was rich yet light and cooked just so. The sprinkling of togarashi spice mix added only a very mildly nutty and peppery undertone. The sweet sharpness of the tare sauce was much more intriguing, delightful and memorable, neatly washing the egg down.
The singular dessert of ginger ice cream, miso caramel, sweet potato crisps and black sesame seeds was just as startlingly brilliant as it was before.
In a better, more flexible version of London’s dining scene, you could start off your evening at Jidori with some minced chicken and egg yolk, some hearts and bacon and the ginger ice cream before moving on elsewhere tapas-style. That really would be the best way to sample Jidori’s best dishes, as there isn’t quite enough good stuff here to make up a proper meal (unless it’s a very light one) filling your stomach and justify the relatively high cost of £30-40 a head for doing so. Still, hopefully Jidori is just the start of London’s yakitori scene being reborn.
What to order: Hearts and bacon; Minced chicken and yolk; Aubergine and miso butter; Udon; Chicken broth; Onsen egg; Ginger ice cream
What to skip: Chicken breast; Katsu curry scotch egg; Fried chicken
Address: 89 Kingsland High Street, Dalston, London E8 2PB
Phone: 0207 686 5634
Opening Hours: Monday-Thursday 18.00-23.00 and Friday-Saturday 18.00-midnight. Closed Sunday.
Reservations: not taken
Average cost for one person including soft drinks and service charge: £30-40 approx.