My latest Japanese restaurant review took me to a place I've visited a couple of times before with friends - Machiya near London's Soho - I don't know why I haven't reviewed it previously but as I was town with my family, I thought I would visit again and get their opinion. There must be more Japanese restaurants in and around Soho than any other part of London, so Machiya has quite a lot of competition. The place is owned by the people who brought us Kanada-Ya, which in my humble opinion serves up some of the best, most authentic ramen you can get in the UK. So, that in itself is a good start. In fact, there is a small Kanada-Ya outlet just a couple of shops up the street from Machiya. Whereas Kanada-Ya is very much ramen focussed, Machiya's offering is a little bit like a Japanese Cooking 101 course - the menu offers what I would call "the basics" of Japanese cooking - there's no ramen but there are a few udon noodle dishes along with classics such as Gyudon, Unaju and Katsu Curry. Machiya is quite a small place - no more than 30 seats at tables and a small bar - so booking is advised. While I was there I noticed that walk-in diners were being turned away because the place was fully booked.
Finding Machiya isn't at all difficult - it's in Panton St. just a few minutes walk south from either Leicester Sq or Piccadilly undergrounds stations or a couple of minutes north from Charing Cross station.
Machiya has been plying its trade since 2017. Inside, it is basic, clean and functional. It is also quite cramped - as I said before, no more than 30 seats - there is a basement area but that seems to be more oriented towards drinks and bar food rather than any kind of serious eating.
There were three people waiting the tables and welcoming diners and as it was an early Sunday afternoon, business was really quite brisk. Nonetheless, the table service was efficient, polite and friendly. You choose your food from an online menu after uploading it from a barcode on the table. The odd thing is that having decided what you want to eat, you then order in the old fashioned way via the waiter/waitress - maybe the plan is to automate ordering which I am sure would win the approval of the busy table staff!
What did we eat?
We ordered the following:
How did the food score?
Nikujaga (photo above) 6.5/10
Nikujaga is usually served as a main course, but Machiya offer it as a starter. The dish was perhaps a little bit "too much soup, too little contents" but then again, it was a starter. Tastewise, we all thought it was a little underflavoured but that apart, it was a decent enough dish.
Chicken Karaage 8.5/10
Machiya''s chicken karaage were very good. close to perfect - quite large, very well deep fried in lots of crumb - served with a soy based sauce and lemon. The texture was excellent, cruncy on the outside, soft and juicy on the inside. I couldn't tell whether these were shop made or bought in but either way, they made for a great starter dish.
Machiya's gyudon was substantial but it stopped there. The beef was wafer thin - as it should be and very lean. I asked the waiter how it was prepared and he explained that Machiya's chefs prepare and marinade the beef before freezing it. (Having a solid chunk of beef that can be "shaved" is the way you get the thin wafers of meat.) I've had Gyudon before at Machiya and it tasted better than this - maybe the chef was having an off day. The soft pouched egg was a nice touch but we all though the dish lacked flavour and richness and was light on onions. What it wasn't light on was rice - I couldn't complain about the amount of rice in the dish.
Pork Katsudon 6.0/10
Like the Gyudon, Machiya's Pork Katsudon was certainly substantial. Taste -wise, things were a bit of disappointment. The egg in this dish should be oozy and shiny, Machiya's effort was fully set and lacked ny kind of sheen. The egg and onion should be cooked with a mixture of Japanese dashi, soy sauce and a little sake for a rich flavour - the egg then goes in and gets cooked with the stock - that's what gives this dish its flavour. Machiya's offering came up short although like the Gyudon, the serving of rice was very generous.
While most of Machiya's menu items are very much standard Japanese fare, their mushroom donburi - Kinokodon - was a little different which was good to see. I guess it is on the menu to offer a vegetarian option. How did it taste? Again, Machiya's Kinokodon was a little disappointing. The dish was substantial enough, nicely dressed with some spring onion and a little chilli. There was also a soft boiled egg (which Machiya should point out on the menu so vegan's have the opportunity to order the dish without the egg.) The mushrooms - I could see button mushroom and some kinoko - were nicely flavoured but there just wasn't enough of the cooking juices in the bowl to make it a really tasty dish. Like the other dishes, there was a lot of rice in the bowl but once you've worked your way through the topping, you are left with a bowl of rice without any juices having oozed into it to give it any flavour.
Nikujaga £ 6.50
Chicken Karaage £ 8.00
Pork Katsudon £13.00
Total £60.20 including VAT & Service charges
Summary: Being part of the Kanada-Ya set up, you might be forgiven for expecting a little more from Machiya. Don't get me wrong - the food is decent enough and they certainly don't skimp on the main course portions. But whereas Kanada-Ya's ramen is really quite outstanding, Machiya is a little too run of the mill for me to get excited about. I put it on par with Taro in terms of quality - you'll end your meal satisfied but perhaps wondering if there's something better out there. Taro offers a full menu of Japanese cooking including noodle dishes and sushi/sashimi. Machiya's menu is much more limited - they really should be able to offer a better eating experience, similar to Kanada- Ya's ramen, in my opinion. As I said above, Machiya is near Soho, so it has plenty of competition to contend with and there are, I'm afraid, better places than Machiya to enjoy a Japanese meal all within a few minutes walk.
BTW: I normally don't mention WCs in my restaurant reviews - i simply assume they are going to be up to stratch. Unfortunately, Machiya's gents loos were tatty and in sore need of a face lift - come on, Machiya - up your game, please!
Food: ★★★☆☆ Ambience: ★★★☆☆ Value for Money: ★★★☆☆
You can find Machiya at 5 Panton St., London, SW1Y 4DL .
Deliveries: Supper, Deliveroo.
(PS: the restaurants I review are unaware that I am reviewing their fare and service. I pay for what I eat. My opinions are honest and unbiased....)
And how about making it yourself?
We all love to dine out. But don't forget you can make Japanese food at home which will not only taste good but will be fun and cost you a fraction of the price too! I've listed two recipes below for items I ordered during my review. Why not give them a try? Just follow the links to the written recipes and Youtube tutorials.
Recipe #1 Gyudon
The Gyudon served at Machiya didn't really do it for us. It isn't difficult to make a good, hearty Gyudon - just try my home made version and see if I'm not right! If you would like to tke a closer look at this dish,
simply click Gyudon to go to the recipe page.
Recipe #2 Kinokodon
Machiya's offering got me thinking about making my own recipe for Kinokodon. Try this out and I think you'll agree it's a great way to enjoy Japanese food vegetarian / vegan style. This dish is simple to make but it packs a delicious punch - more so if you like your chillis and want to add another to the mix! If you want to try these out, just click Kinokodon to go to the recipe.
About the reviewer:
Hi, I'm Kurumi, a cooking writer and blogger. I'm Japanese but I have lived in London for the last
30 thirty years. Back in the days before the internet (and Youtube), I was a food writer. My first book published in English was called Japanese Cooking for Two which I wrote in 1994. It has become the 9th best selling Japanese cookbook ever… yippee!
My other books were ‘The Noodle Cookbook”, “The Soy for Health Cookbook” and “Healthy Noodles.” I also published a book in Japanese “English Home Cooking”. Then I had children and my life changed!
By the time my children had grown up, the world had changed quite a lot too! Internet, Youtube, Insta etc. So, these days, instead of books, I publish recipe and articles on my website and on my Youtube channel. I hope you'll check out my recipes - they are all tried and tested (some more times than I care to mention!) until I think you will get them right first time when you make them and enjoy eating them.
If you’d like to read more about me or my books, then follow the link here: