The attraction of food
Of all the attractions that Japan offers (there are many), the country’s food culture is perhaps very near the top. Yet, in absence of visiting the country itself, Japanese restaurants in the UK can offer a near perfect food experience.
Japan is ranked consistently high when it comes to some of the world’s best cuisine — according to numerous polls and across numerous sources — including CNN travel and ‘will fly for food‘; whether it be the elegant and subtle flavours, the astonishing variety, or simply the colourful aesthetics where food is given more attention than anywhere else. These same principles have been implemented in restaurants across the world and exploded the popularity of Japanese food.
With that being the case, the UK has seen new Japanese restaurants consistently open across the country, and for those wanting to experience authentic Japanese cuisine the time has never been better.
So let’s discover 12 of the best Japanese restaurants that can be found across the UK.
Very quickly before we begin, I want to share some Japanese food related vocabulary that may be useful for those wishing to visit a Japanese restaurant.
Prefixes and Suffixes
~ yaki – Yaki means to be stir-fried or grilled.
~ don – Short for donburi. Refers to a rice bowl. Anything before is the main on top. eg Gyudon – beef bowl.
~ age – Deep fried eg. Kara-age – fried chicken.
~ Katsu – A type of cutlet.
Teppanyaki – A style of cooking that uses a hot plate.
Robata – A style of cooking using charcoal that is similar to a barbecue.
Sashimi – Always sliced raw fish.
Nigiri – Sushi made by hand consisting of rice, topped with (usually) fish.
Maki – Roll of sushi with varying contents.
Yasai – Vegetables.
Udon – Thick wheat noodles.
Soba – Thin buckwheat noodles.
Wasabi – Japanese horseradish.
Taco – octopus
Umeshu – Alcohol made from plums.
Kombucha – Fermented sweetened tea.
Sake – Alcohol made from rice, also known as rice wine.
Japanese restaurants in the UK
First up we have a Japanese restaurant quoted to be an ‘authentic Japanese kitchen’.
This is not just a sushi bar, but a restaurant with around a dizzying 120 menu items. You can certainly expect sushi on the menu but will also find other Japanese staples such as rice bowls and gyoza as well as street food styles like yakisoba.
There are three branches of this franchise all within relatively close proximity to each other with the one at Milton Keynes I would describe as being the ‘flagship’. It’s a place that truly tries to create a dining experience that whisks you far away from its surrounding locale. While not much to look at from the outside, the interior feels very authentic and contemporary with some fantastic décor.
Location: Milton Keynes, Wolverton, and Northampton.
Usually restaurant reviews can be taken with a pinch of salt (as it were), but if those on Miya are anything to go by, you could be in for something special.
Sure enough, this experience starts with the restaurant being at home in a historic listed building, an old police station. Inside, you’ll find what the owners call a ‘isakaya’ which refers to a place in Japan that offers an informal dining and drinking experience. While this is certainly true in regards to Miya being able to be a casual dining experience; there is a certain polish to Miya that you wouldn’t find in a traditional izakaya.
And that’s not a bad thing.
Miya is stated in saying it wants to deliver an authentic but not traditional cuisine, taking a modern twist across its vast but refined set of menus. This seems to sum up Miya Japanese bar and grill perfectly.
Location: 23b Walton street, Aylesbury.
When we talk about a dining experience, we usually mean it in an over-arching manner; how everything fits together. With Sapporo Teppanyaki however, I mean it in a literal sense.
To give a quick definition, a teppanyaki experience usually involves being seated right next to the chef as they cook your food on a hot plate, so that you are able to watch the process. Sapporo Teppanyaki’s whole model is based around this idea.
This is very much about receiving an experience as you dine where the chef’s are in a sense also performers who know their craft inside and out. Due to this, you expect some of the best Japanese food available in the UK. The menu is almost signature with its blend of Japanese styles mixed with a handful of items that more closely relate to western expectations.
For this ‘experience’ you can expect to pay a bit more, but it’s also well worth it.
Locations: Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow.
Moving on to decidedly more fine dining, Ogino is all about the detail, both in the food and its atmosphere.
There is a traditionally authentic aesthetic to this Japanese restaurant with a homely feel. The menu is also very welcoming with dishes that feel inspired but also very accessible. As such, it can be a good place to ease in those diners with less experience in Japanese cuisine.
It’s worth mentioning that Ogino is one of the few Japanese restaurants in the UK that serves certified Wagyu beef. Wagyu is amongst the top-grade beef in the world and at Ogino it comes all the way from Kagoshima in Japan.
Location: 1st floor beaver house, Butcher row, Beverley.
While many Japanese restaurants in this list are found in England I’ve not forgotten about the rest of the UK. If you find yourself in Scotland, specifically in the city of Edinburgh, You certainly need to visit Harajuku kitchen.
Taking the name of the vibrant and ultra modern district in Shibuya Japan; Harajuku Kitchen is all about the food. This Japanese inspired restaurant is a small and intimate affair with a somewhat muted aesthetic, however, the food is award winning.
Presentation, care, and especially quality of ingredients is something this Japanese restaurant prides itself on. This is what makes Japanese food so good. So if you care about the food above all else, this place will be worth a visit.
Location: 10 Gillespie Pl, Edinburgh.
This is the first and only Japanese restaurant on this list found in the UK, that you could class as a ‘chain’ restaurant. Sticks and Sushi currently operates in 3 countries with a total of 23 restaurants; 9 currently exist in the UK.
As the name suggests, there is a real emphasis on Sushi and also Yakitori style foods. (Yakitori is a type of street food in Japan that you eat on a skewer, hence ‘sticks’. It literally means ‘grilled bird’ in Japanese and is normally chicken but realistically anything can be skewered.) Despite a large selection of ‘sticks’ and sushi, there are also other types of Japanese inspired dishes and a hefty drinks menu. Every dish that is served is immaculately presented and prepared to the highest quality, feeding the eyes as much as the stomach.
Each Sticks and Sushi restaurant has an aura of sophistication about them. They feel incredibly Japanese with a minimalist decor whilst being ultra contemporary. Put everything together and you have an incredible Japanese dining experience.
Locations: find your nearest restaurant here.
7. Sushi Life
Going back to slightly smaller Japanese restaurants in the UK, we have Sushi Life.
Proving that you don’t need to be a juggernaut of the food industry, this restaurant located in Cardiff provides a quality dinner service without being too extravagant. There is perhaps more of a focus on sushi here than many of the others on this list, but there are also other options if you fancy a change.
What’s more Sushi life brings a little bit of charm to its diners through the use of custom serving platters which adds a bit of fun and authenticity to the whole experience.
Location: The Globe Centre, Wellfield Road Roath, Cardif.
Kibou — meaning wish or hope in Japanese — takes a step away from being a traditional style Japanese restaurant. Instead what you’ll find here is a place inspired by the modern and energetic streets of Tokyo.
There is a considerable emphasis on pure enjoyment here that some other restaurants on this list may be lacking. It captures the very essence of Tokyo nightlife, from the glow of neon, captivating wall art, and infusion of colour in almost every surface. This atmosphere is extended in the menu with a much larger focus on sharing options, platters and vibrant infusions of traditional cuisine.
In a bit of a twist that cements Kibou as a ‘go to’ location no matter the time of day, is the inclusion of Japanese-inspired afternoon tea.
Locations: Battersea, Cheltenham, Clifton, Solihull.
This time we are heading down to the southwest of England to the city of Plymouth. There we will find a Japanese restaurant by the name of KUKU.
This cosy and modern eatery is another example of how two different worlds and cultures can collide. Located inside a grade II listed building gives it a grandness to the overall atmosphere, KUKU further expands upon this with its own subtle details.
The menu is equally collaborative with a good selection of Japanese dishes but also western style meals; some are an infusion of both. KUKU highlights itself as a sushi bar and robata and sure enough, a humble sushi counter is present as well barbeque style dishes from its robata grill.
Location: 19 Princess Street, Plymouth.
Remember when we were talking about a Japanese izakaya earlier? Well, entering Sanjugo really feels like walking into an old world izakaya.
Dark woods, ukiyo-e style prints on the wall, and a counter that dominates the first room you walk into gives the sense of an early 1900’s Japanese bar. Yet this all means that Sanjugo oozes charm like no other.
The menu is about as Japanese as you can get too, you can even order a bottle of the infamous ‘calpis’ Japanese drink. Sanjugo doesn’t break any boundaries with its food; meaning, If you want true Japanese style food in a true Japanese style venue, you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else outside Japan this authentic.
Locations: Shoreditch and Angel.
11. Ginza Kitchen
The epitome of hospitality in Japan is arguably that of a Ryokan; for those who don’t know, this is an old style of Japanese inn that resembles something from a bygone era — many actually are. Ginza Kitchen, found in Belfast, gives off this kind of vibe.
Presentation is key in Japanese cuisine and is something that Ginza Kitchen does really well. Dishes are presented carefully and with ingenuity and the restaurant aesthetics are quite stereotypically Japanese, but in a good way. It helps sell the experience of being somewhere else without second questioning the choices.
The Ryokan vibe is pushed even further with Ginza Kitchens private spaces which is somewhat of a signature. In these spaces you’ll find wooden furnishings, bamboo screens, Zaisu style chairs, wall scrolls, and Chochin lanterns. It’s Kyoto, eat your heart out.
Location: 245 Lisburn Road, Belfast.
12. Sushi Me Rollin
You can probably gather from the name of this Japanese restaurant a couple of things: first, this is all about sushi — nothing else: secondly, it’s a place that doesn’t take itself too seriously — apart from when it comes to the food.
This is the only Japanese restaurant in the UK on this list that is entirely dedicated to sushi. Nothing else is on the menu. What this means is that this restaurant can focus entirely on delivering great sushi and is a specialist in such. This then becomes more about a quick and relaxed dining experience rather than that of a sit-down traditional meal.
Following that, Sushi me rollin aims to inject a lot more fun into Japanese cuisine. You don’t need to be super into the Japanese aesthetic or the etiquette etc. as with many other restaurants, but just enjoy the food.
Locations: Newcastle, Whitley bay.
Japanese food has become a lot easier to come by in the last ten years Most of these restaurants have been running less than that time, showing there is a real surge in new Japanese restaurants appearing in the UK.
It’s worth noting here that there are in fact many more Japanese style restaurants in the UK than is on this list; yet, whether it’s through the best service, best setting, or just the best food (which is where it really matters), these Japanese restaurants are some of the best and most unique that you can find across the country.