Updated: May 13, 2022
My most recent "tried and tested" Japanese restaurant visit took me to the foodie hub of Islington in North London. Islington has become a bit of a mecca for Japanese eateries - there must be at least 15 in the district of all shapes and sizes. I had booked a table early on a Saturday evening at one of these locations - Sanjugo in Duncan St. You'll find Duncan St less than 5 minutes from Islington tube station, just off of Upper Street. Sanjugo is located in one of the commercial units on the ground floor of a rather dour looking 60s or 70s vintage apartment building. Sanjugo also has a second outlet in Shoreditch and has been around since 2016.
Things didn't start well - but that was all my fault. I had made a booking but at the Shoreditch location! We were told that there wasn't a table available at the Islington branch so we duly shuffled out but the waitress chased us down after a few seconds and told us she could fit us in if we didn't mind where we sat. Of course, we didn't, so back we went. Nil points to my booking skills but kudos to the waitress for actually going out of her way to get us seated. (PS: If you sign up to Sanjugo's mailing list they will send you a £10 voucher to be spent at the restaurant. In order to cash in the voucher, it seems you need to book via email not the booking link on the website.)
So, we found ourselves seated at the front of the house and looking at the menu. I was surprised that for a 6.30pm booking, Sanjugo was already almost full - a good sign. Not that it is a big place. There are 28 seats at tables in the front of the restaurant. Further back and up a small flight of stairs, there is a sushi bar seating another 6 and small tables for a further 4 diners. Sanjugo's interior is black and decorated with a few Japanese themed posters and other memorabilia. It makes for a very low key atmosphere though not necessarily the best lighting for seeing the food that's put in front of view. There is a large flourescent "Sanjugo" sign centre stage. I was sat with my back to the sign but one of my co-diners soon commented that the sign was very, very bright, (he was sat looking at it.)
What did we eat?
We ordered the following:
Tuna nigiri sushi
Saba Misoni Donburi (photo right)
Chirashi sushi Don
The Miso soup arrived first, followed quickly by the Gyoza and the Vegetable croquettes with the tuna nigiri sushi a few minutes afterwards. We had just finished our starters when the mains appeared. so time wise, no complaints.
How did the food score?
Miso soup 8/10
Miso soup is one of my standard tests for any Japanese restaurant. It's not at all difficult to make a good miso soup but it's very easy to make a bad one. Miso soup is about more than just miso and hot water (although many lower middle/end Japanese restaurants don't appear to think so.) Sanjugo describes its miso soup as just that - miso soup. I was wondering whether this simple title meant the soup was going to be similarly simple. But no, this was quite a pleasant surprise. Miso, tofu, nori seaweed, spring onion and what we identified as a fish based stock enriching the taste. Maybe the fish stock isn't for everyone but we all enjoyed it and it was a sign that this restaurant thinks and cares about the details of what it is preparing for its guests. (Minor quibble: more tofu, please.)
Conclusion: At £3, a great value starter and a satisfying bowl of miso soup.
Vegetable Croquettes 6/10
The vegetable croquettes arrived nicely presented. The croquettes themselves were decent enough and warmed properly, meaning that they hadn't simply been presented soggy and steaming from a microwave. We all thought that the sauce and mayo was a little too sweet. The seasoning of this dish really should be left to the diner not added pre-table. (An "old school" Japanese croquette lover certainly wouldn't want mayo on their croquettes!)
Conclusion: Nice enough although at £5 not a stand out like the miso soup.
Fried Chicken Dumplings (Gyoza) 8/10
Gyoza are another of my standard tests for a Japanese restaurant. The quality of gyoza and their presentation varies considerably in London's Japanese restaurants from the delicious to the downright awful. I'm happy to say Sanjugo's chicken gyoza qualified in the upper end of the range. The filling was definitely chicken and quite tasty. The gyoza skins were well fried and had a nice crunch to them. The dipping sauce had the right level of "tang".
Conclusion: A more than decent plate of gyoza. Good value for £5.
Akami Tuna Nigiri Sushi 5/10
One of my co-diners ordered some pieces of "nigiri". He has worked as a sushi chef so knows a little bit about that particular art. He told me that the term "akami" refers to the part of the tuna's flesh which runs along the fish's spine. Akami is divided into 3 further grades depending on whether the meat is cut from the front, middle or back of the fish. He thought the Akami he was given was probably from the back, the cheapest grade. Not only that, but it was also very thinly sliced. Taste-wise, we thought it was OK but nothing more than that.
Conclusion: These tuna nigiri were underwhelming.
Saba Misoni Donburi 8/10
The first of the main courses. Saba Misoni translates as "mackerel simmered in miso." The dish was a donburi so the mackerel came on a bed of rice and was served with salad. Taste-wise Sanjugo's Saba Misoni was spot on and we all enjoyed a bite of it - the miso sauce had a nice balance between miso saltiness and mirin sweetness . The leaf salad was fresh and nicely seasoned. My co-diner's only criticism was that the rice portion was a little on the small side.
Chirashi Sushi Donburi 8/10
The Chirashi Donburi was my order. The portion was reasonable sized. The sashimi was mostly offcuts of tuna and salmon but there was a little octopus and some yellowfin. There was also a little chopped cucumber and the dish was decorated with a shiso leaf and some tobiko fish roe. The chirashi was nicely fragrant from the sushi rice vinegar dressing beneath. I thoroughly enjoyed eating my chirashi donburi and I only reluctantly shared some with my co-diners!
Tonkatsu Donburi 8/10
The tonkatsu donburi was equally impressive. The panko breadcrumb crust was deep fried to a tee and the pork perfectly cooked. My co-diner said he would really have preferred to season it himself rather than have the dish arrive already covered in mayo and brown sauce. There was a little leaf salad (too little we thought) and like the Saba Misoni dish, the rice portion was on the small side. Size apart however, the quality of the food was very good.
Miso Soup £ 3.00
Fried Chicken Dumplings £ 5.00
Vegetable Croquettes £ 5.00
Akami Nigiri (2 pcs) £ 5.00
Tonkatsu Don £11.00
Chirashi Don £15.00
Saba Misoni Don £14.00
Voucher £10.00 discount
Total £47.00 (Excluding Service)
Summary: The restaurant is an easy walk from the station. The waitress went the extra mile to get us seated after I had made a mistake with the reservation. Overall, the service was good and the food generally very good. The price was reasonable and begins to look like a bargain when you use the discount voucher. Just make sure you don't get seated in front of the bright flourescent "SANJUGO" sign or you might end up with a headache! (Tips to the restaurant : Please let your guests add their own sauces and please turn down the SANJUGO sign!)
Food: ★★★★☆ Ambience:★★★☆☆ Value for Money: ★★★★☆
You can find Sanjugo Japanese Restaurant at 42 Duncan St, London N1 8BW (Islington) and 35 Scrutton St, London EC2A 4HU (shoredich). Reservations via RESY or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Takeaway via Deliveroo and UberEats
(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 and you certainly won't be disappointed by Sanjugo's offering. But don't forget you can make Japanese food at home which will not only taste good but for 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 : My Sushi Cocktail. Sanjugo's Chirashi Donburi was very good. Chirashi is a very easy dish to produce at home. I also make a mini-version of this dish which I call Sushi Cocktail. It makes a great starter and I've served this at stand up events too. You need look no further than my recipe Sushi Cocktail. If you want to see my Youtube tutorial, you can find the link Sushi Cocktail.
Recipe #2: Tonkatsu Donburi. Everyone loves a classic Japanese Tonkatsu.
Served donburi style on a bed of rice, it's a tasty and filling meal in a bowl treat that's just too good
to only eat as an occasional restaurant treat. If you would like to find out how to make this recipe at home (for a fraction of the cost of the eat out version,) you can find my recipe for a Tonkatsu Donburi here. If you want to check out the Youtube tutorial, you can find that here Tonkatsu Donburi. (PS: I call my recipe Pork Sauce Katsudon but it is essentially the same as a Tonkatsu Donburi.)
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:
Happy eating! Kurumi XXXX.