Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurants

Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurants

Article excerpt

My friend Nick -- OK, he's not exactly my friend, he's my brother's friend, but my brother lets his friends be mine, as he knows I've always struggled to make any of my own.

Anyway, Nick says he'd like to take me to what is possibly his favourite restaurant in London. I like Nick. I trust Nick. Nick knows his food. Nick has eaten in all the top places not just in London, but in New York, Tokyo, Paris. Nick knows his wine and doesn't just order the second cheapest bottle on the list to spare him the embarrassment of ordering the first. And, really, what follows is Nick's review, as pretty much all of it is stolen from an email he later sent me. I did suggest that Nick actually write the whole thing himself -- I'd have been prepared to put my name to it, even though it would be a great deal less work for me -- but he didn't go for it. He said that when he had to write his 5,000-word undergraduate dissertation he panicked because, 'I didn't think I knew 5,000 words. No one had explained that it was possible to use the same word more than once.' The thing is, when you have to rely on your brother for your friends, you can't afford to be that choosy.

So, his favourite London restaurant?

This, it turns out, isn't in the West End or Mayfair or Notting Hill or high up in some ghastly City hotel. No, it's in Golders Green. That's right. Golders Green or, as we used to say, 'Golders Green three miles, but to you? Two.' I grew up in Golders Green and accept that it is rarely considered a centre of gastronomy, but in its defence I would say that in my day there was not only Blooms, but also a Wimpy, a Golden Egg and a Garfunkel's. You could even say we were spoiled.

Anyway, Nick's favourite restaurant is a Japanese café called, not that surprisingly, perhaps, Café Japan. Nick has not only eaten in all the top places in all the top cities but he's also eaten in all the top Japanese places in all the top cities, and you know what? Café Japan, he says, knocks them all into a cocked hat and possibly into an un-cocked one, too.

(Personally, I always prefer an un-cocked hat, but accept it's a matter of individual choice). Nick is a regular, so thinks it is only fair that he first telephones owner-cumchef, Mr Konnai, to ask if it's OK for me to write about the place. Mr Konnai is so over the moon, he says, 'No. I'm always full. I don't need any more business. Go away.' Nick somehow gets round him and, while I couldn't say how, I'm guessing it's not how my brother always got round me and my two sisters. As he was the only boy we'd do anything -- even be his slave for the day -- for a look at his you-know-what. We'd have to pay, though, if we also wanted him simultaneously to jump up and down, do 'the willy dance'. I'm not sure this would have worked on Mr Konnai. That said, it still works for me.

Café Japan is on the parade opposite the clocktower, sandwiched between something and something else, although I don't know what, because Nick didn't say in his email.

Lazy bastard! It has an unimposing front and an unimposing interior. It's quite formica-ish, quite pine-ish, very un-Nobu-ish and is no longer or wider than a good-sized suburban sitting-room. There's a counter that seats seven or eight, and then tables at the back seating maybe 30. There's no kitchen as such, either, just Mr Konnai behind the counter, with a rice cooker, knives, a chopping board, a wall-mounted electric grill, a chilled cabinet of stunningly fresh-looking fish and a quartet of handsome Japanese boys who chop and roll sushi as if there were no tomorrow (although I, personally, always prefer it when there is a tomorrow, I accept it's a matter of individual choice). …

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