Sakana-Tei (February 2013)

The diner on Maddox Street is far from short of options, ranging from Hibiscus (over-rated in my opinion) and Goodman (well worth a visit) to the more mundane Patara (Thai) and Browns (part of the chain). It would therefore be easy to overlook Sakana-tei, especially given its unprepossessing exterior, perhaps something one would expect to find on a less prosperous backstreet or circa ten years ago. However, do not be fooled. I lunched here with a friend recently on his recommendation and will undoubtedly be returning. My first impression – and always a good sign – was that all the serving staff were Japanese, as were the majority of the customers. We were greeted in Japanese too and shown to our table, a plain wooden affair in a mostly full dining room. Although there is a full menu, my dining comrade advised me to go for one of the day's specials. There is no show here whatsoever, the specials simply appear on a hand-written piece of paper placed on the table. This is part of the charm. We were both given soup to begin. It was superb, big fat juicy noodles, pieces of tofu, a variety of herbs and a slight hit from chilli flavouring. This light and refreshing dish stimulated the senses and left us prepared for the mains. I opted for eel, served on a bed of rice with pickles on the side, while my comrade selected the day's sushi combination. Both met with approbation. I have travelled to Japan more than ten times and it is rare to find such authentic food in this country. The eel was very fresh, exquisitely flavoured with smoky and savoury (umami) notes. We both took tea with our food and the bill (including service) came to less than £40. I will be back – and just hope it doesn't become too well-known!