If the last burger porn edition from Kiev was special, I am not sure what to call this one as this post is going to be something truly unconventional for our blog. I was on a work-related trip to London last week and, like I always do when I am there, went to my favourite place for dinner on one of my nights, a tiny Japanese restaurant on Plender Street, Camden Town called ‘Seto’. Formerly a small but busy restaurant in Soho, it is now a true hidden gem on one of the side streets of Camden High Street. Seto is run by a Japanese couple, honest hard-working people who actually do work there every day, not just running a business. A fairly non-descriptive venue from the outside, and you will notice absolutely nothing fancy even after you entered, however, this is one of the rare places in London where you will find great Japanese food made with care.
I had been a regular here together with a friend of mine when I lived in London, but even after I left the UK I never missed to visit it for a dinner on my work related trips to London, once every two months in average. This is the kind of quiet place where you can sit down undisturbed by the noisy crowd you would find in every popular place, and have an all-night conversation with a friend next to a jug of hot sake, accompanied by an endless stream of delicious food coming in small portions. And at a very reasonable price too by London standards.
In this post, instead of detailed recipes, I just wanted to introduce a couple of Japanese dishes that we may well cover in subsequent posts in more detail.
As usual I went with the old friend mentioned before, who used to work in Seto back at the time when it was located in Soho. The first thing we ordered while we examined the menu was some edamame and two glasses of Asahi Black beer.
Edamame is immature soy beans steamed and served with coarsely ground salt. It is a popular side dish in Japan, but also found in other Asian cuisine, and even in Hawaii. The preparation is pretty simple and straight forward, and you can easily make it at home as long as you can get your hands on fresh (preferably immature) soy beans.
It was a perfect snack with our beer while we decided what we order for the rest of the night. And that list was long.
We always start with 6 pieces of salmon gyoza and 6 pieces of pork gyoza, to share, and this time was no different.
Gyoza is a type of dumpling said to be originating from the Chinese Jiaozi, a food which spread throughout much of Eastern and Central Asia. This Japanese version consists of a filling made from ground meat and/or vegetables, wrapped into a very thin bag of dough, sealed by pressing the edges together. Unlike Jiaozi, Gyoza has a rich garlic flavour (probably one of the main reasons we love it so much!) and the dough is much thinner, resulting in an elegant, sophisticated-looking shape of the dumplings. Its size is generally small enough to hold it comfortably with a chopstick. It is served with soy sauce or soy-based tare sauce. The most common filling is pork mince mixed with cabbage and other vegetables, garlic, and optionally sesame oil, ginger and other flavouring. Pork gyoza is our favourite variety, but we also love it with salmon.
In Seto they serve real hand made gyoza, the filling itself and the ‘packaging’ of the filling all done locally and manually, in the restaurant. It is served with a tiny plate to pour soy sauce into, and we eat it after dipping it generously into the soy sauce before each bite.
By the time they served the gyoza we finished our beer and we felt it was time to order some sake to drink with and after the dumplings. In the summer heat we did not feel much like drinking hot sake, which is normally our preferred choice, so we ordered a bottle of chilled Sho Chiku Bai Classic Junmai Sake instead.
The second course was a portion of Motsu, tiny but tasty, to share. This is a very tasty little dish with beef or pork offals which have a pleasant, slightly chewy texture. In general, motsu means intestines, generally beef or pork intestines. It can be prepared in different ways, for example with miso, but perhaps the tastiest when it is in a stew with some vegetables, like the version served in Seto. We sprinkle it with chilli powder before eating. The thick stew in which the offals are standing is rich with spices and vegetable juices which makes it absolutely delicious. I never miss to drink the leftover juice when all the offals are gone.
Eating intestines may sound gruesome to people from certain cultures. Not to us. In Hungary we do eat tripe stew, which is basically made of beef stomach, and sometimes pig stomach too. And perhaps you would be surprised what other parts of different animals we eat… In any case, different nation’s cuisines can rarely surprise us. But regardless of how you feel about eating intestines, we really can only recommend it, it is so tasty, it’s texture is so pleasant, that we are a 100% sure you will not regret it. Unless you are a vegetarian of course, in which case however we really don’t understand what you are doing on this website.
One of the more well-known Japanese food for those who are not too much into Japanese cuisine is nigiri-sushi or nigirizushi. This particular type of sushi consists of an oblong block of vinegared sushi rice covered with a topping, which is generally fish such as salmon, tuna or some other seafood. It is usually served with wasabi and pickled ginger.
We ordered this course mostly to have a break before the tempura and the main course. In this break we also had a couple of cups of chilled sake and decided what we would fill into our stomach during the rest of the evening. The choice fell on prawn tempura, something we have each and every time, but for the main course we decided that for the first time in a long long time we will NOT order salmon teriyaki, which is so good in Seto that on most occasions we simply couldn’t resist it, no matter how much we wanted to try a few other things from the menu that we never ordered before. One of these things we always wanted but failed to try was their beef teriyaki. Its time has finally come.
Tempura is a Japanese dish of battered and deep fried seafood with a distinctive fluffy outer texture due to the structure of its batter. The batter is made from cold water, white flour, starch, baking soda and egg. The key to its fluffiness is to use very cold water and mix the batter very lightly and briefly with a chopstick so it remains lumpy. It should ideally be used right after mixing for the best results. Using sparkling cold water may help making it even lighter.
Seto’s prawn tempura consists of three large battered and fried prawns and a piece of battered and fried salmon to support them underneath. It is served with a small pile of finely grated radish and of course the mandatory tempura dipping sauce. The sauce is generally made of water, miso stock, mirin (Japanese sweet wine) and soy sauce. It has a mostly sweet taste, but many other flavours are blended in as well, making it tasty enough to drink the leftover juice just by itself after you ate all the tempura.
Teriyaki is a Japanese cooking method in which fish or other meat are broiled or grilled after sprinkling generously with a sweet, black marinade made of soy sauce, mirin and brown sugar, and sometimes the secret ingredients of each chef to make it unique. We have to admit, the salmon teriyaki in this restaurant is among the best reasons we have to keep coming back, other than the fact that we generally like the place (and their gyoza too!). We find the teriyaki marinade in Seto somehow especially well balanced, although we have no idea of its secret. We seem to enjoy everything made with it.
The long awaited trial of the beef teriyaki has finally come. It was a good-looking, fairly big cut of beef, nice and juicy from its own juices and the extra marinade that had been sprinkled over it. Although there were a few chunks that were a bit chewier than we would have liked, our overall conclusion was that it was a good choice, a perfect alternative when the salmon gets a little bit boring.
We asked for fresh salad, rather than fried vegetables as a side, which balanced perfectly with the hearty chunk of meat. The sweet teriyaki marinade dipping off the beef seeped under the salad and mixed with it, providing additional pleasure for our taste receptors.
At this point we were really, really full – and satisfied. Also, our sake was all but gone. Our epic meal night was closing to an end, but not without some essential finishing touches.
Green Tea Ice Cream
Sometimes we don’t feel like ruining the aftertaste of a great meal with some “sweet junk” that does not even contain meat. At other times, we can’t resist. This evening one of us gave into the temptation and ordered a cup of green tea ice cream for dessert. (Hint: it wasn’t me.) But I have to say to our defense, it is actually a quite nice substance with a strong green tea taste with a hint of bitterness, and an only slightly stronger, mild sweetness to compensate for it. Because of the moderate use of sugar I consider it as an actual edible food and I even like it.
After this epic dinner, all we needed for a good night’s sleep was a pint of Sapporo Lager to wash down all the food and transition us into a state of sleepiness paired with utmost satisfaction.
As for music, we had a bit of a struggle deciding what to recommend with this special post. The Japanese metal scene is generally a bit too crazy for our taste, but we know of a few bands we like to listen to. In the end, the choice fell on Aeternum Sacris. For sure, this is not one of the better-known artists from Japan. Although the songs are available on youtube in good quality, there is otherwise extremely little information available on the internet about it. From what we know, there appears to be a single Japanese artist behind the name, doing some fairly decent ambient doom metal with deep growling vocals. A good choice to chill out after an epic, all-evening dinner and a few pints.
I hope you enjoyed this exclusive demonstration of what is to come. I am not promising there will be an individual post about all of these meals, but I do want to make some of them at home and write detailed recipes on them. When I posted them I will link to the recipes from here too. Until then, keep well-fed and listen to great metal riffs!